ESSENDON players were taken away from the club and injected with unknown substances by sports science staff last season.
The Herald Sun can reveal the off-site injections will form part of an investigation by the AFL and Australia's anti-doping watchdog into inappropriate use of supplements at the club in 2012.
Sources allege organised crime gangs also have been linked to the scandal.
It is alleged the alarm was raised at Windy Hill midway through last season about the activities of the club's performance scientist, Stephen Dank, who has since left the club.
Expense forms totalling more than $10,000, including the cost of a registered nurse to perform injections, were regularly submitted by Dank to the club.
Essendon late last night stood down club high performance manager Dean Robinson, pending the outcome of the investigation.
The substances, which have not been identified, were taken orally, by injection and intravenously.
Essendon players were asked to sign waivers, supposedly exonerating the club of wrongdoing in the taking of the mystery substances.
It is understood an Essendon official spoke to an organised crime investigative body about his knowledge of performance-enhancing drugs in football last November.
The AFL is aware that its sport is being targeted by peddlers of illegal substances.
The Herald Sun last night submitted questions to the Australian Crime Commission, a leading law enforcement body in the fight against organised crime. In response, it said: "The Australian Crime Commission does not confirm who it is or isn't investigating."
It is known Essendon's highly respected club doctor, Bruce Reid, became frustrated by elements of Dank's work with the players last year.
But Bombers chiefs yesterday claimed they had become aware of "concerning information" only in the past two days.Axed former Essendon star Kyle Reimers told Channel 9 last night: "They (Essendon) admitted to us that it was right on the edge.
"Speaking to blokes from other clubs, I don't think anyone has ever thought about signing it or doing the stuff we were doing.
"After a couple of months away from it, it does seem pretty odd that, the type of stuff we were taking."
Essendon yesterday stressed the recent departures of football boss Paul Hamilton and chief operating officer Dom Cato were not related to the scandal.
The Herald Sun contacted a number of senior Essendon officials about the allegations on Monday and they strongly denied any wrongdoing by the club last year.
They now fear, however, banned drugs may have been given to their players without the knowledge of senior officials.
The club had late night meetings on Monday and again yesterday before coming forward to the AFL.
Bombers chairman David Evans said: "The integrity at the club is critical, and that's why we've moved quickly to contact the AFL.
"The info we gathered over the last 24 or 48 hours is slightly concerning, and we want to dig a bit deeper but we want the AFL to help us."
AFL boss Andrew Demetriou has long made known his dislike for the growing influence of sports scientists in the game.
Last night he said: "They (Essendon) have just started the investigation. They don't know what they have taken or alleged to have taken, they don't know the composition, and they don't even know if they have broken any WADA rules.
"They have come forward so I think they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt."
ESSENDON’S 2012 IN A SNAPSHOT
- The Bombers soared to an 8-1 win-loss record and are second on the table heading into June. Their premiership odds are crunched as Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton and Dustin Fletcher lead the charge.
- The Dons’ opening nine weeks eventuated despite a spate of early-season injuries and included a stunning 30-point win against Carlton, which is the flag favourite at the time.
- A shock loss to straggler Melbourne in Round 10 lights the fuse for Essendon's dramatic demise in the second half of the season. The Dons are the first side to lose to the Dees under Mark Neeld.
- Dons chairman David Evans is forced to publicly defend high-performance manager Dean Robinson ("The Weapon") for the injury curse in August. Essendon’s soft-tissue epidemic claims about a dozen stars, including Michael Hurley, David Zaharakis, Brent Stanton, Paddy Ryder, David Hille and Stewie Crameri.
- Essendon peters out to finish with an 11-11 record, dropping 10 of the final 13 matches to finish 11th on the ladder.
- The Dons record embarrassing losses to Richmond (45 points) and Carlton (96) in the final month of the season.
- Jobe Watson becomes the first player since Shane Crawford in 1999 to win the Brownlow Medal from a non-finalist, polling 30 votes.
- Essendon parts company with sports science guru Stephen Dank in the fallout from their wretched collapse last season.
- Football manager Paul Hamilton reportedly walks out in September, with Danny Corcoran taking charge at Windy Hill.
- What they said
"I am very disappointed. Shocked, is probably the best word ... I believe we followed processes; we put in place the right kind of processes. My understanding is we worked within the framework that was given to us by the AFL and I am shocked to be sitting here really.'' - Essendon coach James Hird
"I think the investigation takes its course from here and we learn more, as I said earlier I don't have all the answers but as you would agree this is a minefield. It takes experts, we have contacted experts today and we will use them to help us with the findings.'' - Essendon chairman David Evans
"David Evans has briefed the AFL about the matter and we support his actions. The AFL's Integrity Unit already works closely with ASADA and will assist with the investigation.'' - Acting AFL Football Operations Manager Gillon McLachlan
End of 2010
- Geelong premiership coach Mark Thompson quits the Cats to join Essendon as James Hird's senior assistant. He says the Bombers must get bigger.
End of 2011
- Former Geelong and Gold Coast fitness guru Dean ``The Weapon'' Robinson joins Essendon and says his pre-season program for the under-sized Bombers will be ``intense''.
Start of 2012
- Robinson recruits long-time collaborator sports scientist Stephen Dank. Known as "The Pharmacist'', Dank worked at NRL club Manly and Gold Coast Suns in the AFL with Robinson.
End of season 2012
- Robinson has his role downgraded as former Athletics Australia chief executive Danny Corcoran takes on more responsibility.
- Jobe Watson win the Brownlow medal, polling 30 votes.
- Football manager Paul Hamilton quits the club.
- Dank parted company with the club amid concern over the sports science program.
- Essendon chairman David Evans says "over the last 48 hours the Essendon Football Club has received information about supplements that have been given to our players as part of the fitness program of 2012". ADL and ASADA launch investigations.
- Essendon stands down Robinson pending the outcome of the inquiries.
Read more at the Herald Sun.