The ongoing dispute between community club Essendon Royals and the Moonee Valley council is reported to have now reached IBAC.
IBAC or the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission is the Victorian government body tasked with combatting any corruption in the state.
Although IBAC will keep its investigation sealed until it releases its finding what has been revealed thus far shows a damning pattern of code-based discrimination on the part of the council as well as bullying allegations on the part of the Royals.
The battle between the council and the club appears to have begun back in April 2021. At the time the club was based at its historical home Ormond Park.
Despite the Royals 50-year relationship with Ormond Park, including the club footing the bill for the grounds lighting, the council made the unilateral call to expand the neighbouring Australian Football Field and in process render the Royals home untenable.
At the meeting where this decision was made Moonee Valley City Councillor Rose Iser accused the club of sending a threatening message.
“Hi Rose I’ve had a chat to Brett and I’m happy for these lights to go on tonight … but please keep in mind this is a one off until our needs at Royals are met,” as revealed in the council meeting.
“We start our season off next week and are still one full size ground short to Field our teams. I’ll leave this in your hands to please sort out ASAP. One hand helps the other.”
The club then engaged legal advice on this matter and the council to avoid further conflict passed an amendment allowing the Royals greater access to a subsidiary ground Cross Keys Reserve.
This amendment was proposed by Cr Jacob Bettio and was supported by then Mayor Cam Nation and Councillors John Sipek, Ava Adams, Samantha Byrne, Narelle Sharpe, and Pierce Tyson.
Reviewing public sources from the club it appears that this did result in some amnesty between them and the council with their 2021 AGM stating that the relationship was improving.
“The Club has pursued an improved relationship with Moonee Valley City Council and relevant co-tenants and is delighted to have been able to secure greater access to fields during the summer period,” they said via the club’s website.
However, by the 2022 AGM the relationship once again had soured. As the club stated it was still committed to working with the council to help improve facilities but also that it accuses the Moonee Valley City of failing to support the clubs.
“The Royals and our fellow Moonee Valley clubs struggle to meet that demand due to the lack of facilities within the City of Moonee Valley,” they said via the club’s website.
The Age has now reported that some of the councillors who have supported the club since the original conflict in 2021 have now had their phone seized. This is by far the biggest escalation in the feud and raises more questions than it does answers.
The Councillors who have had their phones seized are Cam Nation, Narelle Sharpe, Jacob Bettio and Samantha Byrne all of whom supported the amendment that allowed the club greater access to Cross Keys. The club also confirmed that they were visited by IBAC officers.
Although we shouldn’t speculate, this is nonetheless a sad turn of events for the community club that last year had over 800 children wishing to participate.
No matter the result of this investigation it is almost certain to damage the reputations both of those involved and for football generally in this state.
It opens old wounds and is an unsettling result as it is apparent that both sides have some culpability in this feud.
It is important to recognise that football is the most participated sport in Moonee Valley City and all stakeholders must reflect on how they can be better custodians of the game.
In a period that has been so positive for football in Australia, it is sad to see that the old divisions of code and identity are still a barrier to the growth of football in this state.
It should also be reflected on that the biggest losers will be the community here and it should offer a reminder that cooperation will be our biggest asset as the game continues to grow.