Ryan Tandy: Disgraced NRL footballer’s gambling led to his career, life unravelling and eventual suicide
My previous posts on this sad saga over the years can be found here
Earlier this week, friends and family farewelled former rugby league player, Ryan Tandy, at a funeral on the New South Wales central coast
Former NRL player Ryan Tandy was found dead last month of an apparent drug overdose
Mourners there remembered him as a talented athlete, a loving son and a valued friend.
Among them was sports psychologist Rob Brown.
“The real Ryan is somebody who will be, by those who knew him, cherished and will be missed for the rest of their lives,” he said.
But there was another, darker side to Tandy.
There have long been blurry connections between sporting stars and elements of the underworld, and the story of Tandy’s demise stands as a cautionary tale of just how easy it is to slide into that grey area.
“A lot of athletes are trained to push through their limits and not to think of the cost because the rewards are so great,” Mr Brown points out.
“So when they are no longer athletes, when they don’t have those supports there, when there is no coach or mentor, when it comes down to themselves and their own decision making, sometimes that’s flawed and sometimes that leads them into trouble.”
Tandy’s rugby league career peaked when he played with Melbourne Storm in their premiership winning side of 2009. On the surface his future appeared bright.
But unknown to most, Tandy had a long-standing gambling habit which would be the catalyst for a life that spiralled out of control.
It developed not long after his father died, when Tandy was 14.
“It’s been a pattern for his whole life, even going back as far as the early 2000s when he played for the (St George) Dragons,” says Tandy’s friend and sports journalist at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Josh Massoud.
“He had to go to the extent of the CEO to look after his rent, look after his groceries, and then pay him what was left, just to make sure that he had those needs met.”
Mounting gambling debts leads to threats
By 2010 the problem had become even more serious.
He bet on his first match with his new club, the Canterbury Bulldogs, despite NRL rules banning players from gambling on the sport, and had racked up gambling debts of tens of thousands of dollars.
“Even former flatmates had no idea about this side of his life. It obviously did get to a point at that stage in his life where he was, I think the court heard, that he was about $70,000 in the hole at the Bulldogs,” Massoud says.
Tandy was placing bets on racing and NRL games with jockey manager and former journalist, John Schell.
Mr Schell’s betting ledger shows Tandy’s rollercoaster punting spree over a week in June 2010, the same month he joined the Bulldogs.
It reveals a string of losses which left him owing Mr Schell more than $30,000. When Tandy refused to pay Mr Schell started to chase Tandy’s manager Sam Ayoub.
According to evidence Mr Schell later gave at Tandy’s trial, he texted Mr Ayoub, warning he would reveal Tandy’s gambling activities to Bulldogs management if Tandy did not pay up.
By Mr Schell’s court account, the tensions over Tandy’s gambling debt came to a head one night in July 2010.
Mr Schell had gone to the Moorebank Hotel to watch a Danny Green title fight, where he was approached by a man known to him and Tandy, who delivered this warning: “You’d want to drop off chasing Tandy for that money. He is tied up with people that you don’t want to know. You don’t want these types of blokes turning up at your front door.”
Frightened, Mr Schell texted Tandy to say the debt was forgiven. Tandy replied: “Sounds good because I didn’t want things to get ugly.”
A few weeks later Mr Schell decided to alert the Bulldogs, according to Mr Schell’s evidence.
He arranged to meet Bulldogs football manager Alan Thompson and the club’s then CEO Todd Greenberg (now the NRL’s deputy chief executive) at a cafe in Homebush, where he says he showed them Tandy’s betting ledger and the series of losing bets that had been placed on races and rugby league matches.
Despite the evidence, nothing was officially done and Mr Schell says the pair simply told him to take up the issue with Mr Ayoub.
Mr Greenberg and Mr Thompson declined an interview. Through a spokesman, Mr Greenberg denied being told about Tandy’s NRL betting plunge.
Betting plunge leads to investigation, conviction
Four days after the meeting at the cafe, the Bulldogs played the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville – the game that would bring Tandy’s league career to dramatic end.
Off the field, bets had poured in on a so-called exotic bet, that the Cowboys would score first with a penalty goal.
In the opening minutes, Tandy set the scene for punters to take home more than $100,000. He deliberately held down a player in a tackle and gave away a penalty to the Cowboys directly in front of the goal.
But the plan went awry. Instead of taking a quick kick, the Cowboys played the ball and scored a try.
A week later, the NRL announced an investigation into the penalty and the betting plunge, and in February 2011, NSW police charged Tandy, Mr Ayoub, notorious former footballer, John Elias, and a number of others over the alleged fix.
Hassan Saleh, a friend and former teammate of Tandy’s at St George, was one of those who bet on the match. He says Tandy was confident he would be cleared.
“He honestly thought that it was going to go away, he would keep playing footy. And then six months later, police, we were living together at the time, police rocked up at our house, took mobile phones, took everything and then he sort of got the point,” Mr Saleh said.
In October 2011, Tandy was convicted of dishonestly attempting to obtain a financial advantage for Ayoub, Elias and others.
The case against Mr Ayoub hinged on the evidence of another former player, Brad Murray, who was captured on video betting on the game.
Murray gave evidence in the Tandy case that Mr Ayoub had told him the fix was on but later changed his account and said he had lied in his original statement.
Tandy was the only person convicted and the NRL also banned him for life. Charges against Mr Ayoub and the others were dropped and Mr Ayoub was awarded costs.
“He was pretty much outcast from the game for life before he was even found guilty in front of a court,” Massoud said.
“And I think when that happens, and when somebody doesn’t have any hope left, their options are shut off and they can spiral out of control.”
Tandy implicated in drug-related kidnapping
In January this year Tandy’s life hit an all-time low when he was accused of a drug-related kidnapping.
According to a police brief of evidence, it happened near midnight at the Mingara recreation club on the NSW central coast.
A man involved in a dispute over drugs and money was walking to his car when he was bailed up by three men. One of them was Tandy.
They took the man and drove him around all night, demanding he hand over the drugs and cash.
Police later claimed Tandy’s role was that of standover man. There were also rumours an outlaw motorcycle gang was involved.
They were going to smash my legs. I’ve heard them talking about other bashings and I know who they’ve got backing them
Victim’s police statement
The next morning, police allege, Tandy drove the kidnapped man to a Commonwealth bank in Gosford, where he withdrew $4,500 and handed it over to Tandy, who waited outside.
The victim later told police he thought about running, but feared the men.
“They were going to smash my legs. I’ve heard them talking about other bashings and I know who they’ve got backing them,” the victim’s police statement says.
Tandy was arrested later that day.
“I found out, like everyone else did, when it hit the headlines and I was surprised,” Massoud said.
Late last month, before he had faced court on charges of kidnapping, Tandy was found dead from an apparent drug overdose, believed to be prescription medication.