In April 2021, councillor Rose Iser revealed in a council meeting that she had received a text message she described as “completely inappropriate” from Essendon Royals president Richard Di Sauro as the council deliberated on how Ormond Park in Moonee Ponds would be shared between the soccer club and Moonee Valley Football Club.
Iser had sent a message to Di Sauro about lights not being switched on at the council-owned facility for the Australian rules club. The text message Di Sauro sent the councillor in reply – which was later posted in full by the club on its Facebook page – stated: “I’m happy for these lights to go on tonight … but please keep in mind this is a one off until our needs at Royals are met.
“We start our season off next week and are still one full-size ground short to [field] our teams. I’ll leave this in your hands to please sort out ASAP. One hand helps the other.”
Iser told the council meeting the text message was “completely unacceptable”. She said it was “unacceptable that we would allow that behaviour from a club”. Iser declined to comment on Friday when contacted by The Age.
In a statement, an Essendon Royals spokesman said: “Despite our continuing requests for assistance we continue to find ourselves marginalised in comparison to cricket and [Australian rules].
“Our club has embraced the role of a vocal advocate, unreservedly addressing what we perceive as inequities in funding and resource distribution among the Royals and other soccer clubs in the Moonee Valley region.
“The text message showcases Essendon Royals’ commitment to assisting other clubs in the area, including covering the costs of ground lighting. It serves as a reminder to the councillor about the value of teamwork.”
A source close to the Australian rules team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claimed the soccer club restricted access to the switch for the field lights for a significant part of the season, which meant the football team had to spend $7000 on temporary standing lights.
The soccer club said at the time Di Sauro had sought legal advice over Iser’s comments about him.
“The lights which currently cover that oval were paid for by Essendon Royals Soccer Club and the club continues to pay for the electricity costs associated with those lights,” the Royals statement from April 2021 said.
“The funds used to pay for the use of those lights are Essendon Royals members’ funds, and we look forward to working with Moonee Valley City Council on how these lights will be managed and paid for moving forward.”
The club said it was losing a pitch at Ormond Park and that its primary pitch was being reduced in size, but welcomed an amendment passed by the majority of councillors at the tense April 2021 meeting, which gave the Royals expanded access to Cross Keys Reserve.
According to a 10-year soccer strategy for the municipality endorsed last year, of the 9604 registered sports players in the council area, 18 per cent played soccer, 28 per cent played cricket and 53 per cent played Australian rules football.
There are six soccer clubs in the Moonee Valley Council area of which Essendon Royals has the largest membership.
The Royals spokesman said the club was unaware of the exact nature of the allegations IBAC is investigating, but the club was assisting investigators and rejected any allegation of wrongdoing.
The spokesman said: “Preserving the reputation and integrity of our club, both on and off the field, has always ranked as a primary objective. This commitment has greatly contributed to the steady growth and continued success of our club over the years. Despite the challenges encountered, and our relationship with the council being complex, we continue to work with council for the betterment of the club.
“We persist in our endeavours to secure an equitable allotment of facilities and funding, which is required for us to efficiently conduct the diverse and inclusive soccer programs that cater to the Moonee Valley community.
“For years, the club has faced persistent challenges in securing a fair distribution of resources and funding from the council. Regrettably, we have found ourselves consistently marginalised in comparison to cricket and [Australian rules] – despite boasting larger participant numbers.
“Our club has embraced the role of a vocal advocate, unreservedly addressing what we perceive as inequities in funding and resource distribution among the Royals and other soccer clubs in the Moonee Valley region.”
Another soccer club, Strathmore Split FC, said it had at times challenging and frustrating dealings when “soccer’s needs are not fully understood by council”.
The council said it would not be appropriate to comment on the IBAC investigation.