TIME is running out for Willaston Football Club to decide on whether it will appeal the charges laid against it by SANFL Community Football (CFL) last week.
In a statement, the Donnybrooks’ committee last Wednesday revealed it was “currently seeking legal advice” after allegations the club had breached the CFL’s salary cap regulations were made public.
The Bunyip understands Willaston has until close of business on Friday to lodge its appeal.
The club is currently staring down the barrel of significant sanctions, as detailed on the front page of today’s Bunyip, prompting the question: how has it arrived in its current predicament?
How it all started
In March, Willaston revealed it had terminated Josh Glenn’s tenure for the upcoming 2018 Barossa, Light & Gawler season after learning he was involved in an alleged assault of a patron at a Gawler establishment.
CFL manager Matt Duldig, speaking with The Bunyip, said the investigations into a potential player payment breach at the Donnybrooks really ramped up in “early, maybe late, April” once Glenn had departed the club.
“It’s been an investigation that has really been going on for quite some time,” he said.
“With any high-profile recruit (like Glenn) we always touch base.
“It wasn’t until he, probably, left the Willaston Footy Club that from there he was fully co-operative with the investigation, and that allowed us to piece a few things together, and get to the point we’re at now.”
Mr Duldig asserted that Willaston president Kieran Sankey – who was appointed to the position in January, replacing his predecessor Wayne Smith – and other committee members had also been transparent with the CFL during its investigation.
“I want to be clear that Kieran and his new committee, who weren’t part of when these alleged breaches took place, co-operated fully once we approached them,” Mr Duldig said.
“They did everything they could to work out what may have happened before then.”
A landmark ruling
The Willaston ruling is the first time that a CFL-affiliated club has been charged with breaching player payment regulations without self-reporting to the SANFL.
Since Regulation 31, forming the player payment legislation, was introduced across South Australia in 2016, only three clubs have been charged by the CFL for breaking player payment laws, and none have been named publicly.
Mr Duldig said the CFL’s decision to name Willaston Football Club was because the alleged breaches were of a “deliberate” nature, compared to those previously investigated at other clubs.
“It was a big decision for the Community Football committee and, ultimately, the commission to approve to charge a club with those significant penalties,” he said.
“To be able to name the club and the range of penalties…it should really be a deterrent for all other clubs.”
Why was Glenn named?
Mr Duldig said the rationale behind naming Glenn as the player at the centre of the investigation was to ensure the CFL remains as “transparent” as possible with the local football community.
However, he wasn’t sure what affect that decision would have on players giving up potentially incriminating information to the CFL into the future.
“Look, it may go either way – deter or allow them to come forward – but, if they co-operate fully and are truthful the whole way, then they may not face the penalties that they could face,” Mr Duldig said.
“Lots of rumours and innuendo flow following these sort of announcements and we, ultimately, thought it was the best decision to come forward with those names, put it out into the public, and all parties that were named were comfortable with that to take place.”
He added the decision to withhold the names of the Willaston club officials involved in the breaches was to allow for a fair appeal process to be carried out, should the Donnybrooks challenge the charges.
“Those two (officials) were, obviously, heavily involved in the signon fee element of the breaches,” Mr Duldig said.
“We just believed, at this point in time, it wasn’t appropriate to name volunteers and officials of the club…with the club still having the ability to appeal the decision.”
Is Willaston alone?
Speaking to The Bunyip in February, prior to the start of the 2018 season, Mr Duldig labelled the CFL salary cap a “rousing success”, pointing to its “extremely thorough policing structure”.
He added that at the point, no Barossa, Light & Gawler clubs were being investigated.
Speaking to The Bunyip last week, Mr Duldig said the league remains one of the most highly scrutinised by the CFL, due to its close proximity to Adelaide helping local clubs attract “high-profile-type players”.
He said he has met with all nine clubs over the past year to ensure adherence to the salary cap, but maintained there is no guarantee a similar scenario wouldn’t recur.
“Are we ever going to be 100 per cent confident that no-one is doing anything (wrong)? Probably not,” Mr Duldig said.
“But, hopefully, at the very least, this acts as a bit of a marker in time that clubs say ‘well, there’s no point in trying to bend the rules because we can see what will happen to our footy club, if we do’.”
Click here for all The Bunyip’s rolling coverage on the Willaston salary cap saga.