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Search for next Crows chairman turns to another banker

Football

A new candidate has emerged in the search for the Adelaide Football club chairman – again a banker. Michelangelo Rucci reports on a weekend when the Crows were busy off the field.

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Jamie McPhee is leaving the chief executive’s seat at the Melbourne-based ME Bank on Friday – and could replace it with the chair at the Adelaide Football Club.

For the third consecutive succession at the AFL club, the Crows chairman would have a banking resume – as current chairman Rob Chapman does and as his predecessor Bill Sanders did.

McPhee, once-described as a “Carlton tragic”, also has a sporting pedigree that will appease those who want a change in the Crows’ commercially-driven culture. He played district cricket for Kensington, was captain of the Australian under-19 team and played 30 SANFL league games for Sturt after his debut in 1984.

Should McPhee take up the Adelaide Football Club chairman’s role – a high-profile position being avoided by many others – it will be a major success for Crows’ vice-chairman Jim Hazel.

The man charged with vetting nominations for the Adelaide board will have succeeded in keeping the succession plan controlled from within – rather than externally by an “old guard” of former Adelaide players and officials or the Crows’ former licence-holders at the SANFL.

McPhee’s name emerged in the notable power chats at Adelaide Oval on Sunday afternoon when the Crows’ winless season extended to eight games with the three-point loss to Essendon.

This continued the secret meetings and seemingly endless telephone calls across Adelaide in the past month to engineer the refit of the Crows boardroom.

Three different agendas have been in play.

There is Hazel seeking to protect the legacy of his chairman and business partner, Chapman; the Crows “old guard” – best identified by former club chairman and inaugural chief executive Bill Sanders – wanting a new era with a stronger emphasis on football culture; and the SANFL forefathers of the club who also want to mark the 30th anniversary of the Adelaide Football Club with change off the field.

Not so secret is the “fence-building” session Hazel had with Adelaide 36ers basketball franchise owner Grant Kelley on Friday – a “catch up” Hazel photographed, if only to clear away the questions as to why the Crows are not embracing Kelley.

For a man who declared he did not know Kelley well, Hazel certainly learned fast about the “outsider” who wants to revive the Crows.

Or perhaps the events of Friday – when Hazel strategically arranged to meet Kelley at his regular Adelaide rendezvous at Chianti on Hutt Street – also say so much about how Adelaide society works.

Hazel’s far-reaching contacts gave him good mail, particularly on Kelley’s preferred taste in Adelaide’s long list of culinary delights.

The lengthy session – for coffee not lunch – allowed Hazel to know much, much more about Kelley. And vice-versa.

Hazel’s meeting with Kelley came after an exclusive story by InDaily’s Tom Richardson, which created quite a stir for quoting Hazel saying: “We (the Crows) know our way around the sporting landscape pretty well in SA, but Grant’s not someone I know well.”

Jim Hazel and Grant Kelley at Chianti last week.

For all the ground made up on Friday, the bottom line of the “catch up” was the same at the end of the two-hour chat as it was at the start.

Kelley is not being endorsed to fill – as a co-opted director – one of the two vacancies forecast for the Adelaide Football Club board during the off-season when Hazel and Chapman step away.

Despite his business acumen, the endorsement of SA heavyweights such as Bill Spurr, his commitment to sport with his personal wallet covering the holes in the 36ers’ annual budgets and his link to a Crows coterie group, the vice-presidents, since 2013, Kelley still does not fit. Not yet. He is not a persona non grata, but he also is not having the welcome mat rolled out to the club’s mahogany lined board room at West Lakes. He still needs to mix with the in-crowd at West Lakes.

Kelley – like former AFL chief executive Wayne Jackson – can be formally ruled out of a move to the Adelaide Football Club board room in October, either as one of the nine directors or as the club’s fifth chairman since inception in 1990.

However, like Jackson, Kelley still wants to play a part in Adelaide’s rebuild – on and off the football field. He has described the Adelaide Football Club as “an important part of our city – of its identity, of its mood and its confidence” noting the emotional power the Crows have had on South Australians from 1991 in stripping the gloom created by the economically costly State Bank collapse.

In the past month, Kelley has met two significant powerbrokers in the “Crows family”. Former Crows director and powerful hotelier Peter Hurley, who has rebuffed overtures to return to the Adelaide board, had lunch with Kelley three weeks ago.

Hurley has had several meetings – and is very guarded on where he stands among the three power groups seeking to find Chapman’s successor.

“He is very agnostic,” was one description of Hurley’s position.

It will be these influential men around town  – and not the Crows’ 60,000-strong membership – who will resolve this power-play to control the Adelaide Football Club.

The club’s constitution technically puts the final call on the boardroom plays with the AFL Commission, a Melbourne-based ruler that has, with the fall-out of the COVID pandemic, far bigger issues on its mind than messy SA football politics … and Adelaide society notes.

Unlike 2012, when then AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou took over the Port Adelaide board to win a powerplay against the SANFL on the two SA-based AFL licences, current league boss Gillon McLachlan is highly unlikely to push back. More so when the Crows are not taking AFL funding to cover debt but working an overdraft from the Bendigo Bank.

So it is no surprise bankers will lead the Crows off the field in the post-COVID era when Adelaide also has to rebound on the field where it is about to collect its first AFL wooden spoon.

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