I try my best. I don't always get it right. But I don't stop trying. But today I step down, effective immediately.
From the moment I became President of the Collingwood Football Club on my 34th birthday back in 1998, my sole motivation was to heal, unite, inspire and drive a new social conscience not just into this club, but sport and the community in general and build an organisation that would be a place of opportunity for all people.
Back then Victoria Park was falling down around us.
On the weekend just past it looked magnificent as our AFL Women’s team played amazing football to win on gay pride weekend.
Rainbow flags in the Collingwood cheer squad alongside the black and white.
Women of all types of size, religion, sexual orientation and cultural background.
It reminded me of the journey from when we established our LGBTQIA+ support group, The Pink Magpies, the first in Australian sport back in the 1990’s.
How far we’ve come.
The old stadium now the home to our women’s team, under 18 team and our rec-link homeless team in a community stadium. Thank you to the State Government of Victoria in particular Dan Andrew’s and Sports minister Martin Pakula.
In what was the raucous one eyed social club named in honour of our champion Bob Rose now houses The MAGPIES COMMUNITY CENTRE, COLLINGWOOD TOY LIBRARY, MIND AUSTRALIA, DISABIlity services, Collingwood headspace for young people’s mental health and eating disorders Victoria AFL sports ready.
All supported by Collingwood.
Our Collingwood foundation.
One of my most treasured parts of our club.
Magpie nest. 45 houses. 135 per night, 250/night in Collingwood/salvos accommodation.
Include Our Women’s program 30 women 20 kids, the victims of domestic violence.
The Darling Munwurro program with Aboriginal elder Alan Thorp, a program of healing program for aboriginal men.
A 16 week program when men come out of jail, they stay in our three houses and use a training room at Victoria Park for life skills to the brake the cycle of domestic violence, anger, jail.....domestic violence and jail. We try to break that cycle.
It’s been very successful and is a world’s first program.
Barrawarn program the Wurundjeri word for Magpie.
Employment and education programs to provide jobs and skills for the Aboriginal community.
These have been going for more than a decade and followed on from our historic relationship with ATSIC which was one of the first things we did when I became President.
Our rec-link team team is for disadvantaged and at risk people.
We provide funding and support for all these projects.
These are outside all our AFL based programs.
And without my right hand man in philanthropic works David Emerson none of this would have happened. Thank you David. And the support of Heloise Pratt and the Pratt foundation as well as the board of the foundation originally John Calvert Jones and later Peter Murphy.
This is why I say we are not a racist club, far from it, it is why I am so proud of our club and the people every day of every week who benefit and are inspired by the very purpose of the being of Collingwood, to be a beacon of hope for all people, particularly those at their lowest ebb or who have been socially isolated and left behind.
I remind people that our recent review, inspired by Black Lives Matter but part of a six year journey in our Reconciliation action plan, was to look to what we need to do in the next ten years not the last.
The report says “that the Collingwood football club commissioned an independent review of its process of dealing with racism that reflects the realisation within the club that something fundamental needs to change .
It needs to be noted and underlined that, in undertaking this review, the club was unflinching in holding up a mirror to itself.
It was a brave first step that few would have the courage to take and shows the seriousness with which the club takes the issue.”
The report does make the point that there have been systemic problems, which the authors explain means problems with our processes that saw our club react to incidents.
It is why in the first paragraph of my written statement last Monday says and I quote, again,
“The board of the Collingwood Football Club commissioned the Do Better report for the right reasons.
We can learn from our past.
Collingwood is and will continue to be, a wonderful club but this should not stop us from striving to be better.
The CFC Do Better report is an acknowledgment that our club, our game and our country have not always got it right.
For our part we have always sought to do our best but that hasn’t always been good enough.
For that we are sorry.”
The report also said “If there is one thing that United almost every person we spoke to in this review, it was their commitment to the Collingwood Football club and their desire to see it be the best version of itself.
And that has been my role for the past 23 years.
I committed myself to making Collingwood the best place it could be.
I am proud as a result of that that we have built these amazing facilities for training, community and social experiences.
That we were able to be a major partner in the rebuild of the MCG.
That we have rebuilt and reimagined Victoria Park.
That against opposition I was able to establish the Collingwood women’s program that now sees two Women’s football team (pre and post COVID restrictions) and to expand our teams to our magnificent Super netball team in the highest grade competition and in Tasmania as well as our Collingwood wheelchair team and now our partnership with the Yarra league which will enable us to grow our community footprint and allow a pathway for multi cultural players, coaches and officials to the big league.
These are all things we are doing.
And our latest endeavour Victoria Sport, a partnership with Monash University sports medicine, to treat injuries and conduct world’s leading research into concussion and the effect of sleep with a hub here and education courses backed by Collingwood and Monash Health with the building starting here at the end of the season.
Thank you to Monash and to the Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
It is because we have so much going, so much good to do and with the interruptions and pressure from COVID 19 that I committed to continue my presidency until the end of this season.
However, I don’t think that is now either fair or tenable to the club and the community.
People have latched onto my opening line last week and as a result I have become a lightening rod for vitriol but worse have placed the club in a position where it’s hard to move forward with the implementation of our plans with clear air.
Our sponsors, who all stand United against any form of racism, are also under pressure.
Emirates, CGU, La Trobe Financial and Nike, have been magnificent supporters and are hard task markers in making sure we live our collective ideals together.
They are a major part of this journey and I thank them on behalf of the entire community..
Their work, through Collingwood, is to shine a light on the path forward and support us in our collective endeavours.
Also to our playing group.
I want them to have no distractions and clear minds in representing the club, winning the flag and helping to fashion the club we want.
When I came to Collingwood it was a club riven with rivalries, enmities and division.
That has not been the case in my time.
So I do not want any of this cause rancour or factions.
It’s better then to fast track my leaving the club from the end of the year to now.
I love Australian rules football.
I love that it is the most equalitarian of games. No matter the size, shape, or any other sub set of life, he or she with the Sherrin is the most important person in the world at that moment.
I love my memories of walking into Victoria Park the first time.
How for the first time in my life I felt part of a community.
That feeling must stay and grow for a new wave of immigrants, First Nation people and all Australians who love the ethos of our game.
To the coaches I’ve had the pleasure to work with, Tony Shaw, Michael Malthouse and Nathan Buckley thank you for your leadership and commerardrie.
To the captains Gavin Brown, Nathan Buckley, Scott Burns, Nick Maxwell and Scott Pendlebury.
What a pleasure it has been to watch you fine young men become great leaders.
And more recently Maddie Brown and Geva Mentor, two wonderful international stars in our netball team.
Steph Ciochi and Brie Davey in our women’s team and my old mate Brendan Stroud premiership captain of our wheelchair team who is currently fighting cancer.
A legend of our club.
To my CEO’s John May, Greg Swan, Gary Pert, Peter Murphy and Mark Anderson thanks for pulling it all together. Footy directors Neil Balme, Gubby Allen, Rodney Eade and Geoff Walsh.
And of course the board members over the years.
The late Numa D’Qino the first Asian board member of an AFL club.
Sally Capp our first woman board member.
Jodie Sizer the first indiginous board member of an AFL club.
And my Vice President for the entire time Alex Waislitz our first person of Jewish faith to be a board member. Ian McMullen, Jack Kennedy, Alisa Camplin, Peter Hammond, Pauls Leeds, Brad Cooper, Mark Fonda, Peter Murray, Jodie Sizer, Christine Holgate, Paul Licuria and Kevin Rose.
There are so many great memories, of games and Premierships, deals and battles.
I would also thank my colleagues at the other clubs.
For their comradship and support particularly this week.
To the AFL commission in particular The late Ron Evans, Bill Kelty, Graeme Samuel, Mike Fitzpatrick and Richard Goyder and chief executive Wayne Jackson, Andrew Demetriou and Gill McLachlan.
These are wonderful people.
Despite the want of the media to think otherwise, they are here doing their best every day in extraordinary circumstances.
I leave knowing one thing for certain.
That in every endeavour my heart has been true.
That my devotion to fairness as endured and grown.
That never have I turned my back on anyone who has reached out for help.
That when I’ve been called upon by the AFL to play a leadership role that I have always acted in the best interests of the competition.
The AFL benchmark of time in office is to ask if the organisation is left in a better place when the term began.
I believe that to be the case but one thing I’ve learned this week is that plenty will have their say about me.
And finally to the people who have made the greatest sacrifice my family.
They feel everything a thousand times more than me.
My boys Joe and Xander. I’m so proud of you wonderful young men.
You’ve known nothing other than me as President of this club.
Shared the ups and downs of wins and losses, served the wine at major meetings, opened the door for players coming for one of those meetings but gratifyingly loyal and true Collingwood supporters.
And to Carla my wife. None of this was in the brochure!
Your council and support has been everything.
That you embraced being a “Football family” and endured years of rubber chicken at functions, speeches and the enormous pressure that comes with the position.
I couldn’t have done it without you and now it’s your turn.
And with the indulgence of my media partners I’m going to take a break for a little while to regroup and heal.
So that’s it.
The club can build to a new future from an enormously strong base.
The implementation of the Do Better report will make us indeed better.
Our finances and plans are well underway.
And with a bit of luck we might have some silverware in the cupboard by the end of the year.
To my old mate Joffa Corfe and my beloved Magpie army.
I’m with you all, side by side, Black and White forever.
Good luck to all, Floreat Pica may the Magpie Flourish