Crikey Sports has the pleasure of having a guest post by Jamie Johnstone, a blogger at BigFooty, Australia’s largest and most popular AFL internet forum. This post was first published at BigFooty on Tuesday.
BigFooty’s Jamie Johnstone writes:
For all the headlines and brouhaha, is anyone really surprised that Carl Williams met a violent end? I’m not. As a friend of mine pointed out, Carl, who liked to call himself The Premier, forgot that like in politics, careers like his always end in failure.
There’ll be enough coverage on Williams’ murder over the next few days to make anything I put here redundant. Already, from what the Herald Sun is reporting, those who pay attention to the goings-on in Melbourne’s underbelly (see what I did there?) will have been able to work out who Carl’s erstwhile exercise partners were.
I don’t know who Carl barracked for. The easy option would be to say Collingwood but that seems a touch too simplistic. What I do know is that he won’t be getting the flag on the coffin treatment like Mark Moran, who was killed either personally by Williams or on his direct orders, had at his funeral.
The Moran family had a long and close link to Carlton through an older member of the family, Leo Brooks, who had worked for the club in a variety of roles. Bearing in mind that Brooks had passed away only weeks before Moran — who himself was a very talented footballer — was killed, Carlton acceded to the family’s request for a premiership flag to drape over Mark’s coffin. If the gangland scuttlebutt is to be believed, it took a rather long time before the club regained possession of that 1982 flag, if indeed they ever actually did.
But footy and crims have always been interlinked in our code, especially, though not exclusively, in Melbourne. The defining Australian gangster movie remains Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, an accolade driven by the relentless and confronting authenticity of the piece. Even though some liberties may be taken with the reality of Chopper Read’s life and deeds, the feel of the movie, the peculiarly Melbourne Crim dialect of its major characters, is entirely accurate.
Thus it is in the opening scenes when Chopper and Keithy George (a fictionalisation of a man who Carl Williams would come to employ as a contract killer) are exchanging threats before Read stabs the older man to death, the soundtrack to the exquisitely tense standoff is a footy game on a radio — the tranny — somewhere in the background.
And again, later in the movie, Chopper’s mate Jimmy Loughnan is depicted wearing a sleeveless footy jumper while he sits about in his Housing Commission flat with his heroin addicted partner. Dominik knew that in Chopper’s 1970s and 80s Melbourne criminal milieu, footy was a major part of these men’s lives.
It goes back further than that. John Wren, immortalised in Hardy’s Power Without Glory, died a month after watching his beloved Collingwood win the 1953 VFL Grand Final. Wren, who had a wide variety of political and business interests, some more legitimate than others, was a substantial patron of Collingwood over the years and the stories of Depression era Woods players coming into the changing rooms after a win to find 10 quid notes stuffed into their shoes are legendary.
As such the gangland connections of footy clubs can have benefits as well as drawbacks. Just as Wren managed to lift some of the financial burden of the Collingwood footy club, so North legend recalls that when Malcolm Blight was being lured over from South Australia after long negotiations an in principle agreement was struck in a local hotel late at night over a few dozen beers.
Until, that is, Malcolm decided he wanted to see some cash up front, five grand according to the story. Desperate to secure this mercurial talent the North men — both now very well known — called on a prominent supporter who was engaged in the kind of business that involved having very large sums of cash (five grand then would be equivalent to about seventy now) to hand late into the night. The call was made, the cash delivered and M.Blight went on to win two flags, a Brownlow and a Coleman for North.
Nowadays though, clubs are desperate to keep their players away from ‘prominent racing identities’. It’s hard to imagine a marquee player like Wayne Carey being allowed to give character evidence for the likes of Jason Moran these days.
Given the embarrassing revelations about the relationship between colourful Perth identities like John Kizon and Troy Mercanti and players such as Michael Gardiner, Daniel Kerr and Ben Cousins, you can be sure the West Coast Eagles drill into their young players the dangers of making friends with the bad guys.
But it will still happen. Gangsters and footy players will still end up on the same front pages. Why? The answer is obvious: the two breeds are very, very similar.
Take the case of Alan Didak and his ill-fated drive with Christopher Hudson. There’s nothing to suggest that Didak knew Hudson was a Hell’s Angel when he met him that fateful night. Contrary to popular belief, the Angels tend not to roar around on Harley Davidsons wearing official patched black leather jackets all the time. They’d be rather easy for police to spot if they did.
But what is telling about the manner in which Didak and Hudson crossed paths is that both were in a strip club drinking heavily on a school night. Both saw that environment as one where they would be comfortable and enjoy themselves. It’s a world they share.
Gangsters love footballers at one level because they like the reflected glory hanging around them brings. But also, footballers like gangsters and vice versa because they more often than not get along well. They are usually young men with a lot of disposable income and a fairly healthy testosterone level. They both display a casual bravado towards taking part in acts of violence that are beyond the capability of the vast majority of us. They both expect, and receive, almost limitless access to sex with a variety of young and willing partners if they wish. If these blokes have similar interests, are of a similar age and gravitate towards the same places (nightclubs, the casino, racetracks) why is anyone surprised that they find they enjoy each other’s company.
A good friend of mine is writing a book, a novel, that has the relationship between a footy star and a prominent gangster as one of its defining plot points. The two grew up together in an inner Melbourne suburb and the footballer ends up being targeted by the media and police over his relationship with his childhood mate. But the footballer can’t understand why this is — he makes a point of never being involved in, or asking about, what his mate gets up to. All he knows is that his mate is his mate is his mate and since when was having mates illegal?
Carl Williams’ murder is going to dominate the news agenda in Melbourne for a while now, until the funeral at least. If and when arrests are made for his murder, they’ll be huge news too. But there’s one thing that’ll knock it off the front pages this weekend.