Inside story of salary cap scandal still haunting Carlton
THE Carlton bagman would come twice a season carrying brown paper bags stuffed with cash.
Tens of thousands of dollars at a time were dropped off at David Allison's office in Royal Pde, Parkville.
"In those days there was a lot of cash money made available," Allison, a former AFL player agent, said from his Queensland home.
"I not only received cash for my players but also to hand on to some other players.
"I've got to be a little bit careful … but there were a few other clubs involved as well."
Similar transactions involving other agents took place over several years before the Carlton salary cap scandal exploded in August 2002.
Four big-name Blues players - Fraser Brown, Stephen O'Reilly, Craig Bradley and Stephen Silvagni - were publicly linked to under-the-table payments, and later ruckman Matthew Allan, but Allison insists many more were involved.
As AFL investigators closed in, Brown, one of Allison's Carlton clients, refused point-blank to co-operate.
"Fraser Brown had the biggest ticker of anybody I know," Allison recalled.
"I said to him straight out, 'You don't have to disclose anything to them'."
But Silvagni, the AFL Full-back of the Century and son of club great Serge Silvagni, did co-operate.
Silvagni and Bradley told the AFL they had agreed to - but not received - undisclosed payments.
O'Reilly also came clean and on the eve of the 2002 national draft Carlton was fined almost $1 million and stripped of two seasons of prized draft selections.
Then-AFL chief executive Wayne Jackson declared Carlton "deserved everything they got, and arguably, some more".
The fallout was devastating, triggering a 16-year run of misery that will net a fifth wooden spoon next month.
A premiership champion from the 1970s told the Herald Sun this week there were many connected to the club who had not forgiven those who spilled the beans.
Others insist Silvagni and Bradley had no choice but to talk once the tax office had become involved.
Silvagni retired at the end of 2001 and by late 2002 was embroiled in the bitter boardroom brawl that led to John Elliott being deposed as president two weeks before the sanctions and two decades after taking charge at Princes Park.
The anti-Elliott "Carlton One" ticket that assumed control of the club in November 2002 included premiership players Ian Collins, Ken Hunter, David McKay and Silvagni.
Pokies king Bruce Mathieson also backed the coup, splitting the club into two bitter camps.
It was current president Mark LoGiudice, who has the backing of Mathieson, who in December 2014 would lure Silvagni back home from Greater Western Sydney as head of list management and strategy.
Wounds deepened in 2003 when Elliott's name was removed from a grandstand at Optus Oval and "Big Jack" hit back on The Footy Show by claiming Bradley and Silvagni had been paid the dirty money they were promised by his regime.
It was left to another club great, Stephen Kernahan, one of only two directors to survive the Elliott putsch, to calm the angst.
"As a current board member, I can confirm that the two players have not been paid and I sincerely hope that this issue can be put behind us," Kernahan said at the time.
Remnants of the feud flashed last week when Elliott's son, Tom, long-linked to a Carlton board challenge, took aim at LoGiudice on his 3AW Drive program.
Elliott Snr also weighed in, suggesting the club was in need of "some new people" and "a bit of a revolution".
"There are more factions at Carlton than the Labor Party," one past club official quipped this week.
Mike Spartels was a member of the powerful Carlton social club when the salary cap crisis erupted.
Like many whose heart beats Blue, he believes the club is still haunted by the scandal.
"The s--- hit the fan and in my opinion the club has never really recovered," Spartels said.
"The tradition and culture at Carlton has been dissipating from then.
"What you are seeing now would never have been accepted by past boards. When we went to the bottom it was a calamity.
"They're all over the place and it hurts me to see it like this."
Formed in the 1960s, the social club, which became embroiled in the salary cap investigation, included football directors and independents and was responsible for the financial management of Princes Park.
It was disbanded after the club's contentious move to Telstra Dome (Etihad Stadium), where Elliott's successor, Collins, worked as chief executive.
Collins finished up as Carlton president in 2006, handing over briefly to businessman Graham Smorgon, before Elliott's great mate Richard Pratt wrested back control.
It was Elliott, Kernahan and club great Wes Lofts who met with Pratt in February 2007 when the billionaire decided to take on the presidency.
Peter Kerr, a former Carlton player and the son of club icon Laurie Kerr, was a director alongside Elliott from 1980 until the coup of 2002.
Asked about the bad blood at his club, Kerr said this week: "In retrospect, it would have been better for all concerned in the salary cap saga to stick together and not break ranks.
"The AFL unfairly targeted John Elliott and hit us with a massive penalty.
"The club has never fully recovered.
"Despite the setbacks, I think our supporters remain optimistic, and hopefully we can follow Richmond's example and turn the thing around."
Three-time premiership player Mark Maclure says the salary cap saga is too long ago to be a current factor.
"I don't think it's got anything to do with that. Nothing. That's all a million years ago," Maclure said.
"That kicked it off at the start but then we made poor decision after poor decision, appointing poor people in the business, and that is where we are now.
"We have made our own mess and we've got to fix that.
"I'm confident they'll get through it and I'm confident they'll keep (coach Brendon) Bolton. I think he's terrific, we just don't have any cattle.
"Our biggest problem is whether we can hang on to a group of supporters for long enough."
Maclure, a vocal critic of the decision to bring coach Mick Malthouse to the club, said the departure of seasoned players now starring at other clubs was more concerning.
"Not on my watch would I ever let go of Eddie Betts or Jarrad Waite. Who let them go? Why did they let them to go? That's the biggest issue. You put those players back in and we're competitive because we've got the kids coming through," he said.
"We can all whinge about things that happened in the past but we need to stand strong - and from 2 o'clock to 5 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon is the most important time for your supporters."
Wayne Brittain, who coached the club as the scandal unfolded, said Carlton was simply "way too slow" to embrace the professional era.
"The sanctions were far greater than what they needed to be, but I don't think you can bark up that tree," he said.
"They just haven't made enough right decisions to make their way back.
"I always felt one of their biggest problems was that they lived in the past way too much.
"They still believed all they had to do was just go out and buy the best players, put them in the club and they will help win you the premiership.
"They never invested in their facilities, in their coaches or things that were going to help them develop young players and be a good developing club.
"They were always looking for the fast-food quick fix.
"One of the reasons they replaced me with (Denis) Pagan was because they thought they'd be able to click their fingers and be able to go.
"One of the reasons they put Malthouse in for Ratts (Brett Ratten) is because they thought they'd be able to just get things happening straight away - but there's not a quick fix in AFL footy."
The mega-deal to sign Malthouse after Ratten's sacking in 2012 was thrashed out in the St Kilda Rd office of former Carlton vice-president Richard Newton.
"Ratts had done as much as we felt he could … and we felt that we needed somebody who was experienced and had done it before to take us to the next level. We got close, but obviously we didn't get up there," Newton reflected.
He said the salary cap scandal was a "massively diminishing factor".
"I think it's too far back to say that it's still hurting us," he added.
"Nobody said that when we beat Richmond in that first final (in 2013)."
Asked if he was aware of ongoing angst, Newton said: "I'm aware of it but I think that is diminishing, too. SOS (Silvagni) is doing a great job on the recruiting.
"I know the strategy and I understand it … but maybe we exposed ourselves more than we thought by getting rid of that middle bracket of players.
"It's frustrating and disappointing … but you can't change strategy now."
Four-time Carlton premiership player Percy Jones, who coached the Blues for one season, in 1980, was more forthright.
"It's just pathetic," Jones said.
"There's some ordinary players there and we've had a lot of No.1 draft picks but it hasn't helped us much."
Ex-Blue Brendan Fevola slammed Carlton this week as the worst side the league had ever seen.
"I played in a pretty crap side, but they are crapper," Fevola said.
Salary cap cheating clubs were offered the chance to confess without penalty in 1994 thanks to an AFL moratorium - but Carlton continued on.
It was revealed in 2003 that the Blues had been funnelling money to players through a construction company between 1993-95 in arrangements signed off by club bosses.
Elliott told Fox Footy's Open Mike seven years ago that the club's issues in the late 1990s were forced by "some greedy players … which made things difficult".
In his 2003 book, Elliott claimed Bradley and Silvagni were "by far the two most difficult players' contracts the Carlton Football Club negotiated".
Veteran player agent Ron Joseph recalled negotiating one of Silvagni's final contracts with Elliott in the president's city office.
"From what I understand, he was having some difficulties with Carlton, and Serge told him to come and see me," Joseph recalled.
"It dragged on and Stephen would be getting angrier and John would be sitting there puffing his cigarette and having a whisky as he was talking to me.
"Except for John's humour, they were never pleasant negotiating exercises, I remember that."
Joesph said he knew nothing about any proposed under-the-table payments.
O'Reilly, now a Fremantle board member, was the first to crack in 2002 when league investigators, led by then-football operations boss Andrew Demetriou, came hunting.
Allison believes the rise of Anthony Koutoufides, who was paid more than a $1 million a year at his peak, added to Carlton's salary squeeze.
"There was a lot of innuendo at the time that Kouta was earning this, he was earning that," Allison said.
"And if Kouta was getting paid $1 million a season that left f--- all to be paid to so many players, and that's what I think instigated the whole investigation."
Silvagni was a no-show at a private gathering at Crown casino three years ago to celebrate the flag of 1995.
He had a prior commitment to attend a family member's birthday party, but a former Carlton staffer said his absence was noted.
Silvagni, 51, went on the attack last week, defending the club's strategy under third-year coach Brendon Bolton.
He rejected suggestions he had too much power or that he had played a part in the removal of chief executive Stephen Trigg.
"A rebuild is never easy … it's really easy to build a list to get to eighth, ninth and 10th … but to build a list to win a premiership will take time and patience," he said
Whether Carlton's factions are prepared to wait that long is another matter.
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