A series of text messages has revealed that Essendon chairman Paul Little threatened to sever ties with coach James Hird in August 2013 unless Hird accepted a 12-month coaching ban.
The messages, revealed in a book by Chip Le Grand to be published this week, were allegedly sent to Hird while Little was at the home of then AFL deputy Gillon McLachlan negotiating a deal for the Bombers.
The texts pressured Hird to accept the deal that the AFL was offering, in order to protect the league’s deal with Essendon.
“James AFL telling me you are trying to change the negotiated deal. I can’t help you any further James as Fitzpatrick has the s***s and the Total deal now has the wobbles up. I will have to cut you loose. I thought you & I had an agreement. I need to know this afternoon what your decision is. Paul,” reads the first message from Little to Hird.
The second message, which reportedly came about an hour and a half later, said Hird would be “selfish” not to take the ban.
“James AFL have said they will not do EFC deal unless we stand you down. Your decision not to take 12 months is going to impact the total club. This dispute is about to get very messy because you won’t take another 6 months ie a total of 12. If you really want to do what’s in the best interest of the club & its players take 12 months. Anything else will be selfish. Paul.”
Le Grand’s book also reports that Little called Hird later on that night and told the Bombers coach that if he refused to take the suspension, the AFL would have him sacked.
The chairman was worried that if a deal wasn’t reached, Essendon would be stripped of all premiership points in the 2014 season.
“Rather than sack him I just told him I couldn’t protect him anymore. You have got to do what is in the best interests of the club now,” Little said in an interview with Le Grand.
Hird agreed to the deal a short time later and was suspended, while the Dons were kicked out of the 2013 finals series, as well as given draft penalties. Hird has previously claimed that he took the deal under “duress, threats and inducements”.
The negotiations between the AFL and Essendon were facilitated by John Wylie, chairman of the Australian Sports Commission and friend of both Little and AFL commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick.
Little said in another extract from the book: “It was a genuine offer of help from John to try and create a settlement package that I could sign off on, to all intents and purposes from the club and Hird’s point of view, and Fitzy could sign off on, to all intents and purposes from the AFL’s point of view.
“Whether John wants to be remembered for that, I don’t know. Whether Fitzy would agree to it, I don’t know. But that is what happened. It was quite helpful.”
At the time, the AFL Commission was close to handing down sanctions to Essendon and other individuals over the supplements saga.
The text messages put a spotlight on Fitzpatrick’s involvement in the deal. Little’s message – “Fitzpatrick has the s***s and the Total deal now has the wobbles up” – suggests that Fitzpatrick was closely involved in the negotiations.
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