St Kilda Football Club has apologised to former player Rod Owen, following an ABC Sport investigation which revealed that Owen was sexually molested by two paedophiles who ran the Saints’s Little League team during the 1970s.
- St Kilda has vowed to listen to and believe victims of abuse related to the club after revelations a former player was abused by two men linked with the Saints’s Little League program
- Saints CEO Matt Finniss has apologised to Rod Owen, saying the club would seek advice from police and expert agencies to ensure anyone who may come forward is supported
- Owen finished in the AFL at the age of 25 and was later consumed by alcohol, drug and gambling addictions.
In a club statement, St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis assured Owen and any other victims who may come forward that they would be believed and supported.
“This week, I was devastated to hear the harrowing story of abuse suffered by former player Rod Owen as a child both at school and during his involvement with the Saints Little League in the 1970s,” Finnis said.
“Hearing how these incidents plagued Rod’s childhood was distressing. That he has carried this terrible burden for so long is heartbreaking.
“Junior football, and children’s activities more broadly, should be a safe place of fun and enjoyment. No child should have to endure what Rod experienced, and to hear that this abuse took place under the St Kilda name is shattering.
“In recent times I, alongside other senior members of the club, have had the opportunity to talk with Rod about his experiences at the Saints as a senior player in the 1980s, some of which were also detailed in today’s ABC article.
“While these discussions had begun prior to this week’s disclosures, they now form a vital part of our response and support for Rod moving forward.
“I’ve spoken to Rod this week and conveyed my admiration for his bravery in sharing his personal story but more importantly to reiterate our ongoing support to him and his family.”
Owen was sexually molested by former Beaumaris Primary school librarian and sports coach Darrell Ray at the school in 1976, and by a St Kilda life member, the late Albert Briggs, in the MCG changerooms the same year. Briggs was the manager of the Saints Little League team, and Ray was its coach that year.
In 2001, Ray pleaded guilty to 27 counts of indecently assaulting 19 boys at Beaumaris Primary School, where he worked between 1971 and 1976. He had previously taught at Moorabbin Primary school between 1967 and 1970, and coached numerous local sporting teams.
An ABC Sport investigation has discovered that Briggs managed the Saints Little League from at least 1969 until 1980. Ray coached the Saints Little League to a premiership in 1973 and coached the team until the end of the 1977 season. It is not yet known whether he coached the Saints team earlier than 1973.
Under the rules of the competition, clubs had to field at least 100 boys per season to qualify for the finals, and by the late 1970s, the Saints were picking more than 150 boys per season, meaning that at least 500 boys were coached by Ray, and at least 1,000 managed by Briggs.
“St Kilda will seek advice from police and expert agencies to ensure Rod and anyone else who may come forward is supported.”
The Little League, a precursor to the AFL’s current AusKick program, was a VFL (now AFL) promotional program that began in 1967 and aimed to drive junior participation numbers. By the mid-1970s, each VFL club had its own Little League team.
Games were played at half-time of senior VFL matches, on the length of the ground, in two six-minute halves. Participants wore replica team uniforms and changed in the senior changerooms of league venues.
Owen debuted for St Kilda’s senior team as a prodigiously talented 16-year-old in 1983, but following a succession of serious knee and ankle injuries and personal troubles, he was finished in the AFL by the age of 25. Thereafter, his life became consumed by alcoholism and drug and gambling addictions.
Before he reached league ranks, Owen played a remarkable tally of 52 games for the Saints Little League between 1976 and 1978. In 1976 and 1977, Darrell Ray and Albert Briggs were at the helm of that team.
Briggs remained a fixture at St Kilda for Owen’s entire senior career, serving the club as Reserves timekeeper and earning St Kilda life membership.
In an impact statement given during the 2001 Melbourne County Court in which Ray pleaded guilty to abusing Beaumaris Primary students, one victim said Ray’s abuse was the “price he had to pay” for attending the school, and that another student had told him Ray “did it to everyone”.
Speaking to ABC Sport, one victim explained Ray’s abuse of trust during his time as a sporting coach at the school, saying: “We were mad sportsmen, and being your footy and cricket coach, you didn’t want to do anything to upset him.”