Relocation Declined: A Decade On

On December 6, 2007 James Brayshaw stood alone in front of the North Melbourne faithful at Dallas Brooks Hall.

In his first official address as the Chairman of the North Melbourne Football Club, he announced the club’s decision to reject the AFL’s proposal to relocate to the Gold Coast.

In front of over 2,500 people he said: “We have had this spectre of the Gold Coast hanging over us for a long time. Now that we are not going interstate, my hope is that, en masse, people will get behind what is a great club.”

Brayshaw also pledged the club would formally re adopt the name North Melbourne, after changing to the Kangaroos in 1999.

“You have my undertaking.”

He finished to a standing ovation.

James Brayshaw had given a nervous and broken supporter base a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.

Sitting in the crowd was my dad, Ron Cohen.

Ron was the co-legal advisor of We Are North Melbourne (WANM), a group that worked tirelessly behind the scenes alongside fellow groups and supporters to keep his beloved Kangaroos in Melbourne.

A passionate North Melbourne member for over thirty years, he had spent countless hours in meetings and preparing documents that he hoped would protect the club’s future at Arden Street.

As he recalls Brayshaw’s speech, Ron praised his courage to take the stage that night in December.

“I remember just watching (Brayshaw) by himself, without support from anyone on stage and I thought ‘wow, that takes a lot of guts’ because he basically put his reputation on the line to support the club’s future in Melbourne.”

“He did a brilliant job as chairman. He was supported well, particularly by his brother Mark, but I think he was a good face for the club and exactly what we needed at the time.”

It’s a period in North Melbourne’s history few can forget.

During the 2007 season, the AFL was eager to take the game to the Gold Coast and eager to take the Kangaroos with them. With the club drowning in debt, the AFL saw them as the perfect candidate for the Queensland relocation and game expansion.

It was a “disturbing” few months off the field for the Roos and their supporters and had the relocation gone ahead, it would’ve spelt the end of the North Melbourne Football Club.

The proposal, handed forward by the AFL would’ve given complete ownership rights of the club to the league. The Roos would be rebranded, re-homed on the Gold Coast and stripped the club of their independence.

“It was written in the AFL proposal that the league would be the sole shareholder and have ultimate control over the new Gold Coast club. Had we accepted the move, North would’ve lost their identity… that was the biggest thing,“ Ron said.

“James Brayshaw said (during his address at Dallas Brooks Hall) if the club accepted the AFL’s offer, we were going to have to hand in the keys to the AFL. It means you’d lose control over the club.  I think for most North supporters, that was the inevitable conclusion. We’d lose control… it wouldn’t be our club anymore.”

The months leading up to decision day played out publicly in the media. As each day rolled to the next, supporters couldn’t turn to any media outlet without a brief of the club’s financial crisis, and a new stance on why the Gold Coast way was the right way.

“It was pretty disheartening everyday to see a new article… [the media] always used phrases like “cash strapped”, that was a very popular term amongst journos,“ Ron re-called of the daily headlines.

“You read the same thing in every paper… and then the AFL obviously had their own propaganda. I remember once an article saying 70 per cent of North’s income comes from the AFL, but the majority of clubs had that as well. North and other teams had special assistance such as the Bulldogs for example, about three or four million dollars. It wasn’t just North but no one spoke about the other teams.”

Even for the ultimate optimist like Ron, there were times even he questioned the club’s future at Arden Street.

“I think at one stage I really believed we were going to move,” he admitted.

Ultimately, the decision was made to keep the club at Arden Street. With Brayshaw and his men fighting hard from the front and the North Melbourne faithful throwing full support behind the club’s existence in Melbourne, there was one unsung hero sitting in the coaches’ box. Dean Laidley.

With the club unable to bottom out due to the dire financial situation, it was left to Laidley and his men to perform on field. From 14th in 2006 to 4th in 2007, he coached North Melbourne to a miracle.

Ron believes it was that miracle which saved North Melbourne.

He said: “Our on field success that year saved us. We finished fourth, played in a preliminary final. Had North been on the bottom end of the ladder there wouldn’t have been any hope on field which could’ve triggered a relocation.”

A decade on and it seems the relocation proposal ultimately unified what was a struggling football club.

The board members have the resources to contribute more to the club, the relationship between the club and members strengthened and most importantly, the supporters were heard and took ownership of the North Melbourne Football Club.

In the months following, works began on the redevelopment of Arden Street HQ. Then came the increase in revenue. In 2017, the club announced its ninth profit in ten seasons and has not brought in a cent from the pokies.

The people of North Melbourne became a stronger force and more supporters became members. The club has experienced an 80 per cent growth in membership numbers since rejecting the relocation proposal. That’s a larger growth than 2016 premiers the Western Bulldogs and grand finalists St Kilda (2009 & 2010), West Coast (2015), Fremantle (2013) and Adelaide (2017).

Despite the overwhelming support for the club and complete off field turn around it hasn’t stopped people from talking.

With Gold Coast well and truly off the table, some media personalities have now focused their attention on Tasmania as a potential new home for North.

I thought we made it quite clear ten years ago that we weren’t interested, but it seems some people just can’t take a hint.

“I don’t think a move to Tasmania will ever happen, but people get nervous,” Ron said of the rumours.

“I know a lot of people are still very wary of the Gold Coast and what happened to us ten years ago, so you would expect a similar reaction if a move to Tasmania was seriously brought into the picture.”

“But I also know that the board, while they are very supportive of Tasmania, have said publicly that they are only interested in three games per season there.”

What was a trying and testing time for those involved with the football club, North Melbourne have come out a united force.

“In the long run it was a good thing for the club. We came out the other side stronger than ever,” Ron said.

Ultimately for the North Melbourne Football Club, it was the supporters who kept the club in Melbourne ten years ago, and it will be the supporters and Shinboner Spirit that will push the club towards success once again.

“We did it. We made the push to keep us here…Arden Street is the home of North Melbourne – that’s been said on record and that’s the way it shall remain.”

 

 

Comments

  1. Mat Gollant says:

    Well done Marnie! Good article

  2. Great work Marnie. Nailed it!!

    As the other co-legal adviser to WANM back then, I can vouch for the amount of time Ron and I spent over those months from October to December. We were but one part of a team of devoted North Melbourne men and women of different professions – all of whom gave their everything without cost and with all the passion they possessed to save the fourth oldest, founding, club of the Aussie Rules competition.

    And, every second of it was worth it. I can look at my grandfather’s NMFC Life Membership medallion and say that we too, in this century, did our bit for the club we love.

    We ripped our club back, and thanks to those who have been excellent managers and custodians of it since then, we’ll stand robust and proud for another 148 years.

  3. Great article Marnie. Well done for acknowledging the (largely) unsung work of some great supporters in keeping North at North. Cometh the the hour, cometh the man!

  4. Great article Marnie.

    Great to see North Melbourne still exist. It’s been sad seeing the destruction of great Victorian clubs like Fitzroy, South Melbourne, with the subsequent recuperation.

    Keep the North in North Melbourne.

    Glen!

  5. Paul Field says:

    As a founding member of the Keep South at South committee I can associate with the article particularly the strategy of fully mobilising your supporter base in the way you did.We too faced a ferocious fight against the resources of the VFL who managed to recruit both our then committee and a substantial number of our players to their cause.The media fully supported the VFL continually siting our lack of success as justification for the proposed move.It proved too much and sadly South became Sydney.I like to think that we had a small part to play in North’s successful repudiation of the proposed move,that you looked at what happened to us, learnt from it and won the fight.
    Like thousands of South supporters I didn’t change my allegiance to Sydney but became a supporter along with my children of North and remain so to this day.

  6. Mick Jeffrey says:

    It’s a shame that the league doesn’t want to remember that the people make the game, and their competition. The sole motivation for moving from the league’s perspective had to be money. Surely they weren’t stupid enough to believe that the majority of the fans would follow the team. Many football fans (not AFL fans, FOOTBALL fans) are starting to wake up to this as second tier, womens and local competitions are being robbed of their independence without a chance to stand alone.

  7. Well done Marnie,
    Having been an on and off member since I was a kid, in 2007 I figured it was time to act on my love.
    Paid up member ever since.
    I’ve got a Keep North South t-shirt.
    Here’s to another hundred odd years at Arden Street…

  8. I will reserve my judgement on J Brayshaw

  9. Bring back the torp says:

    C.Wilson & P.Smith, respected journalists usually, made big errors in judgement supporting in their articles North going to to the GC.

    It is ironic that Melb. since 2007 is experiencing a big population boom in its N, NW, & W. suburbs. North & Footscray must assiduously cultivate these outer areas -the demographic is far bigger & more favourable for AF than the inner N & W.

    Whilst North will always stay in Melb., IMO it should play 6 home games (3 + 3) in Hobart & Lonny – still play c. 11 games in Melb.( & Hawthorn vacate Tas.). Also play its AFLW home games in Tas. This will consolidate NM’s finances.

Leave a Comment

*