Footy greats fear for WA game

Fears for the future of WA football have inspired a group of the biggest names in the sport's rich history to urge the scrapping of the current AFL-WAFL club alignments.

The group of nine - including several of the greatest footballers produced in the State and three who have coached VFL-AFL teams - will ask the WA Football Commission to end the new host club arrangement next year.

Sandover medallists Bill Walker, Barry Cable, Stephen Michael, John Todd and Brian Peake, WAFL games record-holder Mel Whinnen and seven-times premiership winner Gerard Neesham have joined forces because of their concerns about the long-term impact of the alignments. Prominent football sponsor Denis McInerney and Swan Districts premiership president John Cooper are also part of the group.

"WA football is far more than just the two AFL teams," McInerney said.

"Yes, they bring in the cash for WA football and yes, their profile is essential for the growth of the game.

"But they are the top of the pyramid of football in this State and we fear that weakening the foundation of the pyramid will have significant adverse long-term consequences.

"And West Coast and Fremantle will lose in the long run if WA football is weakened."

Under the five-year deal that started this season, West Coast have aligned with East Perth, while Fremantle have an arrangement with Peel that will see their surplus players housed at the WAFL clubs.

The other seven WAFL clubs will share about $1 million a year to compensate for the loss of their AFL-listed players.

The group wrote to the commission this week to express their concerns that the alignments would cause serious damage to the WAFL and grassroots football.

They also claimed the traditional method of spreading all AFL players across the league, which had seen West Coast play in five grand finals for three premierships, and Fremantle reach last year's grand final, may have proved the best development system in the country.

"Since joining the competition, the Eagles have played in 43 finals (second to Geelong's 46) and since 2003 Fremantle have lost just 11 more games than Hawthorn," the group wrote. "The outgoing WAFL system may well have been AFL best practice."

Cooper said the group's initial aim was to ask the commission to end the alignments after two years rather than wait for five years to review the arrangements.

"It should be knocked on the head," Cooper said.

"It was rushed through without adequate consultation or transparency and five years is too long to wait given the amount of damage that could be done to WA football."

WAFC chief executive Gary Walton confirmed changes would be considered before next year if an end-of-season review found sufficient grounds.

"(We) will undertake a full review of the partnering model at the conclusion of the 2014 season and determine the need for change if required," Walton said.

"The season will begin in the agreed format with the WAFC looking forward to a sustainable, competitive and exciting WAFL competition.

"The partnering model has been unanimously agreed to by all nine WAFL clubs, with significant financial and non-financial benefits flowing to each of them as part of this agreement."

The group of greats was angered by the loss of the annual WA Hall of Fame function, which it said was indicative of the declining status of the WAFL and WA football's grassroots.

The function will be held every two years after the commission deemed it too expensive to be held annually. Two regular WAFL radio stations - Radio Fremantle and 990AM - have also pulled out this season as State league sponsorships have dried up.

The West Australian

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