Essendon settle last two financial claims from suspended 34
Essendon made their peace – in financial terms at least – with the last two members of the suspended 34 on the eve of the finals.
Born a decade apart Nathan Lovett-Murray and Alex Browne have been gone from the club for some time. They were the last two unresolved claims and both have been settled. Lovett-Murray’s difficult negotiation was the final claim settled following 10 hours of mediation last Friday.
In a symbolic twist of timing Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell and the AFL’s legal boss Andrew Dillon left the Collins Street offices of Herbert Smith Freehills for a couple of hours to stroll up to Melbourne’s Docklands. There they attended the Rising Star function before returning to the long session involving Lovett-Murray, his lawyer John Edgar and manager Peter Jess along with Jack Rush, QC, who had been called in to mediate.
So as an ageing former Bomber was settling his past grievance with the club, Andrew McGrath, the teenaged No.1 draft pick who came to the club after it hit rock-bottom on ladder terms due to the players suspensions, was being declared the star of the future. Lovett-Murray and Essendon settled shortly after 7pm last Friday. Rising Star McGrath will make his finals debut on Saturday against Sydney at the SCG.
While the Lovett-Murray and Browne stories are very different, their alignment came in closing the Bombers’ unhappiest chapter and means that not only Essendon, but hopefully every footballer whose life was tainted by that dark time, can look back less as their lives go forward.
Essendon boss Campbell, who has overseen the millions of dollars in settlements with the support of the AFL and various legal teams, has described the complex negotiations as the toughest part of the entire drug scandal.
That the Bombers have enjoyed a year of football and financial success and three of the 34 returned so triumphantly they made the All-Australian team would have been tempered for the CEO by the personal circumstances of the final settlements.
Browne was delisted by Essendon at the end of 2015 before being suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Finally eligible to play for his new VFL club this season he quit the Northern Blues in May. Club general manager Garry O’Sullivan said then that the fall-out from what Browne had gone through had come to the surface and that he had chosen to walk away from the game.
Alex Browne in the thick of the action for Essendon in 2012. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
"He’s been under the pump with what’s happened," O’Sullivan said, “and he wants to get some happiness back. This thing has been hanging over his head for a number of years and it’s all compounded.”
Lovett-Murray had been preparing a $1 million Supreme Court damages claim in the belief the drugs program at Essendon had not only caused untold stress and damage to him and his family, but had contributed to his young daughter Harmony’s health problems. With the Bombers offering a settlement roughly one-fifth of Lovett-Murray’s claim, Rush was brought in to mediate the dispute.
Leaving aside for a moment the individual suffering of the players involved, the settlements were something Essendon simply had to achieve with some sort of fairness as it rebuilt the club and its horribly tarnished image. Given the damage, the family angst and the complex nature of the claims, it is some credit to Campbell that he has done so within a year of the players returning from their suspensions.
Having been at the club during the time of the drugs program, although not as CEO, Campbell was one Essendon executive this columnist felt would have done better to have cut and run and leave the major repairs to a new group not linked with the past.
And yet Campbell, along with his three of his executive team – Kevin Dixon, Lisa Lawry (the human resources boss who came on board a little later in 2014) and Justin Rodski – remained through the acrimony, the court cases, the damage control and the claims and counterclaims.
Not only have they overseen the recommendations of the Ziggy Switkowski report but they have seen the Bombers become popular and on the way to being powerful again. Under the guidance of a largely new board prioritising integrity and compliance.
Campbell was 33 when former president Paul Little appointed him Essendon CEO, a job he took after interim boss Ray Gunston left, disenchanted with the Bombers’ early stumbling attempts to become a force again after the AFL punishments.
Campbell used to hate people mentioning his age and relative lack of experience, but in truth he was very young for the job and seemed to those on the outside something of a compromise choice. Thanks to a leaked ASADA interview he was also briefly and probably unfairly seen as part of the injecting culture at Essendon.
Not to mention the fact Little presided over the club in the executive style of the Bulldogs’ Peter Gordon and therefore the CEO’s job seemed diminished. Particularly when he was mostly seen in public walking in and out of various legal hearings or acrimonious meetings alongside Little and James Hird – himself now welcomed back by the AFL to present the Norm Smith Medal later this month.
And yet when you consider Campbell’s performance over the past two years: the securing of John Worsfold and his successful first two years at the club, a finals berth in the year the players came back, the Joe Daniher signature, the 2017 profit, the debt repayment forecast and now the final of 34 player settlements; you’d have to say he’s seriously outperformed those early expectations.
Perhaps for Essendon it’s not such a bad thing that Campbell stuck around to clean up the mess.