Chairman of the Adelaide Football Club: it should be the most-coveted appointment in town.
“And you also are under more scrutiny than any other chairman in South Australia – even more than the Premier,” says Glenelg Football Club president Peter Carey.
The South Australian football legend has ruled himself out of succeeding Rob Chapman, who has declared his intent to depart at the end of the football season in October after 11 years in the high-profile role.
Internally, the obvious replacement – at least to Chapman and his fellow directors – was Jim McDowell. He resigned – after three years on the Adelaide Football Club board – earlier this month to concentrate on his duties in government.
Many were surprised that McDowell had not seen a potential conflict of interest earlier, in particular in 2018 when Premier Steven Marshall appointed the former University of South Australia chancellor as chief executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.
So for the second time in three years, Chapman is without a hand-picked successor. His first option, after the 2017 AFL grand final loss to Richmond, was deputy chair Bob Foord. He died of a heart attack in December 2017, denying the Crows a much-needed new leader with a football background (Foord had played league football with SANFL club West Adelaide and had deep sporting roots that spread from cricket to hockey to soccer).
The potential field for the Adelaide Football Club chairmanship is long and varied – from former Crows player David Pittman, former AFL chief executive Wayne Jackson, current SANFL club presidents Carey and Paul Di Iulio at Norwood to the internal option of former Federal minister Kate Ellis… or, even less likely, one of her Liberal thorns, Christopher Pyne.
But more people currently prefer to exclude themselves from the race rather than seek endorsement to be Chapman’s successor – and the club’s fourth chairman in 31 years.
“Why would I enter that viper’s nest?” said one reluctant candidate late last week, at the same time FIVEaa breakfast host David Penberthy, husband of Ellis, described (from a “punter’s perspective”) the Crows “as a total bloody shambles”.
“Everyone on the board would hopefully know that too,” Penberthy said.
This is not the way Chapman would want to exit the Adelaide Football Club, more so when Australian football lives to the premise of “leaving the game better than how you found it.”
Chapman’s term does not expire until 2022, keeping the door open for him to again extend his chairmanship in “extraordinary cirmcustances” such as the fall-out of the COVID pandemic that will drown all 18 AFL clubs with heavy losses this year.
Chapman, deputy chairman Jim Hazel and McDowell all leaving within four months – and the prospect of a new chief executive to replace the increasingly shaky Andrew Fagan – would create a big off-field void while novice coach Matthew Nicks is amid a major on-field rebuild that could take five years.
As steadfast as Chapman has been in his public declaration of moving on, there also is his promise to not leave Adelaide in a vulnerable position. The farewell card is far from a certainty in October.
Filling Chapman’s seat demands more than chairing 13 meetings a year and 11 home-match functions.
“Some weeks you are looking at 40 hours,” said Carey, who plays golf with Chapman each week. “It is a massive job – and it needs someone with a lot of time on their hands. That is not me.
“You also need to be at the right age in life. I am 66 – and I want to do other things in life.”
At the right age – and with the appropriate resume – is 51-year-old Crows premiership ruckman and stockbroker David Pittman.
Former AFL chief executive Wayne Jackson – who is ruling himself out of the field despite being repeatedly linked to the unpaid job – endorses Pittman.
“He has been in the AFL, played the game and knows his way around the league beyond the Adelaide Football Club,” Jackson told InDaily. “He also is successful in the commercial world.
“That is what the Adelaide Football Club needs today. Ideally, they would find another Bob Hammond (the club’s inaugural chairman who died recently). Someone with an impeccable football resume that includes many key roles in football. It is important they find someone with the credentials that resonate on the playing side of the club. That is critical to the club’s culture.”
But Pittman says he does not have the time.
“To do (the job) right would take a lot of time and energy – and I can’t spare the time,” Pittman told InDaily. He insists Chapman’s successor – to deliver a premiership, the club’s first since 1998 – would need to be “maniacally fully invested”.
Bill Sanders was Adelaide’s inaugural chief executive (1990-2001) and third chairman, following Hammond (1991-2000) and the late Bob Campbell (2001-2003). He handed the chairmanship to Chapman after serving the role from 2003-2009.
“No matter if it is the Ardrossan Football Club in country football or the Adelaide Football Club in the AFL, the club chairman needs to manage people to bring the best out of them,” Sanders said.
“The Adelaide Football Club is no different to any large organisation – it depends on the people you put around you. Rob Chapman has gone through many tough situations – the death of Phil Walsh and now the coronavirus challenges. As chairman, you are there to oversee how the club manages such difficult situations.
“How involved you become as chairman depends on the people you put in staff roles. Management runs the business; the chairman oversees it. Your success as chairman is determined by the confidence and quality of the people around you.”
Whoever replaces Chapman – if there is indeed a suitable candidate by October – will need to clear away outstanding issues. This is the view of many AFL observers. They contend the Adelaide Football Club needs to undergo a truly independent review of all operations to allow the new chairman to start with no “ticking time bomb” under the boardroom table.
InDaily looks at the candidates – internal and external, including a few wild cards.
WHO WOULD BE CHAIRMAN?
Chairman since 2009 when he succeeded Bill Sanders, Chapman has led the Adelaide Football Club through its most dramatic decade, filled with extremes on and off the field. A former high-office banker with BankSA, St George and the Commonwealth banks in Adelaide and Sydney and still a leading businessman and financier in Adelaide, Chapman has been at the helm during the Kurt Tippett salary cap scandal in 2012, the move to Adelaide Oval in 2014, the death of coach Phil Walsh in 2015, the rise to the 2017 AFL grand final and the fall since with the lingering torment of the Gold Coast pre-season camp in 2018.
A club legend – 312 AFL games from 1993-2007, a captain for 142 games from 1999-2007, Brownlow Medallist in 2003 (the only Crow with this high honour), club champion three times (1998, 2003 and 2004), eight times an All-Australian and a member of the 1998 premiership side after missing the 1997 grand final due to injury.
Only Andrew McLeod enters the debate alongside Ricciuto for the greatest Crow.
Ricciuto joined the board in July 2014, first on an interim basis, then on a members’ vote and finally he was co-opted as a director without returning to the members’ ballot.
Seen as the “kingmaker” in recent coaching appointments and as chairman of the list-management committee, Ricciuto has long had a conflict in his media roles on radio and television and the need for diplomacy from the board table. This has become more difficult for Ricciuto in the past year, starting with his public apology last year after he took issue with fans criticising the board.
Ricciuto said on radio: “Whatever decision has been made from top to bottom will be made for the betterment of the football club. The supporters should back our people in and if they don’t, well then maybe they don’t need to barrack for the footy club any more.”
Those remarks have cost Ricciuto dearly in the eyes of the members.
An Adelaide Football Club ambassador in 2009; Adelaide’s No.1 ticketholder – the first woman to have this honour – in 2011; and a board member since 2017. This is the former federal sports minister’s path to power at West Lakes.
Ellis became the fourth woman to sit in the mahogany-lined board room at the Adelaide Football Club when she replaced the arts-minded Kate Gould as a director. She was co-opted to the board without a members’ vote at the same time businessman and University of South Australia chancellor Jim McDowell was ushered onto the directors’ roll call.
Ellis was internally lauded during the 2019 federal election when she secured from the Labor Opposition a guarantee the ALP would match the $15 million in taxpayer funding offered by the Liberal government for the club’s new training and administrative centre (then slated for the Aquatic Centre at North Adelaide).
SAPOL assistant police commissioner Linda Fellows is the unheralded leader who calmly acted during the traumatic aftermath from the shock death of coach Phil Walsh in 2015.
Fellows joined the Crows board – without a member vote – in August 2015 after serving the club in other roles, in particular on integrity issues.
A long-time Crows fan, Fellows has a strong interest in the club’s successful AFLW program.
Of all the homegrown options for the Adelaide Football Club, the premiership ruckman is the best – and avoids the “boys’ club” image. Pittman played 131 AFL games for Adelaide (1992-1999) but has expanded his football resume with coaching at Port Adelaide and at the AFL as a tribunal panel member. His recent work at lifting amateur club Glenunga to success also draws much praise.
Pittman also holds strong support from AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, making him a perfect chairman for Adelaide.
But he refuses to take up invitations to join the board, the most recent coming from former team-mate and current board member Mark Ricciuto late last year.
Pittman, a long-serving institutional dealer in the stockbroker world for Taylor Collison, says he does not have the time to devote himself to the critical needs of the Adelaide Football Club from the boardroom.
PAUL DI IULIO
Norwood Football Club (SANFL) president and chief executive at the Campbelltown Council, Di Iulio does have growing endorsement in SA football circles – and from leading SA lawyer Greg Griffin.
Di Iulio is maintaining a low profile and a preference to finish long-standing projects at Norwood, in particular the new clubhouse – the Wolf Blass Community Centre at The Parade.
The time commitment required with the Crows chairmanship works against Di Iulio today.
“Super” has only one note missing from his superb football resume – AFL. He played SANFL league football with a record 448 games at Glenelg from 1971-1988; he served on the SA Football Commission until work commitments took him interstate; and he is currently president of the Glenelg Football Club.
“And at 66, that is where I will finish my involvement football before taking up travel and enjoying life with my grandchildren,” Carey told InDaily. “An AFL club is not for me now; my passion is with Glenelg and I am enjoying my role as president even in these tough times.
“I love the people I am working with at Glenelg. Moving to an AFL club is beyond me now.”
This is all Wayne Jackson will say while the former AFL chief executive is repeatedly linked to the Adelaide Football Club as Rob Chapman’s successor as chairman.
“And no-one should read any more into that … No comment is enough,” Jackson said to InDaily.
This is a return to 1975 when his SANFL club West Torrens – for whom he played 71 league games from 1965-1971 – asked him to be chairman. “And on my first day I found out the club was broke,” Jackson recalls.
But with Adelaide needing at least five years to rebuild its on-field fortunes, the 76-year-old Jackson does not intend to add the Adelaide Football Club to his administrative record.
This includes the SA Football Commission (1991-1994), AFL Commission in 1995 and AFL chief executive from 1996-2003.
One theme from SA football’s “old guard” is for the Crows to take a step back – to repair cultural issues exposed in recent times – before moving forward. Former chief executive Steven Trigg has blocked overtures to return to West Lakes – and next up is former board member Peter Hurley. The 69-year-old hotelier was on the Crows board from 2000-2014, after which he joined the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority.
Some stains are hard to remove in football. This certainly applies with Trigg who took one for the team by copping the biggest penalty from the AFL Commission in 2012 for the Kurt Tippett salary cap rort – a scar some will not let pass.
Trigg’s resume also includes 129 league games in the SANFL (110 at Central District, 1980-1986, and 19 with North Adelaide in 1987); a coaching stint at SANFL club Sturt, in the reserves in 1990 and seniors in 1991 and 1992; more than a decade in the media as a newspaper columnist and television commentator; 17 years at the Adelaide Football Club, from the media office to the chief executive chair for a record 13 years until his resignation in 2014; and chief executive at Carlton from August 2014 until mid-2018.
Trigg currently is managing director of Seppeltsfield Wines. He was – as first reported by InDaily – sounded out for a comeback to West Lakes to become Chapman’s successor. He has noted it is not the appropriate time to make a return to the Adelaide Football Club.
As InDaily’s Tom Richardson revealed earlier this month, the owner of the Adelaide 36ers national basketball team wants to be the Crows chairman. It is one of his two driving ambitions, along with taking a meaningful seat in State parliament with Steve Marshall’s Liberal government.
The messy fall-out from Kelley being blocked – by both the AFL and Adelaide’s nomination panel led by deputy chair Jim Hazel – is reminiscent of how former state Treasurer Kevin Foley was blacklisted after offering to serve as Port Adelaide president in 2012 before David Koch was handpicked by AFL boss Andrew Demetriou.
Kelley has walked away, but close friend – and former Adelaide United soccer club owner – Greg Griffin intends to score some payback.
A successful businessman with a long resume in football at many levels, Jackson is the AFL’s go-to man for solving problem clubs. In April 2013, then AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou called on Jackson to refloat the Melbourne Football Club as a hand-picked chief executive with a five-year plan.
Jackson rebuilt the Melbourne football department and convinced premiership coach Paul Roos to take charge of the on-field agenda.
Jackson was chief executive and managing director at the Essendon Football Club from 1996-2009. His arrival by a league parachute at West Lakes would underline how AFL House has final say while holding the Adelaide Football Club licence.
In between AFL roles at Essendon and Melbourne, Jackson served a chairman’s role at AFL Victoria.
Now in New South Wales, the Adelaide premiership ruckman did back Grant Kelley’s failed push to join the Crows board – and is concerned with the club’s future direction and unity.
Rehn played 134 AFL games for Adelaide from 1991-2000 – and notably suffered a serious knee injury in a pre-season game when he slipped on a hard disc on the centre circle at Football Park. He moved to Hawthorn to play 33 AFL matches in two seasons before taking up coaching, both in the SANFL and AFL.
For the rest of the AFL season, you can read news and insights from Michelangelo Rucci – SA’s most experienced and credible football writer – every Friday in InDaily.
Want to comment?
Send us an email, making it clear which story you’re commenting on and including your full name (required for publication) and phone number (only for verification purposes). Please put “Reader views” in the subject.
We’ll publish the best comments in a regular “Reader Views” post. Your comments can be brief, or we can accept up to 350 words, or thereabouts.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to contribute to InDaily.