As if appearing out of thin air, the rape allegations that haunted Stephen Milne and the St Kilda Football club nine years ago have resurfaced and once again put a backburner on the club’s on-field woes, throwing the disgruntled small forward back into the media spotlight.
268 games, 564 goals, a two-time All-Australian and grand finalist, not to mention 33 years of age and playing arguably the best football of his career – yet it’s safe to assume upon career’s end, Stephen Milne won’t be remembered for his on-field efforts. In saying that, he’s far from the golden child of the AFL; over the years he’s garnered quite a reputation by constantly heckling and “sledging” opponents.
St Kilda have allowed Milne indefinite leave from the club, with coach Scott Watters stating the club owes a “duty of care” to Milne and that he’ll be back on the field within three to four weeks; Watters denied rumours that Milne had been stood down.
His absence comes at a costly time for the club, who will celebrate the 250-game milestones of club champions Nick Dal Santo and Nick Riewoldt ahead of its clash on Sunday with an in-form Richmond side. Both aforementioned players have publicly expressed their desire to see Milne join them for the clash with the Tigers, which begs the question – should he be allowed to play?
You can look at it from two different angles. Let’s play Doctor Who for a moment and travel to a time in which Milne was clear to play. The Saints would have copped an almighty backlash from the media as well as feminist groups, the general population and perhaps the AFL too.
His inclusion and the spotlight on off-field issues may have led to a poor team performances – who knows whether they may have endured a shock loss to Melbourne on the weekend rather than the comforting 35-point win. A loss leads to angry supporters, especially when going down to a struggling side such as Melbourne. Conversely, Milne could have had a field day and his uncanny goal sense would have surely contributed to the scoreline.
But that’s all hypothetical – let’s jump back into reality. The Saints have placed Milne on “indefinite leave”, morally, they’ve made arguably the correct decision and in doing so, avoided a public backlash. The club has lost its leading goal kicker of the last two seasons and in turn, could ironically hurt their chances as much as his inclusion potentially could have (due to the off-field spotlight).
Ultimately it’s a decision that should be left up to the club. The incident in question occurred nine years ago, with the Victorian Police recently describing the investigation as “inadequate”. It may be true that all those years ago he brought the St Kilda Football Club’s reputation into disrepute, but he paid his price for it – following up with a career-best year in 2005, booting 61 goals – the most he’s ever kicked in a season. The Saints have played it safe by allowing Milne “indefinite leave”, and it’s the Vic Police’s business if they want to re-open an investigation that was previously handled poorly.
The reputation of the St Kilda Football Club is just as tarnished as Milne’s by the incident – the club not so long ago was in hot water over the 2010/11 off-season incident when a teenage girl leaked naked photos of the players who strangely enough will be competing in their milestone match this weekend (Nick Dal Santo and Nick Riewoldt).
The club’s hands may as well be tied due to their rocky history, and while it may appear they’ve made the safe choice, officials of the club have made the decision to dilute their off-field problems and attempt to rectify its current on-field issues, which is commendable. It’ll be interesting to see next weekend’s match against Richmond; whether the team appears to have been obstructed by the media focus, or if the incident bonds them together drives them to succeed.
Love him or hate him (as most tend to), Milne sits fourth on St Kilda’s list of all-time greatest goal kickers, and there’s no doubt Watters would rather the club’s premier forward in the starting lineup, especially for an important milestone match like this Sunday against Richmond.
While not having a standout season (by his lofty standards), playing 10 games for a return of 18 goals, it’s pretty harsh on the bloke to sideline him if he’s eager to play. Ultimately, it’s a double-edged sword and all we can do is wait and see how the investigation unfolds this time around – he’ll be back soon enough.