The West

WAFL Whispers - Derby downturn dilemma
WAFL Whispers - Derby downturn dilemma

East Fremantle budgeted for 4000 spectators, seasoned observers predicted a crowd of 8000 and some excitable media types even suggested 10,000 might watch the derby at East Fremantle Oval.

Given the traditional rivalry between the two clubs, the absence of any AFL or other WAFL football on the day, fine weather and the fact that the winner would bolster their chances of playing in September, the sizeable figures appeared quite feasible.

All of which makes the eventual attendance of just 2792 - the 12th highest crowd of the season - all the more mystifying and disappointing.

It is difficult to imagine why so few people turned up at Shark Park, though harsh experience might be a factor given how poorly the decrepit facility caters for any half-decent crowd, but questions need to be asked about the measly promotion of the match.

The West Australian and had plenty of stories on the morning of the match but plenty of media people were left scratching their heads when the WAFL's promotion department did not mention the potential blockbuster in their pre-match publicity.

In fact, some were completely baffled that the only release late in the week was an irrelevant puff piece on the West Perth-Claremont game to be played at Steel Blue Oval later this month which made the erroneous claim that it was the first double-header in WAFL history.

New East Fremantle chief executive Adam Kelly was caught on the horns of a dilemma before his first Fremantle derby last Saturday.

Kelly played more than 300 matches for the Tyntynder Bulldogs in the Central Murray League and so it is not surprising that his five-year-old son is keen to support any other Bulldogs outfit.

"It was pretty hard telling him that we had to barrack against the Bulldogs last week," Kelly revealed before the game against South Fremantle.

But worse was to come.

"He is absolutely petrified of sharks so it has been a bit of a challenge to get him to come over when he discovered what East Fremantle's nickname was," Kelly said.

"Still, I think we have had a win because he is now a Sharks fan and knows there is nothing better than to beat the Bulldogs." East Freo didn't let their new chief down on Saturday, surviving the derby by 12 points to improve their chances of playing finals.

The modest turn-out included a very select group who experienced the biggest crowd in WA football history - and that is not a fallacious claim.

In 1979, East Fremantle beat South Fremantle before a grand final crowd of 52,781 people packed into every crack and crevice of Subiaco Oval.

No WA footy crowd has come close to that size again and given the tepid prospects of a new football stadium exceeding a capacity of 50,000 - if it is ever built, that is - it may remain the record for many decades to come.

Guests at lunch on Saturday included a few of that grand final team, starting with Ian Thomson, Jim Sewell, Tony Buhagiar, Peter LeCras and Wayne Cormack.

LeCras is the father of West Coast star Mark and West Perth's Brent who was at the game with his dad and son.

And Cormack still has to ask his former team-mates what happened that day because he was flattened early in the match by South's Dale Reeves and has no memory of the win nor the match.

Other premiership veterans in attendance included 1985 captain-coach Ron Alexander and 1974 back pocket John Grljusich who was heard to ask when the club might get around to organising a full reunion of that team.

An interested onlooker at the derby was former Sydney and Richmond defender Darren Gaspar who started his career with South Freo before carving out 228 matches for the two AFL clubs.

One of three brothers to play AFL - Damien spent four years at Melbourne and is now East Fremantle's football manager while Travis played for West Coast this decade - the defender was the No.1 draft pick in 1993 but ended his career under a cloud when he quit mid-season as Richmond struggled in 2007.

Gaspar bobbed up again on Sunday when he joined former West Perth ruckman Basil Zempilas on Channel 7 as the two talking heads discussing the second derby of the weekend.

Also celebrating their 20 year reunion was East Freo's 1990 colts team. That side included three players who would make their mark at league level with senior premierships within the next few years - ruckman Justin Sanders, wingman Jon Stagg and utility Glen Davies.

Stagg had a remarkable career in which he played 100 matches in both league and reserves and won flags in both.

In 1994, he won the Prendergast Medal as the best player in the reserves competition despite playing just six games then was part of the league premiership team that season.

Football is riddled with increasing professionalism at all levels of the sport which made it hardly surprising to observe the latest development in the little league match at Bendigo Bank Stadium on Sunday.

Although the match between the Peel and East Perth only went for 10 minutes, and the field was small enough for the full-back to whisper to his team-mates deep in attack, both teams saw the need to employ runners to pass messages from the respective coaches.

In fact, the Peel runner sent three separate messages in the first two minutes of the game which is surely an inaugural WAFL little league record.

Unreliable sources suggested that one of the messages was to urge a player to tuck his hanky into his socks, another was to remind the eight-year-old recipient about which team he was representing while the most vociferous was to chastise one undisciplined young’un for getting a few steps out of position in the team’s highly-structured zone defence.

The West Australian

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