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    Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football and how he helped drive change



    Michael McLean lived up to his nickname on the footy field. He was ‘Magic’. But there is a horrific dark side to his career which was largely kept in the dark – until now.

    Michael McLean says not many people know about the racism that marred his magical 183-game career.

    Teammates at Footscray and Brisbane were largely kept in the dark. He played in an era when eyes turned the other way and ears were deaf to insults.

    So when McLean spoke to about 60 Western Bulldogs staff before Sir Doug Nicholls Round, the painful memories flooded back.

    “On the ground it was horrible, horrible,” McLean, 57, told the Herald Sun in Darwin.

    “Every week racially taunted, urine thrown at you. B**ng, a*o, c**n, should’ve hanged the lot of you – they’d say all that sort of sh**.

    “I had players say to me yada yada yada … and I’m like, ‘Mate, are you right? You’ve got indigenous blokes playing for you. You’re a f****** dog mate’.

    “They’re like, ‘Hey, if it’s happening to our blokes, why not you?’ I said, ‘OK, you’ll see your name in the paper next week’ and that’s when it all started.”

    What started was the introduction of the AFL’s vilification code of conduct, known as Rule 35.

    In 1995 the league flew McLean down from Brisbane to meet executives Ian Collins, Rod Austin and Tony Peek after being inadvertently spooked into taking action.

    “I said to them, ‘I’ve got three boys and they’re not going to play this game. This is my workplace’,” McLean said.

    “There’s no way they’re going to do what I’ve done. They’re not going to go through this sh**, they won’t last.

    “I said you could get any walk of life in here and when you’re racially taunted or abused or disrespected everyone feels the same way.”

    Two weeks later the league congregated players of diverse ethnical backgrounds – understood to include Jim Stynes, Anthony Koutoufides, Tony Liberatore, Mil Hanna and Jose Romero – and Rule 35 was drafted.

    “The AFL were never going to do it just for indigenous. It’s about equality in the workplace,” McLean said.

    The episodes McLean endured were horrific.

    The boy from Darwin won the under-14s medal, under-16s medal and played senior football at 15 and became the first player to go straight from the Northern Territory to the big time.

    McLean‘s childhood dream was to feature on ABC’s The Winners program.

    What greeted him in Melbourne was unacceptable.

    “I was touted in the media here as a young football star,” McLean said.

    “I get to Melbourne and I’m a young Aboriginal football star. So straight away you’re tagged with that and people are fanatical in Melbourne and they read that.

    “And it’s, ‘Oh, so he’s an a*o, b**ng, c**n’. And then you had little kids running on the ground when the siren blew – eight years old, 10 years old – saying, ‘You’re an a*o, you’re a b**n, you’re a c**n’.”

    McLean had never experienced racism before he packed his bags.

    Living with a host family in Yarraville as a teenager it became inescapable almost overnight.

    If it wasn’t for wife Linda, who McLean has been with since the age of 15, the trauma might’ve swallowed him.

    “I was the only constant in the house and all these guys came down from the zones from Gippsland or wherever,” he said.

    “They’d come in and play under-19s with me in the first year. But they were only trialling, so they could be there for three games, one game, five games – whatever.

    “I was copping stuff from them and they’re transient through the house. Early days when they were lippy I’d get a couple of them out the back and give them a smack.

    “The old man would say, ‘How’d your week go, son?’ and I’d say, ‘You’d be proud of me, dad, I gave this bloke a hiding and this bloke a flogging because he was cheeky or disrespectful’.

    “And he’s like, ‘Hey, hey, hey, son. You can’t be doing that. You’ll never beat the world. You’ve got to educate people’ – and it was the best advice I ever got.

    “So thereon the next person who was into me I said, ‘Hey, come on, out the back. This is how I feel, this is why I feel that way’ and they’d explain what they experienced as well from where they came from.

    “It was like – no worries, shake hands, respect each other. That’s how I operated from them on.”

    In 1995 when Brisbane played Essendon at Princes Park days after Michael Long’s mediation session with Damian Monkhorst, who had racially vilified Long on Anzac Day, it was heartbreak before the ball was bounced.

    “We were doing the warm-up and the ball goes over the fence, so I ran over to get the ball out of the gutter,” McLean said.

    “I reach over the fence and this bloke gets up and goes, ‘You f****** b**ng. You’re nothing but a c**n’.

    “I’ve looked up and said, ‘How does get f***** sound, mate?’ So he’s given it to me, and I’ve said, ‘Hang on a minute, is that your daughter or your granddaughter?

    “‘She’s going to grow up just like you. Are you proud of that? Well done, mate. And don’t forget you’ve got four playing for you, mate. You’re a dog’.

    “The boys knew I was upset. I said it’ll be right, I’ll sort this after the game.

    “After the game I said to Mick (Long), ‘How you travelling?’ He said, ‘Not real good’ and I said, ‘Leave it with me, brother’.”

    Interviewed by a newspaper in the rooms, McLean threatened to name and shame offenders — triggering the AFL’s decision to fly McLean down and finally take action.

    Sometimes McLean took matters into his own hands on the field.

    “It was horrible going through it, don’t worry about that,” he said.

    “Jimmy Krakouer used to get suspended, but myself and Maurice Rioli got away with it because we were smart about it.

    “We’d square up. Cameras are up the other end where the footy is, we’ll get into a couple behind the play. Jimmy would just do it when the ball was there.

    “It was dog eat dog and it wasn’t nice. But the grounds are so different now, the crowd is way back.

    “At suburban grounds they were right on you, and they were into you. You could hear it, you could feel it.”

    McLean was a beautiful player. As smooth as a strawberry shake, wonderfully skilled and courageous in that famous No. 51 jumper.

    But when Terry Wheeler replaced Mick Malthouse as Footscray coach after 1989 he effectively sacked McLean.

    It was strange. The Bulldogs at that stage were well off for graft, but light on for class.

    When the Dogs tried to haggle for a blockbuster trade McLean decided to retire.

    He went back to Darwin, winning the medal in a representative side against the benchmark team in Hawthorn.

    “After this rep game 10 clubs call me saying we’re going to pick you in the pre-season draft, and one of those clubs was the Bulldogs,” he said.

    “I’m sitting on 95 games, I was deputy vice-captain, I’m on the scrapheap and you’re going to re-pick me? I’m like, ‘Wowzers, don’t waste your pick’.”

    Malthouse wanted to get ‘Mago’ to West Coast.

    “I would’ve won two premierships. Might’ve won three with me,” he said with a wink.

    But Brisbane swooped with the No. 1 pre-season draft pick as coach Robert Walls allowed McLean to train remotely.

    “For six years at Brisbane I virtually ran my own show in terms of preparation,” he said.

    “First year we won three games and I got the best-and-fairest, fifth in the Brownlow.

    “My first return game against the Bulldogs at Western Oval we lose by five points, they cheered me out, booed me throughout and then cheered me off.

    “I had 40 touches. I had four opponents and they couldn’t stop me. I was really proud that day to get it done against ‘Wheels’.

    “It was a bit of, ‘There you go, mate, this is what you missed out on’.”

    Ankle injuries cruelled 1992 – McLean’s career included 17 operations – before a young boy named Nathan Buckley bobbed up.

    “I was pretty much on the scrapheap in 1993, because Nathan Buckley came to the club and virtually pushed me out of the midfield,” he said.

    “But I knew how to play down back because I used to play everywhere for Dogs.

    “I said to ‘Wallsy’, ‘No worries, mate. The young bloke’s won a Magarey Medal, best-on-ground in a (SANFL) grand final, he’s the flavour’.

    “I play 17 games for the year off a halfback flank, he plays 22 in the middle, I beat him for the best-and-fairest.

    “He gets up and says if anyone’s going to beat me I’m glad it’s you, Mago, because I respect you. I said, ‘Thank you’.

    “Ten years later he writes a book that says, ‘I was robbed’. Which is cool.”

    When McLean returned to the Bulldogs in May ex-teammate Alan Thorpe, speaking alongside him, talked about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    “I was like, ‘That’s what I reckon I have!’” McLean said.

    “You don’t realise it. I look back and go, ‘I was going through some sh**’.

    “But you get through it. You build up all this bravado and safeguard and you work it out as you go and you go, ‘I’m going to roll with these guys because I feel safe here’.”

    Indigenous Bulldogs Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Arthur Jones were in his audience at Whitten Oval.

    “They just heard my story and thanked us for what we’ve done to make life easier for them and their journey a lot safer and hopefully a lot more enjoyable,” McLean said.

    Scott West’s touching moment at a function in Ballarat the next day, on the eve of the Dogs’ win against Gold Coast, meant a lot to Magic.

    “That’s when it hit me,” McLean said.

    “We were up on stage yarning about our careers and right at the end Scotty’s just silenced the whole pub. You could’ve heard a pin drop.

    “He started talking about myself and said we should be honoured to have this man in the room. I just started welling up.

    “He said we’re going to hear from him about his journey, and I couldn’t talk. I didn’t talk.

    “And then a lot of people came up to me after and said you didn’t need to talk. We apologise.

    “For someone like Scotty West to do what he did for me – I never played with Scotty – showing me great respect, you can’t put a price on that and how powerful that is.”

    McLean takes heart from on-field racism being silenced.

    “It’s pretty cool,” he said.

    “It’s not foolproof, but it’s a lot safer now for our mob and for all cultures.”

    McLean met some wonderful people and played under brilliant coaches.

    These days he’s the AFLNT pathways manager, helping talented Top End teens unlock their potential.

    “I had Mick Malthouse as coach for six years, Robert Walls for seven, Royce Hart at the start and worked with Leigh Matthews for two years,” he said.

    “I played finals footy, I had leadership roles, I captained the Aboriginal All-Stars after the then-Collingwood president Allan McAlister said if they conduct themselves like white people they’ll be respected.

    “That’s why we played the game in Darwin against Collingwood.

    “So I coached my people, captained my people, leadership roles at clubs, a couple of best-and-fairests. I could cut the mustard.”

    McLean was a “father figure” to Carlton coach and ex-Brisbane teammate Michael Voss.

    “He taught me a lot about growing up, but also the indigenous culture and respecting his background and where he’s from,” Voss said.

    “He was an incredible player to play with and a great man to be alongside.”

    But sadness casts a shadow over it all.

    “It wasn’t a lot of fun,” McLean said.

    “Goodesy’s documentary, Nicky Winmar’s The Ripple Effect … I don’t have to watch them.

    “I’ve got my own journey, and that was horrific enough for me.

    “It’s good to get through it. But I don’t know how I did.”

  2. #2
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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Thanks for positing this. Fantastic to hear more about Magic's story but so sad to hear about the details of what happened with racisim on and off the field only a short period of time ago. Absolutely horrific what used to happen and I'm so glad that we have made some positive steps forward in reagards to this in recent times.

    The playing group would have got so much out of hearing about Magic's story especially Marra and Jones. Also, fantastic to see how Scott West's word meant so much to Magic.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    At the time I loved watching Magic, but was unaware of the racism.

    It is horrific to read what he and other indigenous people have had to go through.
    FFC: Established 1877

    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    A horrible journey for Mag. I was completely unaware of Wheels not wanting him. Would love to hear from the man himself about this. I always thought Mag just wanted out.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    We need to hear more stories like these, because without understanding just how bad it was for people decades ago we can't contextualise how bad it still could be today. Sorry it happened to Mag, but appreciate him telling his story.

    As an aside, he should get more recognition for how awesome a footballer he was and also for how much he helped pull the AFL along towards modernisation.
    Borderline diplomatic.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    I remember as a kid thinking his calves look so tight they were on the brink of explosion when he was sprinting.

    Superstar player, no one should have to put up with that rubbish.

    Edit : I wouldn't have used "spooked" into action either. But maybe it's an OK word now in this context no idea.
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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    A Must watch, I am not crying you are

    FFC: Established 1877

    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    I used love watching Magic when I was living in Melbourne and was very disappointed when he left. Like B4L I thought it was his decision to go and join a new club a bit like Edmonds did earlier. It would be good to hear Wheeler's view and the reason behind it.
    Don't piss off old people
    The older we get the less "LIFE IN PRISON" is a deterrent...

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    A Must watch, I am not crying you are

    Magnificent.

    My experience being in the crowd those days was you’d get an idiot saying something like that, not super often but enough, and a lot of people in the crowd would howl them down.

    My family included, it was a great example for me as a kid of standing up and putting the spot light on bad behaviour.

    Terrible it happened, and they had to go through that.
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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post

    My experience being in the crowd those days was you’d get an idiot saying something like that, not super often but enough, and a lot of people in the crowd would howl them down.
    My recollection is quite different to you… as a kid I used on top of the umpires race at WO and the abuse Glenn James copped when he umpired us was disgusting.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Quote Originally Posted by Mantis View Post
    My recollection is quite different to you… as a kid I used on top of the umpires race at WO and the abuse Glenn James copped when he umpired us was disgusting.
    That's just rancid.

    I did sit with my family who weren't drinkers so maybe I was sheltered from a lot of it.

    He was my favourite ump, seemed to have a natural feel for the game.
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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    The level of racism in the crowd was high back in the day. I was hyper aware of it and probably a little too sensititve to it.

    Both of my parents were born in Italy but migrated to Australia as young children and they did all of the their schooling here. We used to go to the football every week and my memory is reasonable from the mid 80s. We would go home and away. My Dad would take us everywhere, Vic Park, Ardent Street, Windy Hill, Kardina Park, Princess Park etc. Standing or sitting in the outer at some of those grounds was not for the faint-hearted.

    We copped abuse in the crowd so many times I lost count (just your standard "Wog" and "You should be at the soccer" and sometimes a lot worse). It was almost a weekly occurance and that includes when I was a young boy. It definitely improved after the stance that Michael Long took. It didn't go away but the momentum shifted. Rather than just cop it, you would call it out or others in the crowd would call it out. It still took a long time to be completely eliminated.

    I'm so glad my son has not had to experience any of that except for one incident at the MCG against Collingwood on a Friday night but he was too young at the time to understand the context of what was said. Collingwood supporters and booze isn't a good mix

    A couple of memories:

    -I was 12 sitting in the EJ Whitten stand for one of the most famous last rounds in history, 1987. Footscray was playing Melbourne. I can recall Sean Wight copping so many Irish taunts that day. Some of it was really nasty too. He was obviously white (pardon the pun) but he was still different and the crowd siezed upon that. It was just seen an acceptale thing to do. It was absolutely relenteless. I'm not sure why that is the main thing I remember from that day.

    -Libba used to cop a fair bit of racial abuse too. I always used to have a chuckle as one minute they would throw out "your just a dirty wog Libba" and the next minute they were jumping for joy screaming "Roccccaaaaaaa!!!!". As I got older I would call out their nonsensical behaviour which sometimes didn't end well.

    -In what was probably the last time Melbourne played at the Western Oval in 1995 I recall once incident where a female Melbourne supporter (there with her family) racially abused my brother and I standing on the Doug Hawkins wing. We were a little older by this stage and the Long-Monkhurst incident had happened earlier in the season. We called it out in pretty agressive manner and she started crying as she realised what she had done (I'm sure it was just a basic instinct for many people). To her credit she apologised about 30 minutes later and then left.

    -A few years later in the late 1990s at Waverley Park something similar happened. We were playing the Saints. A father at the football with teenage daughters abused us. This time we didn't need to even call it out as his daughters did. He apologised. It probably highlights how quickly things changed after the Michael Long stance.

    I for one will be forver grateful for those that had the courage to stand up and call out the racism in our game. I can still recall when Long called out Monkorst's behaviour that there were many people still saying that it is only words and what happens on the ground is different. Kudos and a massive thanks to Long, Winmar, Goodes and all the others who paved the way to a much safer place for the next generation.
    Last edited by angelopetraglia; 02-06-2022 at 11:04 AM.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Thanks AP - that's incredibly sad and poignant.

    Was there a bit of a turning point when guys like Nick Giannopoulos starting owning that particular pejorative with shows like "Wogs out of Work?".

    My (very anglo but mainly progressive) parents took me to see that live show and it was absolutely sensational; maybe helped break down a few barriers (or started to)?

    To me it highlighted : Hey we are all Aussies here, we have many cultures and that should be celebrated!
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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Thanks AP - that's incredibly sad and poignant.

    Was there a bit of a turning point when guys like Nick Giannopoulos starting owning that particular pejorative with shows like "Wogs out of Work?".

    My (very anglo but mainly progressive) parents took me to see that live show and it was absolutely sensational; maybe helped break down a few barriers (or started to)?

    To me it highlighted : Hey we are all Aussies here, we have many cultures and that should be celebrated!
    I think Nick and others definiltey helped with their comedy. The ability to highlight the differences, take the piss out of themselves and educate the masses about some of the cultral challenges of immigrating to a different coutnry on the other side of the world where people don't speak your language.

    Some of it was also just the passage of time. My parents arrived in Australia in the 1950s. That was a very different time where people were far less tolerant to anyone different. Australia had a "White Australia Policy" until after World War II and Southern Europeans were not considered white! They had a very difficult time and they wanted a different experience for us.

    Towards the end of the 1980s the next generation (children of immigrants) started to make their mark on society and had largely assimilated. This also contributed to changing people's perceptions and tolerance. People were a lot more eductated about Southern Europeans (and also embraced their culture and epsecially their food) and they were not targeted in the same manner.

    Sadly, there were newer targets that were easier prey at that time. Asians ... that even politicians used for political posturing to generate fear (e.g. Howard, Hanson) and those from the Middle East and later again those from Africa. They looked even more different and didn't share some cultural aspects (such as Christianity) which made it even more difficult for them. We are still seeing this play out to this day with what the Sudanese are experiencing. It is a cyle with the newest most different imigrants having the hardest time.

    "To me it highlighted : Hey we are all Aussies here, we have many cultures and that should be celebrated!"

    100%, my parents went out of their way for us to have an enormous amount of gratitude that we lived in this amazing country, we were proud Australians but we were also proud of our heritage. That is probably what hurt the most looking back. We considered ourselves to be Australians but there was a sterotype back then that to be "Australian" meant to be Anglo. There was lots of casual racism without any bad intent but it would still hurt. People would ask "What is your background", "What is your nationality", "Where are you from". It made me scream inside. I just wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong. My inner voice would say. "I'm *!*!*!*!ing Australian. I was born in Melborne you idiot. Just beacause I'm not Anglo doesn't mean I'm not an Aussie. I love this country". But you would just nod politely and tell people that your heritage was Italian and that your parents were born in Italy.

    There are still elements of casusal racism (from older people) but it has largely dissapeared for "Wogs" in large urban areas.

    p.s. The small amounts of exposure I had to racism really hurt. It cut deep. But "Wogs" didn't even cop 5% of what indigneous Australians or those with darker skin got. I understand a little of how it feels, but really have no idea of the pain and suffering that they would have endured just playing the game they loved.

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    Re: Michael ‘Magic’ McLean opens up on the horrific abuse he was subjected to while playing football

    Quote Originally Posted by Bulldog4life View Post
    A horrible journey for Mag. I was completely unaware of Wheels not wanting him. Would love to hear from the man himself about this. I always thought Mag just wanted out.
    I always thought it was injuries. He had played around 35 games in the 3 years (87, 88, 89) before he left and his body kept letting him down. Having a year off the rigors of League footy which he had in 1990 was probably the best thing for him.
    Most people I played against don’t like me and I don’t blame them. I’m quite frustrating

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