Andrew Thorburn steps down as Essendon CEO after severe backlash

New Essendon chief executive Andrew Thorburn (pictured) poses for a photo.
Essendon chief executive Andrew Thorburn (pictured) has stood down from his role only a day after being announced. (Getty Images)

Newly appointed Essendon chief executive Andrew Thorburn has stood down from his role after just one day due to backlash over his involvement in a church with divisive views around abortion and homosexuality.

The former NAB boss, who resigned from that job in 2019 after receiving scathing criticism during the banking royal commission, was on Monday announced as the Bombers' successor to Xavier Campbell as chief executive.

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However, the move sparked backlash amongst some Essendon fans.

Thorburn is chairman of City on a Hill, a church that condemns homosexuality and has an article on its website from 2013 titled 'Surviving Same Sex Attraction as a Christian'.

"If you struggle with same-sex attraction, it is vital to speak to a mature Christian whom you trust, so you can receive the support and accountability you will need in the long term to survive these temptations," the City on a Hill article reads.

Thorburn addressed the controversy on Tuesday morning around his appointment and told Essendon fans that he would build an 'inclusive' AFL club.

However, after severe backlash over his appointment, Essendon announced on Tuesday evening that the board had accepted Thorburn's resignation.

"The Board of the Essendon Football Club has accepted the resignation of Andrew Thorburn as CEO," the statement from Dave Barham read.

"As soon as the comments relating to a 2013 sermon from a pastor, at the City of the Hill church came to light this morning, we acted immediately to clarify the publicly espoused views on the organisation’s official website, which are in direct contradiction to our values as a Club.

"Essendon is committed to providing an inclusive, diverse and a safe Club, where everyone is welcome and respected.

"The Board made clear that, despite these not being views that Andrew Thorburn has expressed personally and that were also made prior to him taking up his role as Chairman, he couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon Football Club and as Chairman of City on the Hill."

The statement said Essendon and Thorburn were not aware of the comments from the 2013 sermon that sparked backlash.

"I want to stress that neither the board nor Andrew was aware of the comments from the 2013 sermon until we read about them this morning," it continued.

"I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, pictured here in Melbourne.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had described the church's views as 'appalling'. (Photo by Martin Ollman/Getty Images)

Essendon fans fume over Andrew Thorburn appointment

Earlier on Tuesday, Thorburn moved to quell anger over his appointment during a radio interview.

"My faith is a very personal thing, and my faith has helped me become a better leader," the 57-year-old told SEN on Tuesday.

"At the centre of my faith is the belief that you should create community, care for people, help people's faith and respect them as humans."

Regardless of Thorburn's interview, many Essendon members weren't thrilled.

City of Port Phillip Mayor Tim Baxter lashed out at the club and said he would be terminating his membership due to the board's decision.

"While the decision to appoint Brad Scott as coach was, in my view, a good one, the decision to appoint Andrew Thorburn as CEO is spitting in the face of every queer Essendon member, as well as any member or supporter who supports women's rights to reproductive healthcare," Baxter wrote.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews labelled the church's views "absolutely appalling".

However, the premier wasn't giving up his membership as a fan of Essendon.

"That kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry. It's just wrong," Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.

"To dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.

"I hope we (Essendon) can get ourselves on the back page of the paper a bit more often than we're on the front page."

During his interview, Thorburn pointed to his previous jobs as to why he will help guide an 'inclusive' club.

"My role as a CEO is to ensure the organisations I lead, which I think my record stands for this, are inclusive, and welcoming, and caring," Thorburn said.

"That makes us a more human organisation and makes us a higher-performing organisation.

Former NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn (pictured) posing for a photo.
Former NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn (pictured) came under fire for his appointment at Essendon. (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

"I haven't been a perfect CEO, but my respect for people, my care, my love, my welcoming style - I welcome all those people.

"Look at my actions, and look at my words as a leader and the organisations I've created to enable safe, diverse workplaces."

Thorburn joined City on a Hill in 2014, and he says some of the articles and readings on the church's website pre-date his involvement.

"I've never heard these things expressed in my time, I've been on the board two years," he said.

"I'm not a pastor, my job in a governance role is to make sure it's run well, I don't always agree with what's said.

"If we want a diverse society, it also means there's going to be people with different views."

with AAP

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