Freo’s Dockers Should Not Be Moved

by Austin Robertson

 

I have received an email from long-time Freo Docker supporter that I reckon represents the views of thousands of their fans, including yours truly, as well as many more folks in the Fremantle community at large.

 

It would appear that the administration of the Fremantle Dockers is seriously entertaining moving from its home in the heart of Fremantle to a reclaimed swamp 15K away out the back of the Gateway Shopping centre in Cockburn Central.

 

For pity’s sake, leave Freo in Freo.

 

This is the hallowed ground where John Gerovich flew without any visible means of support, where John Todd, as a 16-year-old, thrilled the football world with his stunning genius, where the great Bernie Naylor arced his torps, first one way in the air, and then the other, only to sail through the big sticks half way up. Wow.

 

There were many other red and white legends who drew countless thousands to their heartland at Fremantle Oval in the Harbour City.

 

The Dockers, long regarded by the media as the poor second cousins to the

West Coast Eagles, were born and established in the portside city of Fremantle, the birthplace of football in WA, a city world famous for its sporting culture and fierce sense of identity.

 

Despite being set up under-resourced and under-funded, despite a less-than-stellar on field record over their 17-year history, and despite being mocked by so-called football experts, about its colours, its symbols and its song, the club has become one of the off-field powerhouses of the AFL.

 

It has an enviable supporter base approaching 43,000 loyal members, with hundreds of thousands of other fans around WA and interstate. That includes me, even though my history is based on the Sydney Swans (South Melbourne).

 

For all sorts of reasons, football supporters know and trust the Fremantle name and are attracted to the team that lives there.

 

The Dockers have more sufficient revenue streams, sponsorship support and a balance sheet that many AFL clubs, including some of those with very long and established outfits with on-field success over the years, would die for.

 

Of course, Fremantle supporters want to win games and vie for premiership success, and from what we’ve seen this year they don’t have to wait any longer. It’s clear that the club’s financial position is more than sufficient to make them competitive with the traditional big boys in the competition.

 

But the club’s history demonstrates that, more importantly, they want to be a part of the tribe that calls itself Fremantle and makes its home there. It is this that brings them together.

 

‘Trouble is,’ the supporter wrote me, ‘the club administration rarely consults their members on important issues such as relocation. It’s really as if the view of the members is not relevant.

 

‘Instead, over the past few years, the club’s administration has methodically assaulted their traditions and symbols.’

 

From my own personal sporting life experience this unfortunate situation seems to be commonplace among the more mediocre of top level club administrations, who really confine their communications with their members to occasions when they want something (particularly money) from them.

 

So I find it amazing to even hear that Freo is even considering relocation.

 

This is an act of administration careerists who risk stuffing it up and moving on. They are imposing simplistic textbook sports business models on situations where a deeper understanding of football, its players, its supporters and the sense of place are what is required.

 

I recently read with interest respected Melbourne football journalist Caroline Wilson’s cautionary tale about the St Kilda Football Club.

 

The Saints recently moved from its base at Moorabbin to new facilities at Seaford. Seaford is even about the same distance from Moorabbin as Cockburn is to Fremantle.

 

‘The St Kilda team and those around it are attempting to make the best of one of the most unfathomable decisions made in recent history,’ she wrote in the Melbourne Age.

 

‘It was a decision dreaded by the players, coaches and staff alike, and a move which now remains a regretful and occasionally bitter talking point among all

Saints.’

 

Wilson says that St Kilda supporters feel as though they have lost touch with their club – a club which has long boasted a unique relationship with its fans and its heartland.

 

Saints players and coaches ‘are trying to make the best of a relatively soulless facility, while significantly closer to home sits one of the best football grounds in the State.’

 

The tragedy is that the Fremantle Dockers are contemplating this move when they have on the table a $70-million proposal to build a state-of-the-art sport and commercial complex at Fremantle Oval, with a frontage onto South Terrace, Fremantle’s best-known street.

 

The City of Fremantle is offering to GIVE the Dockers 6,000 square metres of priceless land on the world famous Cappuccino strip.

 

Their proposal includes a four-storey building with a pool, gymnasiums, basketball courts, function areas, commercial and retail space.

 

It incorporates the School of Health Sciences of Notre Dame University Australia, the ideal partner for a major league sports club, along with underground parking for 700 vehicles.

 

Surely, as a club facility,  it doesn’t need to get any better than this.

 

The Dockers already enjoy a unique sense of place in Fremantle; these landmark facilities proposed will take that to an extraordinary new level on and off the field.

 

But, instead of grabbing this magnificent opportunity with both hands, the Dockers’ management and Board seem intent of leveraging a “better deal” at

Cockburn.

 

In doing so, I believe they are putting the possibility of short-term corporate savings ahead of the entire culture of the club they work for, and a brand worth much, much more than the financial carrots being dangled in front of them.

 

They are ignoring the lesson of great clubs that have relocated and failed, or embraced their heritage and succeeded, because supports make decisions from the heart, and will reject changes that offend their soul.

 

Maybe the last word should come from the Docker’s coach Ross Lyon, who, as recently as last Saturday night, said this about the relationship between the club and its members and supporters:

 

“We exist for them. We’re their servants in a real sense.”

 

Exactly, Ross.

 

It’s about time the Fremantle Football Club’s front office got off their pedestal and listened to the people they serve.

Comments

  1. I’m with you Austin. The Cockburn Cockups is just too horrible to contemplate. Just when you are starting to ditch the weight of that anchor. Matt Price would turn in his grave at the thought. Hopeless AND soulless is just not an option. I want to fear and hate you – not laugh at you.

  2. Austin – welcome to corporate football. Its been happening in Melbourne for years. Even the Pies, who used to champion their home ground, left it to go derilect in pursuit of the dollar. Bombers, Blues, Hawks (though Glenferrie Oval was too small), Roos, Saints, have all deserted their fans and gone generic.

    Its horrible.

    The next step is that our teams will have sponsor’s names inserted into the club name – The Optus Blues, or The Lexus Magpies.

    Pewk.

  3. Peter Schumacher says:

    I too understand where you are coming from. this sort of thing just kicks the soul out of a footy club.

  4. Neil Anderson says:

    Excellent article putting into words how I feel about my Club as well as Fremantle. After another horrible Bulldog season I was sifting through the entrails trying to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong in the last few seasons. I had the usual whack at recruiting and took a swing at the many players still on the list who show potential but are never going to make it. But the other aspect of failure that kept recurring in my thoughts was the lack of a home-ground advantage. I remembered even in the really bad old days, the Bulldogs were always competitive against the top sides out at the Whitten Oval. The neutral corporate stadium just isn”t the same and it doesn’t help that the players do it tough having to run on the concrete-covered surface above the carpark. It’s nice to be dry and cosy under a roof but not if it means more rehab every week. I saw the Fremantle oval last year and even mentioned it in the Almanac how good the location was etc and listed the Dockers as one of my other teams to follow. So I hope they don’t make the same mistake as St Kilda and shift away from the obvious supporter base, confusing financial deals with what the people of Fremantle really want.

  5. Amen boys. Seaford is too far away for the boys and the fans. It’s interesting how NOW they are redeveloping Moorabbin as a community grounds and that they’ll do some of their work their. Why they didn’t do everything in their power to stay where there is public transport access (Moorrabbin Station), buses and plenty of suburban parking, I don’t know. I still drop into Moorabbin often to buy stuff from the Saints Shop and it all looks so lonely and run down. This could have remained the heart of something special, with love and attention. I hope the Dockers don’t make the same mistakes. Learn well.

    Yvette

  6. Good article. An opportunity to secure land in a prime location like Freo Oval is a one-off chance. There will always be another suburb we can move to, but if we leave the heart of Freo, there’s no going back. I know such inter-geneartional thinking is difficult to the collection of accountants and marketers in the higher echelons of our administration, but such thinking shouldn’t be lost on those running a footy club.

  7. Great work by the City of Freo to get in there and fight for their team. Yes football is a business but the Dockers admin surely must know that 40,000 people don’t drape themselves in purple and shout themselves hoarse every weekend for a board meeting or a bottom-line. It’s all about your affinity with the team – and we are Fremantle!

  8. Neil Belford says:

    Brilliant piece – agree with every word, given what is on the table Freo should be absolutely welded to Fremantle Oval.

    But I have a more important question. is your middle name Christopher.

  9. Best of luck with this…I would be filthy if the Cats ever moved from KP so feel your sentiment.

  10. Skip of Skipton says:

    Pete, Geelong are moving to an ‘elite’ training facility that will be built at the new Armstrong Creek suburb between Grovedale and Mt Duneed. Essendon are moving further out the Nor-west corridor to an ‘elite’ training facility. Saints have already moved further down the bayside to an ‘elite’ training facility. If you haven’t moved to an ‘elite’ facility out in the boondocks, then how can you be competitive in the future?

  11. Austin, you obviously do not understand the culture of AFL football. Clubs need to have access to a training facility for 12 months every year. You should also understand that AFL football is not about community football – it is sports entertainment for the adult upper middle class plus promotion for big business.

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