This week we saw the horror of Andrew Gaff’s assault on Andrew Brayshaw in the Western Australian derby. This was the equal-longest suspension for a single offence since the Tribunal changed its methods of operation in 2005, when the points system was introduced. It was not, though, the longest suspension since then: in 2010 St Kilda’s Steven Baker was suspended for 9 weeks over three charges, all for striking and misconduct against Geelong’s Steve Johnson.
But in the history of the AFL Tribunal, there have been plenty of much longer suspensions. Besides Stephen Dank’s life ban in 2016 for doping (handed down by the Anti-Doping Tribunal), there are some quite lengthy bans hidden back there in the bowels of Australian Rules footy.
We can start with Carlton players, and childhood friends, Doug Fraser and Alex Lang who were involved in a bribery scandal in the finals series in 1910: they both were offered bribes to ‘play dead’, and the Tribunal suspended them for 99 matches, or 5 years. Suspicion about the possibility of a fix being on was first aroused after Carlton lost to St Kilda in Round 18. This was the last round of the season, and it was St Kilda’s first win for the year. While Carlton investigated, they named the players in the team for the next week’s semi-final against Melbourne, confronting them only in the rooms just before the game started. High drama indeed! Alongside Fraser and Lang, Douglas Gillespie (a player) and Edward McInerney (a trainer) were also suspected of taking bribes. But they were exonerated, while Fraser and Lang were suspended first by Carlton and then by the League, in a suspension which would be the longest until the Dank affair. Fraser never played another match, ending his career on 11 games. Lang returned to Carlton in 1916, but retired the next season.
There’s also been some lengthy suspensions for physical violence, with the longest being Fred Rutley, who was suspended at first for life, but then was allowed to return after serving an 89 game suspension. The Rutley incidents took place in Round 12, 1925, on Saturday August 1, in a game between North Melbourne and Geelong. Rutley, playing for North Melbourne, kicked 3 goals out of the Kangaroos’ 9 for the match (with 5 behinds giving them a final score of 59). They lost to Geelong, who kicked 22.22.154. 1925 was the first year that North Melbourne had played in the VFL, and they won 5 games for the season, leaving them 10th on the ladder (out of 12 teams) at the end of the season. They had won their first game, against Geelong, but on this return game at Arden St there was an ‘all-in brawl at half-time’: it seems that ‘Rutley knocked Geelong’s Lloyd Hagger to the ground with a round-arm action.’ Two of Hagger’s teammates – Arthur Coghlan and Stan Thomas – took issue with Rutley, and the three of them proceeded to punch on. This lead to the brawl, which involved players, team officials, and the crowd, who took the opportunity to throw things at the players. Cliff Rankin and Syd Hall, captain and player for Geelong, were left unconscious and stretchered off. In the aftermath, six players were reported for seventeen offences, and at the Tribunal hearing before Baldwin Spencer, they were suspended for lengths ranging from Rutley’s life ban to Harold Johnston’s reprimand (with bans of 26 matches, 5 matches and 3 matches in the middle).
On his return to the game in 1930, The Herald reported that ‘Great satisfaction is felt at North Melbourne with the action of the League in having removed the life disqualification from Fred Rutley. He will shortly resume training with the team’ (August 1, 1930, p. 13).
We then see quite a jump down to the next longest suspension: in 1909, Richmond player Bill Burns received a lifetime ban for kicking, which – on Friday April 22 1910 – was later commuted to 46 matches, allowing him to return in 1912. No further information about this kick seems available – but it must have been quite an effort by Burns!
There’s been some discussion this week about whether Gaff should have faced the criminal justice system, and in 1910 this was precisely what happened to George Topping, a Carlton forward, and Bert Streckfuss, a South Melbourne defender. Topping, outraged by Streckfuss’s elbowing of fellow Carlton player Andy McDonald, struck Streckfuss, knocking him unconscious. As a result, Topping was suspended for 25 matches, and both men were fined 10 pounds, with a three month suspended sentence. Topping would go on to try his hand at umpiring, with limited success (3 VFL and 38 VCFL games umpired, in 1912, 1922 and 1924), perhaps unsurprisingly.
In that same 1910 season, Arthur ‘Shooter’ Ford, a Carlton defender, was suspended for 23 matches for ‘abusing and physically threatening the field umpire’ during the round 14 match against Fitzroy. According to Wikipedia, ‘A possible reason for Ford’s abuse was that it was the same umpire who had suspended his teammate George Topping earlier in the season.’ Evidently there was little respect for the umpires in this era! Other long suspensions for umpire-related incidents include Dan Kelly’s 1917 24 match suspension for ‘sustained abuse of umpire’, Ted Whitfield’s 1945 21 game suspension for ‘attempting to strike umpire’ and ‘abusing umpire’, and Dick Condon’s 1900 incident of ‘sustained abuse of umpire’, which cost him 20 games (after a life-time ban was overturned on appeal).
Condon indeed was known for his fiery temper, and his regular abusing of umpires, opposition players and his own teammates and officials. This incident in 1900 was not the only time when Condon would abuse an umpire – he had done so earlier in the season – but it was the one where he engaged in particularly sexist language, directed at the umpire’s daughter.
Indeed, this serves as a reminder of the many ways in which male violence can play out on the footy field: a scourge not to be celebrated, but always to be historicised!
And with that we leave you with hopes for a peaceful weekend,