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On The Take - The 1910 scandal that changed Australian football forever - shines a light on footy’s first major scandal, when one of the VFL’s earliest superstars—Carlton’s Alex ‘Bongo’ Lang, a three-time Premiership hero—experienced a sudden and unexpected fall from grace when he was convicted by the League of taking a bribe to play ‘dead’ in the semi-final of 1910. In thrilling detail, it presents 1910 as arguably the single most turbulent season in VFL/AFL history, contextualising it within the League’s wider development in the formative phase between establishment in 1897 and the outbreak of the First World War. On The Take explains how and why a champion like Lang could find himself embroiled in a bribery scandal, and how the League’s official stance against match payments left players susceptible to such shady dealings. Lang’s era was plagued by match-fixing allegations, the open secret of illegal player payments in defiance of VFL rules, and widespread criticism by journalists and among the Melbourne sporting public regarding the game’s integrity. Growing tension between the ideals of amateurism and professionalism reached a turning point for the VFL in the immediate aftermath of the Carlton bribery scandal, when the League finally legalised player payments. The story naturally pivots on Carlton and incorporates fascinating biographical sketches of many of its leading characters of the era, many of whom were implicated in the events of 1910. They include Lang and his co-accused, Doug Gillespie and Doug Fraser, Lang’s friend and fellow champion Blues stalwart Rod McGregor, and ‘Shooter’ Ford. John Worrall had departed the club shortly beforehand, but nonetheless looms large as the coach who changed Carlton from an also-ran to a dominant force. Beyond Carlton, the story covers the League delegates who investigated the case and soon thereafter voted to expunge the rule prohibiting player payments.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Tony Joel is Associate Professor in History at Deakin University. He has taught sports history at Deakin for over a decade and has won multiple prizes for his teaching, including most recently a National Award for Teaching Excellence (2016). Mathew Turner, PhD, received his doctorate in History from Deakin University where he now teaches in multiple topics including sports history.