Is North Relevant?

I return to Melbourne after a year away, and all my footy friends echo the same sentiments: North are in trouble. According to them a cloud of doom and gloom, more threatening than ever before, is descending on Arden St. It’s only a matter of time.

I laugh it off with brazen confidence. I’ve seen it all before, in 1996 and 2007. I’ve read it throughout North’s history, I’ve heard all the arguments. North will survive, they always have.

But then I sense something new. Their tone is different – there’s an honest fear in their voice, in their eyes. They actually believe that North are gone.

The thought troubles me. Good football people are losing the faith. Has the AFL won the war of propaganda?

I ponder the issues.

The perception

The issues that have created North Melbourne’s predicament are complex and wide-ranging. History, geography and conspiracy all play their role. But put simply, North is a small club. It always has been and always will be. In the modern AFL world, the flow-on effect is startling, almost cancerous.

With the modern footy arms race – coaches, medicos, sports scientists – no-one believes that North can compete. They don’t have the cash or the cattle. And the AFL, wielding their most brutal and powerful tool, the fixture, are hell-bent on breaking them.

The administration is dysfunctional and the new democracy unstable. Brayshaw lacks leadership and integrity. The board is divided.

The media, hungry for a headline – any headline – entrench the perception into the minds of the masses. ‘Struggling’, ‘cash-strapped’, ‘downtrodden’: straight from the journos’ North Melbourne template.

The reality

I churn and process it all. The truth is hidden.

And yet the truth is stark: North Melbourne will survive this cold war, just like they survived the others. And it all comes down to this.

The AFL can make or break a club, almost any club. In 2010, 38% of North Melbourne’s revenue came straight from the AFL (in various guises). If they want North to fold, they can do it with the stroke of a pen. But they won’t.

For all their perceived evilness, the AFL know what all of us know in our hearts. Football is about the fans. And footy fans go to watch their club. Players wither and age, coaches get sacked, club fortunes rise and fall, but the fans still come. To see their club play another. Not a meaningless contest among 36 men, but a battle of something much more.

While football in this town is no longer the tribal warfare it once was, club identities and cultures were forged in that suburban furnace. Geography and history has forged clubs with culture and character. Clubs we adore and abhor. Clubs we love to flog, and clubs we like to do well … except when they’re playing ‘us’. Clubs with soul.

The AFL may not be concerned about losing North Melbourne – a club with a meagre following in an overcrowded city – but they are concerned for something much bigger.

All my footy friends, without fail, qualify their assessment of North’s imminent apocalypse with sympathy. If North are ousted, or pillaged beyond recognition in some faraway place, they too will have lost something. Their clubs may go on, but the game will have changed in their eyes forever. A piece of its soul will be lost.

Football’s soul cannot be bought, sold or manufactured. And the AFL know it. And while the AFL continue on their seemingly merciless campaign for the hearts and minds of the northern frontier, they know that they must protect what it is that made it special in the first place.

North Melbourne Football Club: founded in Royal Park among the cattle yards and gold rush immigrants in 1869. North Melbourne Football Club: the VFA ‘Invincibles’ of 1914-1919. North Melbourne Football Club: the Shinboners from the Irish slums of the depression. North Melbourne Football Club: where Ron Joseph, Albert Mantello and Allen Aylett mortgaged their houses in the quest for a VFL Premiership. North Melbourne Football Club: who sacked the game’s greatest player in the name of principle. North Melbourne Football Club: part of the fabric of Australia’s great game.

North Melbourne Football Club: a club with soul.

North Melbourne will live through this era and beyond it. And it will continue to fight with its soul.

About Reverend Shinboner

Reverend Shinboner grew up in Wangaratta, North-East Victoria, to a football accepting, but not obsessing family. Nevertheless, North Melbourne-supporting lineage dictated the choice in VFL club, who at the time, spent most of their days fighting out the middle-to-lower rungs of the ladder. The brilliance of the Krakouers and regular Friday night coverage ensured interest in the game was maintained.

This all changed in 1993, when Rev. Shinboner was sent to boarding school in Melbourne. An introverted and somewhat nerdy Townie, weighing in at 34 kgs, was sent to the wolves. Surrounded by teenage posturing from somewhat over-entitled boys meant fitting in was a day-to-day proposition.

At this critical junction two things happened: North Melbourne became contenders and Rev. Shinboner saw his team play at the ‘G for the first time. 25 Friday nights, 3 Preliminary Finals and about 25 kgs later and he could mix it with the best of them. Reverend Shinboner has been connecting with people through football ever since.

While the Reverend’s love of North Melbourne has waxed and waned over the years, one incident transformed his relationship with the club forever. In 2002, the North Melbourne players decided they could no longer play alongside the greatest player the club had ever seen. The North officials agreed. Wayne Carey was sacked. Never before had such a statement of principle and character been made by a football club.

Anthony Stevens led the team to an inspired victory over a much more fancied Port Adelaide a few days later. For Rev. Shinboner it meant more than the 1999 Premiership.

While North Melbourne’s fortunes have since been mired in relocation speculation and a middling team, Rev. Shinboner knows two constants: North Melbourne Football Club will be written off and North Melbourne Football Club will survive. Just as they always have.

His love of the club remains at an all time high.

Comments

  1. Clearisghted says:

    Well posted, Reverend Shinboner.
    North, most pointedly, have not been helped this season, by a dreadful fixture.
    I have a feeling that this will be a season of two distinct halves, where teams will challenge from outside the eight and charge towards the finals.
    North, I reckon, will be one of these teams. I can present no logic to support this (but anyone who attaches a rationale to footy speak is kidding themselves anyway) and say it based on my admiration for the characteristics of grit and soul that are embodied in the history and spirit of the North Melbourne Football Club.

  2. smokie88 says:

    Amen, Reverend.
    Amen.

  3. Dave Nadel says:

    I hope that you are right Reverend Shinboner, but I suspect South supporters in 1981 and Fitzroy supporters in 1996 might have said the same things about the souls of their clubs.

    What would concern me is the following sentence in your post. ” The administration is dysfunctional and the new democracy unstable. Brayshaw lacks leadership and integrity. The board is divided.”

    In the past, North have always avoided the pressure that the VFL/AFL have placed on other poorer clubs because of their excellent administration. The Aylett/Joseph administration was the best in the competition for years. Bob Ansett was both very good and very bad and threatened the club until the Casey/Miller administration got the club back into a winning position (OK, Pagan, Carey, Archer etc had something to do with the winning position, but the club was well run)

    As you yourself said, Brayshaw is not in the same class as Casey, much less Aylett. He has all of Eddie McGuire’s problems and none of his advantages. Eugene Arocca was passed over for CEO at Collingwood. His performance at North suggests that the Pies made the right decision.

    I would hate to see North drop out of the AFL just as I hated what happened to Fitzroy, but I hope North has more going for them than Faith and Soul.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Excellent piece . I agree with you re- Brayshaw. It’s a pity because , good leadership/administration and vision are needed. Although, I’m an Essendon fan, I’ve enjoyed watching North over the years.- some truly magnifecent ones.

  5. I think the perception of the board is dysfunctional – I don’t actually believe that it is. While JB is no McGuire, he defers to good people enough that he’s doing an amicable job. They are clearly united – it’s just the media that try to play out a rift. There is none.

    And the Arocca led administration is doing an excellent job in my opinion.

  6. smokie88 says:

    Rev,
    One of our problems is that any mistakes made by the administration are amplified
    by the media. All clubs make mistakes, but any mistakes that North make are portrayed
    as sending the club one step closer to oblivion.
    Having said all that, I have been a fan of Eugene but the pre-seaon negotiations
    regarding the playing of some home games in Hobart bordered on the farcical.

  7. John Butler says:

    Rev

    I have some reservations about Mr Brayshaw.

    Apart from the the aforementioned Tassie negotiations, he blew it re Ballarat as well.

    A few days before the state election, Brumby stage managed a big announcement about a $30 million redevelopment of Eureka Stadium. It was the talk of Ballarat (not hard to do sometimes).

    Brayshaw spoke, and when asked whether they’d consulted the Libs, he gave a smart arse reply along the lines of ‘Who?’.

    Not so funny a couple of days later when Brumby got rolled.

    Unsurprisingly, the idea seems to be dead in the water.

    I hope North survive, but they can’t afford unnecessary indulgences like that.

  8. I’m aware of the blunder JB. Brayshaw has his weaknesses.

    But the Labor Ballarat deal was conditional on North not speaking to the Libs before the announcement. He didn’t really have a lot of choice at the time. But like most things, he could’ve handled it better.

  9. Clearisghted says:

    Some of the traditionally ‘strong’ clubs in the AFl/VFL have maintained dubious dealings with the administration of the league.
    Salary cap breeches of over a decade ago, where dodgy ‘investigations’ were led by a chairman of the commission and an AFL operations manager who each had vested interests in the respective teams involved, indicated a disgusting conflict and corruption of interests. Yet, over time, their involvement in these dealings was disguised by spin, smoke an mirrors.
    The ‘unnecessary indulgences’ of not consulting the Libs re. Ballarat, are pale when compared to the expediency of these men.
    James B has brought passion, clarity and smarts to his presidency at North, He has a job on his hands in dealing with the AFL – an oraganisation which supports the favoured to whom it offers sweetheart deals – and in his dealings with those who see fit to criticise his practice from their own hypocritical soup.
    Keep fanning the fires, Rev. Good onya.

  10. John Butler says:

    ‘Clearsighted’

    You miss the point entirely.

    Rev is correct, Brayshaw didn’t have the option of consulting the Libs. And as a baby of Brumby’s, the project probably would have been marked for death by a new government with few plans other than opposing what went before.

    But why burn a bridge needlessly?

  11. Thanks for this piece Reverend Shinboner.

    As a 16 year old North member, I sometimes find myself wondering who I’ll barrack for when the Roos do fold in the coming years. Reading comments on certain websites, such as the Herald Sun website and football forums, all the talk concerning North Melbourne is how we’ll be shown the door by the AFL. Yes, I shouldnt believe stupid things I read on the internet, but that stuff sticks in my mind late at night, and again I find myself wondering who I should turn to when the day comes. If they relocate to Tassie, I would probably stick with them. But my interest in AFL would damper extremely.

    RE Brayshaw, he’s better than de Rauch, and it’s not like we have a long list of potential club presidents. He’s doing a good job, and gets a lot of unfair criticism.

    Losses like tonight to Brisbane really hammer home how important winning is for North Melbourne. I feel like every single loss is bringing us closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.

  12. smokie88 says:

    Keep your chin up, Josh.
    It was a bad loss, but it could be worse.
    Just look at Port.

  13. John Butler says:

    Josh

    I don’t think it’s so much an issue of the club surviving, at least in the short to medium term.

    The AFL has signed off on X number of TV games, so they’ll want to preserve that.

    But it is one thing to survive; another to prosper and control your own destiny. The AFL has shown it can be fickle. You don’t want to be in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

  14. Dave Nadel says:

    JB, Clubs have been comforting themselves ever since the first TV mega contract (2002-6) that the promise of eight games (nine next year) guarantees their future. It doesn’t. It guarantees the number of teams. Not their names or locations. The AFL has changed the policy it followed from 1978 of reducing the total number of teams. It has not changed its goal of reducing the number of Melbourne teams. Hence its encouragement of North’s relocation to the Gold Coast, Hobart or maybe even Ballarat.

    It still remains my opinion (stated in previous threads) that the AFL will tolerate and subsidise any amount of mismanagement by clubs with large supporter bases such as Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon, Richmond and maybe St Kilda. Hawthorn has been added to that list since 1997. Melbourne and Geelong are protected by their name and location. However South, North, Fitzroy and Footscray were always regarded as expendable. South has been moved, Fitzroy has beeen “merged’ interstate, Footscray and North have survived due to good management and (in North’s case) success on the field.

    Collingwood can afford an experience like The New Magpies, Carlton can afford John Eliott alienating the rest of the competition and then being penalised for cheating, St Kilda can be forgiven for more than a century of incompetence (every regime except Drake and Huggins) but one slip and the Roos are gone because they have a small supporter base and comparatively few resources. Perhaps Brayshaw and Arocca are better administrators than I thought they were, certainly North supporters on this thread think so. I hope they are right. I want to see North continue in the AFL and in Melbourne.

  15. John Butler says:

    Dave, much truth in what you say.

    But I think the great projects of the AFL moment are the new clubs. Until they are bedded down (and how long will that be?) I think existing clubs have some breathing space.

    But when the moment arrives that they turn their attentions back to Victoria, you don’t want to be a smaller club caught unprepared.

  16. smokie88 says:

    JB,
    I agree that the expansion franchises are the AFL’s focus at present. I also belive that
    Gold Coast will not take very long at all to “bed down”. Once they move into their new
    stadium, they will be away. In 2013, they will be playing finals, and this is a common view
    amongst other clubs (as a rival CEO told me recently).
    GWS is a different kettle of fish, but the sheer population size of the western Sydney region
    makes me believe they will get there more quickly than many people believe. From what I see
    on the NRL Footy Show and in news reports, the rugby fraternity is absolutely sh**ting
    itself about the arrival of GWS.
    Where this will leave North Melbourne is an interesting question. It is why I am behind North’s
    efforts to create “niche” markets in Ballarat and/or Hobart. Given their fixturing issues, why
    shouldn’t they explore these opportunities.
    DD.

  17. Adam Muyt says:

    I once had immense sympathy and patience for North largely because I’ve met some great North people and I liked the club’s battler culture. As a Royboy in 96 I was comfortable with merging with North and when that fell apart thanks to the AFL, felt North handled the situation with the utmost dignity. But I must say, over the last decade I’ve grown increasingly tired of North after it’s Sydney, Canberra and Gold Coast shenanigans. It’s one thing to build some extra income by selling games interstate, quite another to have a bet each way just incase there’s no longer any room for the club in the old home town. I was living in Canberra when North dumped the place for the allure of the Gold Coast..that pissed off plenty of Canberra AFL followers and may have damaged the market there more permanently if it wasn’t for the Swans and Dogs stepping in to play games at Manuka. So North went to the Gold Coast and then, when it became clear something more was being asked for, panicked, packed up and came home. And now North want to play a few games in Tassie. Ah, North, the serial flirt.

  18. Phantom says:

    Don’t worry Rev Roo,

    there have been some great success stories from people transported to Van Diemans Land before.

    We all love it, but watch out for the 1080.

  19. Richard Naco says:

    Dave – Geelong’s location did nothing to preserve it when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and downgrading a decade or so ago.

    What saved it was superior management, long term planning in all departments, and the guts and focus to stay on course when it looked like it was heading down the path of the old NBL Super Cats.

    Geelong is still the bumblebee of the AFL (as is Green Bay in the NFL). Just as bumblebees defy all laws of physics and actually do fly, so the Cats (and Packers) defy the laws of market economics and not on survive, but thrive in major cash reliant sports while maintaing their base in a (far too) small home market.

  20. Dave Nadel says:

    Richard, I think that the AFL has Geelong fairly high on its list of clubs to be preserved. The good management etc. was what brought Geelong on field success but Geelong is one of the few Victorian clubs that has never been on their proposed merger list so I think the AFL wants to keep the Cats.

    The Green Bay Packers analogy doesn’t really work. Geelong’s region is bigger than 1/9th of Melbourne which is technically the division of Melbourne between the other nine clubs. More to the point, Green Bay may be smaller than Geelong but its supporter base actually includes the neighbouring city of Milwaukie.

  21. Adam – I agree that the Sydney, Canberra and Gold Coast cash-grabs were incredibly poorly handled by the North administration. There’s no reason why North couldn’t have cultivated a similar arrangement to the Hawks-Tassie deal with Canberra. But instead they chose to chase the short-term coin; it backfired. While it was a different board and administration, North can’t shy away from that.

    At the very least, the current board and administration readily acknowledge these mistakes, and look to learn from them in cultivating another secondary market. It’s just that, through no fault of their own, they keep getting gazumped in the political game – first in Tassy, and then Ballarat.

  22. Phantom says:

    Dave, Is Collingwood bigger than Melbourne – Victoria – Australia – The World?

  23. Clearisghted says:

    The Geelong Football Club has had its existence threatened a few times. Post WW2, the club had not fielded a team for a couple of the war years, due to team members in service (these were the days of zoning and the club drew largely from the farm boys of Western District Victoria) and rationing effecting travel between Geelong and Melbourne. Team members not in active service, played for Melbourne clubs during this time. Post war, some Melbourne clubs opposed Geelong’s readmission into the league (Essendon led this charge – some practices do not change) as they wished to keep the ‘on loan’ Geelong players on their lists.
    During the 1980’s Geelong again came close to extinction and it was thanks to the efforts of Ron Hovey, that the club was saved.
    The AFL attempted to wipe them out again, as we all know, in the late 1990’s. Good management, vision, determination and patience have brought the club success.
    Their location as a provincial club has not served to protect them across the years, as has been suggested by some almanacers. It has perhaps underscored their status as ‘outsiders’, from a time long before the introduction of interstate teams.
    My point made earlier in reference to Nth’s current circumstances, in comparing a minor gaff made by James B to the more dubious practices of clubs favoured by the AFL, was made to emphasise an ongoing and insidious distortion of fairness and equity, which ultimately should concern us all.

  24. Phantom says:

    Dave,

    I agree with Richard. The AFL is ruthless. Geelong were on their ‘to be neutralised list’ as are all poorer clubs. Costa et al didn’t let it happen.

    When we were getting the ‘tattahs’ at finals and not winning the AFL went out of their way to make it hard for us. Finished second one year and got North Melb. at the MGG on Sunday night (big advantage, but not to us) and then went to Adelaide to dodgey umpiring decisions.

    They do the Cats no favours. Geelong’s success is all due to their own good work. What was that Creedence Clearwater Revival song on the Willy And The Poor Boys album? ‘I Ain’t No Fortunate Son.

    There is a team going around now that are so well looked after that the AFL is likely to bring in a rule that they don’t have to travel down the hall to go to the dunny prior to the match.

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