Sport – when given the chance – has always been a vehicle for social change and acceptance. On race, on gender, football has been meeting that challenge in recent years, but not fast enough to save football polymath Eddie McGuire.
For all of McGuire’s heartfelt bluster on Tuesday as he resigned after 22 years as Collingwood president it was hard not to think we’d seen this show before.
David Williamson’s fictional club president from The Club, Ted Parker – played with gusto by another era’s Eddie, Graham Kennedy – offered Magpie fans a view of a fan turned businessman who put everything into the idea of something bigger than himself.
Eddie was always a bit of that – albeit without the pie factory or the charm, although his relationship with the football department may well be on a par.
That McGuire was tripped up on racial issues – in this case his seemingly pathological need to spin the result of an inquiry into the club’s dire history on the issue – likewise seemed to make the real-life circle complete.
As a brash 34-year-old media star, McGuire dragged the Magpies into the modern era after his predecessor Allan McAllister offered this view of Aboriginal players: “As long as they conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect them”.
McGuire clearly knew better, but over the years and in the course of wearing his many hats – all while doggedly rejecting any notion of conflict of interest – his good work and inclinations were often brought undone.
Eddie was indeed everywhere and at times he appeared to forget which audience he was buttering up.
A talented sports reporter who threw himself into his myriad endeavours, McGuire was the winningest of the young roosters who saw the potential for fame and fortune by attaching themselves to football’s growing media show.
It served Eddie and nourished him.
In his emotional and defiant resignation speech McGuire egged the salad a bit when claiming that from the moment he became president his “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”.
Here was the club president, the reporter, the bloke who can see the healing, unifying, change-vehicle that football clubs at their best can be.
The flip side is that McGuire spent years as host of The Footy Show, lapping the dollars and kudos, while co-star Sam Newman belittled football’s fringe, the same groups McGuire claimed to have served as Collingwood president.
The most egregious example was Newman blacking up in 1999 to mock Nicky Winmar, the same player who had called out McAllister and Collingwood fans in 1993. Eddie tutt-tutted, but in 2018 Eddie was still writing it off as vaudeville.
Another time on air, Newman had also been called out for likening an image of a Malaysian man to that of a monkey. So McGuire’s inexplicable 2013 comments on AFL indigenous star Adam Goodes promoting the musical King Kong were neither forgiven or forgotten.
Eddie, and his mates, had form.
More apologies for ‘joke’ misfires followed, including a 2015 quip about drowning Walkley award winning Age football writer Caroline Wilson, a pioneer in her field who cops enough AFL-public abuse without pile-ons encouraged, Trump-like, from the sidelines.
Fighting back tears on Tuesday, McGuire defiantly recounted his achievements in rebuilding Collingwood’s facilities, developing women’s football, services for the homeless, domestic violence mitigation, indigenous programs and gay pride events.
It wasn’t all spin, but it is also a record that has to be balanced against the casual racism, mysoginy and dollar-driven elitism that McGuire swam with to ride his ‘wrong side of the tracks’ mythology all the way from Broadmeadows to Toorak.
McGuire’s farewell speech touched on a who’s who of Melbourne big wigs. His contact book has long since overflowed and Premier Dan Andrews’ supportive words on Tuesday suggests Eddie may not be everywhere, but somewhere, soon enough.
Politics may or may not beckon as Eddie dusts off his footy boots for the next big thing – football in Melbourne is like that.
At the height of McGuire’s powers on The Footy Show, the ratings powerhouse was a cross-promoting paradise for the AFL’s in crowd, particularly in 1997 as Crown sought to funnel footy-loving Victorians into its swank new casino on the Yarra.
In Sydney on Tuesday – a city where McGuire tried and failed to extend his Melbourne-reach during an ill-fated stint as Channel Nine CEO – there was also a big media announcement just as McGuire was stepping down from the Magpie job.
NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin ruled that Crown was not a suitable licence holder for the Bangaroo casino licence, reserving special mention for the disastrous evidence given by Crown Resorts independent director and, yes, former AFL chief and North Melbourne player Andrew Demetriou.
Demetriou had been caught reading from secret notes in the witness stand, with Bergin saying: “This was a most unedifying performance by Mr Demetriou”.
“Unfortunately it reflects very badly on his judgment … It is difficult to understand what might reasonably be made of this quite bizarre performance … The Authority would be justified in lacking confidence in placing reliance upon Mr Demetriou in the future.”
Those footy blokes turned businessmen hey? What chance politics?
As Eddie’s 22 years at Collingwood attests, if you want money, power and fame, maybe just stick to what you know.