Eddie McGuire, Tim Lane feud: AFL commentator spills on split

Aussie sports commentator Tim Lane has revealed he felt sick in the moment he realised his employer had double crossed him on the eve of the AFL season. The veteran radio and TV caller famously fell out with Eddie McGuire and Channel 9 in 2002 after he sensationally walked away from the network having made a high-profile move from a rival station.
The 68-year-old now calls footy with 3AW — now owned by the Nine Network — and is a prominent member of Channel 7’s cricket commentary team.
Lane has now spoken publicly about his prickly split from Nine and the ramifications it had on his relationship with McGuire, the man who first approached him to join Nine.
Lane this week opened up to The Herald Sun about his widely-reported contract with Nine, which included a clause that Collingwood president McGuire would be removed from any Friday night games involving Collingwood.
The deal, signed in November 2001, had been violated before the first round of the 2002 season when the network allegedly backflipped on its agreement to keep McGuire on the sideline for Magpies games.
The worst part for Lane was the way he found out the bad news.
At a glitzy season launch for the Nine Network’s footy season, Lane says he sensed something was wrong.
He claims he had a suspicion that McGuire had been called back into the Friday night commentary team — even for Collingwood games — and even asked his agent, Isaac Apel, to check the agreement was still in place.
The network reportedly insisted nothing had changed.
Then at the season launch function, with Nine’s commentary team standing side by side on a podium, an announcer dropped the bomb that McGuire would be calling every Friday night game that year.
Lane had to stand there and cop it.
“I wasn’t completely surprised, but I also felt sick,” he said.
“We left the stage to mix and mingle and right in front of me appeared Isaac, greeting me with the words: ‘We have a problem’.
“I could have just backed down and accepted what was before me — and pressure was put on me to do that — but I had to ask myself why it had been important to push for these conditions in the first place.
“There was now another imperative for me and that was to talk to Eddie. I wanted to explain the tide of events to him so he at least had a full understanding of my actions. But unfortunately, because it was now a legal matter, I had to accept Isaac’s instruction to sit fast and wait for Nine to act. My advice was to discuss the issue with no one beyond personal confidants.
“So, I waited. The pre-season competition started a few days after the launch, and I found myself calling my first game on Nine with Eddie.
“It was fun but, under the secretive circumstances, it was also excruciating.
“It wasn’t until the middle of the week prior to the start of the season that the go-ahead came. At that point I made the call to Eddie.”
Lane was also juggling his position as chief football commentator for the ABC.
He says his objectivity could not be cast into doubt by McGuire’s alleged conflict of interest.
Lane decided after the launch that he had to step away from Nine.
He phoned McGuire to let him know. He called again the next day to give his final answer to McGuire and the network — and the call blew up.
Lane claims the heated phone conversation lasted almost 50 minutes.
“When I told him my position was unchanged, Eddie was angry,” Lane said.
“The call — I was going to say ‘conversation’, but it was hardly that — lasted close to 50 minutes and my contribution was minimal. But it was done.”
As the story of Lane’s departure from Nine leaked out almost immediately, the popular caller received a stream of interview requests.
He now says he regrets suggesting in one interview that McGuire had a “perceived conflict of interest”.
His comment attracted an angry response from McGuire at the time.
“Nobody knew about it other than Tim and his manager and whoever did the contract,” McGuire said.
“My reputation and integrity is everything to me and to have that questioned is a bit of a blow.
“This is big time football — if you’re not 100 per cent committed to Channel 9 football, there’s no place for you.
“If Time Lane got his way, it would have meant Channel 9 would have had to dump me or I would have stepped down from Collingwood. Those are big calls and neither was going to happen.”
With Lane gone, Nine chased AFL commentary legend Dennis Cometti in one of the few cases where the commentary icon agreed to leave Channel 7 and call games outside of Perth.
Cometti said in 2016 he felt awkward replacing Lane because of the circumstances surrounding his last-minute departure.
“The five years at Channel 9 were very good for me, and I really appreciated Eddie McGuire offering me that opportunity,” Cometti said.
“My role was initially to do Eagles games, and the Friday nights that Eddie didn’t do, which would be Collingwood games. Eddie was going to do the rest alongside Tim Lane. But Tim had a clause in his contract that said he wouldn’t broadcast Collingwood games with Eddie and, subsequently, when Eddie said he was going to do the Collingwood games, Tim pulled out. I was brought in to take Tim’s place, which I’ll admit was a little awkward to begin with.
“Of course, Channel 7 subsequently got the rights back and I was lucky enough to get back to where I felt most comfortable.”