Stephen Milne arrives at the Melbourne Magistrate' Court.

Stephen Milne arriving at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

St Kilda footballers have infuriated club sponsors and advocacy groups for sexual assault victims by requesting donations for the legal defence of retired player Stephen Milne, who faces rape charges.

The Sunday Age can reveal some of the club's most senior players were involved in approaches to sponsors, coterie members and prominent supporters in a bid to finance Mr Milne's legal team, which includes high-profile barrister Philip Dunn, QC.

Several sources said the club's board was aware of, but not involved in, the plan to financially support Mr Milne, who was described as a ''loyal servant'' and a ''proud man'' in emails and text messages exchanged since October 18.

It is understood Mr Milne had previously refused an offer of a fund-raising dinner, which was to be held at the restaurant of a wealthy supporter.

On November 15, Mr Milne was committed to stand trial in the County Court next August on three counts of rape, which allegedly took place at the Highett home of former teammate Leigh Montagna in 2004. Mr Montagna was never charged.

Prosecutors said the alleged victim - who was a 19-year-old university student at the time - had thought she was with Mr Montagna at the time of the alleged attack and repeatedly said ''no'' to Mr Milne. The alleged victim and her friend were said to have been referred to as ''just a couple of footy sluts'' by Mr Milne as he provided fingerprints to police. Mr Milne, 33, of Cheltenham, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

One member of St Kilda's Halo Coterie group confirmed he received an email about two weeks ago from another coterie member. He said the request for money was a ''disgrace''.

''From a public relations point of view, this is another disaster. This guy [Milne] has been making serious money for years and now they think he's worthy of charity. What message does this send to members on an ordinary wage, let alone the girl involved [in the alleged rape]?''

The coterie member, who asked not to be named, said he was reconsidering financial support for the embattled club, which has been plagued by recent scandals, including the suspension of Ahmed Saad on a doping charge and the burning of a dwarf entertainer at post-season celebrations.

Two other club benefactors confirmed they had been asked for financial help, but defended the players.

''They're a close bunch and they're obviously helping out a mate. There's nothing sinister about it,'' said a former board member.

A spokeswoman for St Kilda Football Club confirmed it was aware of fund-raising by senior players on Mr Milne's behalf.

''The St Kilda Football Club has not been approached to contribute funds and will not make any financial contribution towards this initiative,'' the spokeswoman said. She would not say whether the club approved of the players' actions.

The decision by Saints players to seek help from sponsors and supporters has been slammed by the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assaults.

''There is a power imbalance when anyone takes on the AFL or their clubs. They have money and influence and access to high-end lawyers, which the [alleged] victims obviously won't have,'' said CASA spokeswoman Carolyn Worth.

Anna Krien, author of Night Games, which examines the dark side of football culture, said it was not the responsibility of club sponsors to finance a player's legal defence.

''I've got no problem with friends reaching into their own pockets to help each other out - but to have leading team footy players approaching their club and the club's sponsors to pay for top-dollar defence at a former teammate's rape trial, you've entered pretty ugly territory,'' Ms Krien said.

AFL media manager Patrick Keane would not comment on the issue of players helping to finance Mr Milne's legal defence.

"The charges are proceeding and the community must respect the legal process, acknowledging both that the complainant needs to be heard and that Stephen Milne has the right to defend himself,'' Mr Keane said.

The AFL Players Association did not respond to a request for comment.