IT DID not take long for the ink to dry — or more accurately the send icon on the email to function — before Adelaide football boss John Reid knew his club had committed to a terrible thing.
At the very least, the Crows at the final hour had agreed to trade Kurt Tippett to the club of his choice at the end of a relatively exorbitant three-year deal for a second-round draft choice. Whether they had agreed to something more sinister is being investigated by the AFL.
Draft tampering is one thing; anything approaching salary cap tampering is an offence punishable by long, slow and history-changing torture.
The club has always claimed the extra clause was instigated by Tippett’s father, Tony, and his manager, Peter Blucher, whose own reputation and that of Alastair Lynch’s Velocity Sports is under serious scrutiny. But Adelaide, to its eternal regret, agreed to it.
"We sold our soul when we did that deal," Reid, who retired from the club shortly afterwards, has since confessed to others more than once. "It was the worst deal in the club's history."
It could be the deal that brings down some of the game's heavy-hitters.
In 2009, Tippett was Adelaide's most-wanted man. He had kicked 55 goals, played in the ruck and taken close to 100 marks that season. He was 22 with an ambitious father who lived on the Gold Coast and was friendly with that club’s chairman, John Witheriff.
Reid and his chief executive, Steven Trigg, went along with it under pressure few other clubs in the AFL could understand. The Crows exist in a two-team town where the media scrutiny is intense and a chosen few can turn on a club and truly damage it.
Three years later, Tippett, again but in an entirely different fashion, is Adelaide’s most wanted. You cannot imagine him returning to AAMI Stadium to play in 2013. But in a sense, it was the anger of the Adelaide football community that has led to the exposure of a deal first revealed in The Age last year.
In August 2011, Trigg responded to The Age’s questions about the clause, saying: ‘‘I can’t talk to you about what’s in his contract, but he’s staying. That’s about as firm and blunt as I can make it.
‘‘Regardless of his contractual situation, we’re backing ourselves to keep him beyond the end of next year also.’’
It is understood the AFL asked questions of the club shortly afterwards, but unearthed nothing worthy of an investigation. Had Tippett not reneged on his unofficial undertaking and moved to the Brisbane Lions or the Suns, you get the feeling there would have been no outcry and no threats.
If only. If only Adelaide’s hierarchy had agreed last year when its former head recruiter, Matt Rendell, had recommended a trade to the Lions for a reportedly decent draft pick. If only the Swans had not, essentially, held the Crows to ransom and forced the trade stand-off offering only pick No.23 and Jesse White.
In one sense this is a story about greed. Why would Tippett go to Brisbane for five years and less than $4 million when he could go to the best club in the competition for a reported $4 million over four years?
Whether or not the Swans are complicit in draft tampering, you suspect their punishment could be mitigated by any failure to prove complicity. Although it seems less likely now that the reigning premier will get their man. Certainly Brisbane believes itself very much back in the picture.
If only the threatening Tony Tippett had not played hard ball as has been suggested and perhaps even influenced Trigg to go to the AFL. How ironic that for the second year running a scandal has erupted in the off-season involving a footballer and his father. Although the Giants broke no draft rules, their punishment of sorts was being forced to place Tom Scully’s father, Phil, in their total player payments.
It is almost two decades since Andrew Ireland (then chief executive of Brisbane) and Graeme Allan (Collingwood) were forced by the AFL’s legal man, Jeff Browne, to come to an agreement on the steps of the supreme court over Nathan Buckley. Buckley had been the subject of alleged draft tampering involving Collingwood and Brisbane after he reneged on an agreement to go to North Melbourne (and before that Port Adelaide) and Collingwood took legal action against Brisbane for allegedly going back on a deal.
Allan and Ireland shook hands shortly before the judge was due to deliver his verdict. Sydney, now run by Ireland, is in reality owned by the AFL, so is unlikely to challenge head office. But this whole Tippett affair has proved messy for that club too, again bringing to light the contentious cost-of-living allowance that the AFL Commission has demanded be reviewed.
The ongoing fear has always been that one day an irate parent with enough money would take on the AFL or a club claiming restraint of their son’s trade. The fall-out in this case looks headed in the direction of Adelaide and Blucher, and potentially Tippett himself.