Joseph Gutnick

Image DOB: June 1952

The diamond mining magnate entered the club during 1996 as the white knight of the anti-merger Demon Alternative group. Introduced to Brian Dixon through a mutual friend the two became the leaders of the campaign to stop the proposed amalgamation with Hawthorn.

Gutnick had been a Melbourne fan since a child, but with religious obligations keeping him from ever attending games on Saturday he never became a member of the club until his emergence in 1996. He remained unable to attend Friday or Saturday games during his presidency.

He pledged to invest $3 million in the club if the merger failed, but despite this Melbourne fans voted narrowly in favour of the merger. As it did not go ahead due to Hawthorn fans rejecting it Gutnick replaced Ridley as president. The last of his payments was made in November 2000.

In his book The Urge To Merge Ian Ridley, the opponent of Gutnick and Dixon in the merger fight, claims that the mining magnate was ready to change sides and support a union with Hawthorn as long as the players supported it as one. When no such guarantee came he stayed on the anti-merger side.

In March 1999 he invited the AFL to probe the club for past salary cap breaches after admitting overpayments during the 90's could have run to more than $800,000. In a statement Gutnick said,

The board of the Melbourne Football Club believes that the club has a fundamental duty to its members, supporters, players and employees, and to the game itself, to ensure that the club conducts itself with complete honesty and public openness. It is for this reason that the AFL and the public has been informed of the breaches.

AFL investigator Michael Easy audited the breaches and the club were fined $350,000. They were also banned from taking their second and third selections in that year's draft.

He soon became one of the most controversial AFL presidents, giving a speech before Round 4, 2000 attacking the AFL for perceived untrustworthy, discriminatory and bullying tactics. Writing in the Herald Sun that week he said Given the atmosphere of secrecy and the suspicions that some clubs are treated more favourably than others, it is not surprising that clubs will explore all opportunities available to them to ensure their future.

Throughout the season he would continue to be outspoken about the league's commission, calling on AFL Commission chairman Ron Evans to resign before his side's round 9 loss to Essendon. The open warfare between Gutnick and the league over AFL Commissioner Evans' perceived conflict of interest as CEO of Spotless Catering - caterer to Docklands - continued with Gutnick calling a meeting of league presidents in June. Sydney, and even though Gutnick claimed he had the numbers to oust Evans no challenge was forthcoming.

His issues during the 2000 season weren't confined to the league, engaging in a slanging match with Sydney chairman Richard Colless who he called a 'puppet' of the league. At the end of that year he was forced to miss the Grand Final because of his religious beliefs, despite a last minute plea to his father - the highest ranking rabbi in Victoria - and an interpretation that he wouldn't be breaking the Sabbath if he walked to the game and didn't buy a ticket.

Despite media speculation Gutnick denied he put pressure on recruiting staff not to pick Jewish player Ezra Poyas in the 2000 Draft, but said "My faith does not allow me to attend football matches on the sabbath and neither does it allow me to preside over an organisation that requires or permits Jews to play football on the Sabbath. For this reason, I would resign the presidency of the Melbourne Football Club if a Jewish player were to be selected and chose to play on the Sabbath."

Despite his controversial season Gutnick was re-elected as president for another two years in December 2000, though it was later decided in court that the election had technically not taken place.

After the Round 3 clash between David Schwarz and Justin Murphy where Schwarz was alleged to have vilified his opponent Gutnick risked a fine by publicly commenting on the matter. When threatened with the $20,000 penalty he accused the AFL of "acting like communist Russia". He counter claimed that an AFL commissioner had racially vilified him, but was forced to change his story to claim that he had merely been abused. Eventually the league settled on a $10,000 fine for the club.

Soon after his conflict with the AFL erupted, Gutnick announced a plan to cut the size of the Melbourne board in half at the end of the year. The plan was announced against the backdrop of rumours about businessman Ron Walker challenging for the Presidency. Gutnick launched broadsides at his critics, accusing some board members of showing up to meetings drunk.

Gutnick set the scene for a boardroom brawl during his speech in the Round 8 President's Lunch when he called for the resignation of Vice-Presidents Ian Johnson and Bill Guest, as well as director Alan Stockdale. He announced he would call an extraordinary general meeting to ask the members to vote the three directors out. He said "There will be an EGM as soon as one can be arranged. The members will have their say. I shall return".

Soon after Gutnick became aware that several of his directors were intending to make a move against him and sought a Supreme Court injunction to halt that meeting. When he was denied the injunction on May 24 he promptly resigned as President.

On Thursday May 31 he conducted a public rally with 300 supporters and announced that he would delay his challenge until the end of the season. He said "It has become increasingly clear to me that the playing fortunes of the club must come first. While it is clearly evident to me that I would win an election if it is held immediately, and I have a wealth of contenders for my ticket, I have now decided to move for an election as soon as possible after the end of the season".

As part of a deal with the new board he was given the opportunity to fill his own vacancy and named Michael Givoni as his successor on the board. Surveys conducted in the Herald Sun indicated that a vast majority of supporters would vote him back in given the chance.

The board elections at the end of the year saw the Gabriel Szondy "Team Vision" ticket comprehensively beat Gutnick's "Melbourne First" by 65% to 35%. No Melbourne First candidates were elected to the board. Gutnick received the most votes of his ticket with 4,235 but fell well short of the 6,524 that the tenth and last Team Vision candidate got. He has had no involvement with the club or league since.

A biography, "Diamonds and Demons" was released in July 2008.


Australian Jewish News - 30/08/1996
Herald Sun - 08/05/2000
Australian Jewish News - 19/05/2000
Herald Sun - 17/06/2000
Herald Sun - 29/08/2000
Herald Sun - 19/04/2001
Age - 20/04/2001
Sportal - 23/05/2001
Australian Jewish News - 04/01/2002
Age - 20/12/2002

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Created by Supermercado. Last Modification: Friday 11 February 2022 16:51:57 AEDT by Supermercado. (Version 32)

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