Whoever coined the saying: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, clearly didn't witness the reaction of a WAFL club left unaligned.
At the risk of interrupting the entertaining but hysterical scaremongering that has gone on this week in the wake of the West Australian Football Commission's decision to allow alignments between West Coast and East Perth, and Peel and Fremantle, here are some observations:
·The West Australian Football Commission this week did what commissions are put in place to do: it made a big-picture decision it believes is in the long-term interests of the game in this State regardless of whether the decision is popular or not. Unpopular doesn't mean wrong. If the WAFC had intervened more in WAFL issues it is doubtful that Perth and Peel would have endured such barren periods that have hurt, not helped, the competition.
·West Coast and Fremantle have watched 14 of the 16 teams they compete against establish host club or reserve team arrangements. They feared a competitive disadvantage if they didn't follow suit. They directly or indirectly generate $10 million in funds annually for the WA football system. With one or two exceptions WAFL clubs habitually spend more money than they generate themselves. The deficit is narrowed by more than $400,000 a year in WAFC grants. You don't have to be Einstein to work out where a chunk of that money comes from, or what happens down the food chain if West Coast and Fremantle's fortunes turn sour.
·Are the unrequited WAFL clubs upset? Of course. They didn't get their way. Their wish was to stonewall on this issue until it went away. Their solidarity crumbled amid rumours that as many as five of them had asked West Coast what an alignment with the most powerful club in WA would bring. Far from the lack of consultation they have claimed on this matter, it had been batted back and forth between WAFL and AFL clubs for two years with the WAFC stuck in the middle like a net umpire.
·The commission were faced with either letting this continue indefinitely or finding the two most suitable clubs prepared to take the plunge, making a decision and riding out the whingeing. They made the decision. Riding out the whingeing will be no mean feat. If it were a sport, some WAFL clubs could whinge for Australia and comfortably medal at any Olympics.
·Whether you claim this is going to be a success or failure, you are guessing. WAFL host club history tells us they can win, as East Perth did. They can be beaten in grand finals - as West Perth proved by toppling South Fremantle in 1999. They can struggle as Claremont did. They can be content arrangements as with the Royals, or troubled as with the Bulldogs and Tigers. Success depends not on the decision made but on the ones still to be made. The "lack of detail" the jilted WAFL clubs claim is a glaring weakness is actually a key safety valve. The WAFC will retain the unilateral right to vary the player-list conditions of Peel and East Perth to make sure they neither dominate nor flounder. Much will depend on how partnerships are managed. The Eagles and Royals are confident because they managed their previous one well. The one thing we can say with confidence is that Freo and Peel's will not make Peel less successful than they are.
·How will this affect the competition? Apparently this decision has taken us all to the brink of an unprecedented calamity where AFL-listed players will decide the outcomes of WAFL grand finals, ruining the integrity of a previously pristine competition. Rubbish! In 1988 Laurie Keene returned to play WAFL finals for Subiaco as the form ruckman in Australia. He was controversially qualified off a handful of games. Claremont had beaten Subiaco three times from four attempts by 67, 30 and 25 points before the grand final. With Keene utterly dominant, the Lions not only won the decider, they won it by 62 points.
In 1996 Claremont took the field against East Perth with 10 AFL-listed players. Three, Fremantle's Todd Ridley (seven goals) and West Coast pair Chris Lewis (four goals) and Don Pyke (29 possessions and one goal) were the difference in an epic decided by two points.
Will punters still come? The average crowd at the four WAFL grand finals which involved host clubs a decade ago was 27,700. The average crowd at the last two WAFL grand finals at a time when the competition is claiming a resurgence is 17,000.
Alignment is not the critical issue here. Financial sustainability is. WAFL clubs do not need to be protected from incursions from AFL reserves or aligned teams. They need to be protected from themselves.
Disaster looms if they continue to spend more than they earn and do not set money aside for the future - a key plank of the WAFC financial package that comes with this decision. Clubs want more compensation but West Coast and Fremantle are already paying $450,000 a year each, significantly more than Hawthorn pay for their alignment with Box Hill in the VFL.
The financial package they have been offered comes close to the $150,000 they asked for. It just doesn't all come in cash which would undoubtedly be spent in pointless poaching and bidding wars for players. It demands they invest in their future and take advantage of development grants that might cut costs or educate boards and staff. They seem to have little interest in such help.
No WAFL club in history has depended more heavily on a single person than East Perth on their enormously-generous president Bronte Howson. Howson knows this is no way to continue long term. If he goes tomorrow, the Royals must go on. Under this arrangement they now can.
Finally, if Peel win the WAFL premiership in 2014, do you reckon the karma gods will view it as an injustice? Peel's so called "fellow" WAFL clubs have been trying to terminate them with extreme prejudice since they entered the competition, starting with an absolute lemon of a temporary licence agreement that all but guaranteed failure and left them vulnerable to recruiting raids from other clubs who have pretty much used them for that purpose since.
Does anyone seriously reckon the Thunder owed any other WAFL club a skerrick of loyalty when they weighed up this issue? Or do you reckon they still figure they owe quite a few of them a few swift kicks in what are sometimes colloquially referred to as the Bruce Rocks? I am betting on the latter.