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. He pledged to invest $3 million in the club if the merger failed, and replaced Ian Ridley as President when the union was defeated by the votes of Hawthorn fans. Ridley later claimed that Gutnick was ready to change sides and support the merger if the playing group unanimously supported it.
In Round 6, 1997 Gutnick announced during a half time radio interview that there would be changes at the club. He had reportedly already demanded board members sack Neil Balme. The coach only lasted another three weeks before being dismissed in the wake of a three goal game against Port Adelaide. Under new coach Neale Daniher, Melbourne returned to the finals in 1998 but crashed back down the ladder the next year. In March of that season Gutnick invited the AFL to probe past salary cap breaches, admitting overpayments under previous administrations of around $800,000. The club was fined $350,000 and stripped of their second and third round selections in the 1999 National Draft.
Gutnick was one of the most vocal presidents in the AFL, giving a speech before Round 4, 2000 attacking the AFL for perceived untrustworthy, discriminatory and bullying tactics. In a newspaper article, 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. Before Round 9 he called on AFL Commission chairman Ron Evans to resign over a perceived conflict of interest as CEO of Spotless Catering, which held a contract at Docklands. Gutnick called a meeting of league presidents in June, but though he claimed to have the numbers to oust Evans there was no challenge. That year he also engaged in a slanging match with Sydney chairman Richard Colless, calling him a 'puppet' of the league.
The Demons made the 2000 Grand Final, but Gutnick was forced to miss the game due to his religious beliefs, despite a last-minute plea to his father, who was the highest ranking rabbi in Victoria, and an interpretation that he wouldn't be breaking the Sabbath by walking to the game and not buying a ticket. At the end of that year he denied putting pressure on recruiting staff to overlook Jewish player Ezra Poyas in the National Draft, but did say that he could not be president of a club that allowed a Jewish player to play on the sabbath so would resign if it happened. Gutnick's controversial season ended in re-election as president in December 2000, though it was later decided in court that the election had technically not taken place.
After David Schwarz was alleged to have racially vilified an opponent in Round 3, 2001, Gutnick risked a fine by publicly commenting on the matter. When threatened with a $20,000 penalty he compared the AFL to "communist Russia", said he wouldn't pay. He counter-claimed that an AFL commissioner had racially vilified him before backing away from the claim and saying he was merely 'abused'. The club was fined $10,000 over the incident, saying they were negligent in not informing Gutnick that charges had been laid before he commented. The club issued a formal letter to the league complaining about the behaviour of CEO Wayne Jackson and demanding an investigation of how details of the Schwarz incident became public knowledge within hours of happening.
Jackson stoked growing divisions at Melbourne by suggesting that Gutnick's views did not represent the rest of the board, and came at a time of division behind the scenes. Gutnick announced a plan to cut the board in half at the end of the year, denied rumours of a challenge from businessman Ron Walker (who also denied the reports). He called for disaffected board members to quit in his address before Round 5, and accused some of showing up to meetings drunk. He added fuel to the fire by calling for the resignation of Vice-Presidents Ian Johnson and Bill Guest, and direction Alan Stockdale during his Round 8 President's Lunch speech, and announcing an extraordinary general meeting within a month in an attempt to oust them. Two other directors Stuart Spencer and Gary Hardeman declared that they no longer supported Gutnick the group was unable to remove him on a legal technicality. Gutnick sought a Supreme Court injunction to halt their next meeting, and when denied the injunction he resigned on May 24, having contributed $2.7 million of the $3 million pledged in 1996.
Unable to oust the three directors, Gutnick instead announced as a spill of all board positions. He held a public rally with 300 supporters before announcing he'd hold off the challenge until the end of the year, citing the need to concentrate on on-field matters. As part of a deal with the new board he was able to choose his own successor, naming Michael Givoni. Newspaper surveys showed a vast majority of supporters would back him in the election, but by the time the vote was held, his 'Melbourne First' ticket was comprehensively beaten, 65% to 35% by Gabriel Szondy and 'Team Vision' at the end of the year saw the Gabriel Szondy "Team Vision" ticket comprehensively beat Gutnick's "Melbourne First" by 65% to 35%. Gutnick topped the votes from his side, but fell well short of the 10th and last Team Vision candidate elected. He has had no involvement with the club since.
A biography, "Diamonds and Demons" was released in July 2008.
Diamonds and Demons by David Bernstein, Lothian Books, 2000.
Australian Jewish News - 30/08/1996, 19/05/2000, 04/01/2002
Herald Sun - 08/05/2000, 17/06/2000, 29/08/2000, 14/02/2001, 19/04/2001, 27/04/2001, 30/04/2001, 22/05/2001, 23/05/2001, 24/05/2001, 25/05/2001
Age - 19/04/2001, 20/04/2001, 28/04/2001, 29/04/2001, 30/04/2001, 21/05/2001, 22/05/2001, 24/05/2001, 25/05/2001, 26/05/2001, 20/12/2002
Australian - 20/04/2001, 23/05/2001, 25/05/2001
Advertiser - 25/01/2001, 26/01/2001