One Port insider from that time drew a revealing comparison between Laidley’s intense, obsessive nature – such was his devotion to work – and that of the late Phil Walsh, whose obsessive love of coaching and intense work ethic were widely known, though no one, besides his family, can say whether they contributed to the tragedy.
“We together with the [AFL] Players’ Association and North Melbourne footy club are trying to work out how we can help [Laidley],” said the AFL Coaches’ Association chief executive Mark Brayshaw, a fellow Western Australian native who also knew Laidley from Brayshaw’s time and his brother James were on the North club board, the club Laidley coached, in a fiscally-challenging time, from 2003 until 2009.
Laidley had not worked in the AFL “system” since his position at Carlton finished in 2015, effectively ceasing when Malthouse was sacked mid-season. Laidley was set to coach at suburban level at Maribyrnong Park this year had there been a season; lately, he had been involved in a business that involved mentoring and leadership.
Laidley was a tough and sinewy half-back flanker at West Coast and then North, where he played in the 1996 premiership, having left the Eagles due to the fact that he couldn’t supplant either star Guy McKenna nor skipper John Worsfold from the team’s half-back flanks. So, he went to North, well-timed to play in the Wayne Carey-Denis Pagan era.
He had been working, post-playing career, in the ACT as a coach when Malthouse invited him to Collingwood, just as the Magpies were making their rise. Few, if any figures within the AFL world, knew Laidley better than Malthouse, who had coached Laidley at West Coast.
Malthouse observed of Laidley that he viewed people “at a distance until he got to know them,” adding, “I always found him to be a fantastic bloke”.
Malthouse, when asked at first about Laidley, said he was “disappointed with the way” the police matter had been handled. “I’m really disappointed with the way it’s been portrayed and the suspected leaks from the Victoria Police.
“That to be appears to be against regulations … the consequences have got to be applied.”
The sense that Laidley was not easy to know, that parts of his life were unorthodox, did not surface suddenly with his arrest. But if there were rumours around his behaviours, the arrest and leaking of the photo, in which Laidley is dressed as a woman and wearing make-up, at the police station was received with a mix of sadness and surprise.
In 2001, he and his family and several others were victims of what Laidley told 3AW radio was a “completely unprovoked” attack at a Bali nightspot in 2011, which he described as a “set-up”.
“What the police are basically telling us is that it’s a set-up,” he said in the immediate aftermath.
“Things like this happen a hell of a lot over there. Probably not to this degree but we just found it really strange as a family that the only people who have been hurt in the whole incident were members of our party.”
Whatever becomes of Laidley following his arrest, and the resultant release of a photograph that mixes titillation and torment, it’s clear he won’t be the only party on trial.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.