An open letter to Melbourne fans

Passion can be a good thing in footy. But it can also get you into trouble, as some players discover during multiple tribunal appearances and I found out when I expressed my frustration last week about what was happening at Melbourne Football Club. (Read Cheryl’s original article here.)

The previous week just 13,304 Demons fans had turned up for a home game they lost to Gold Coast by 10 goals. Then when they played my team, Richmond, more than 80 per cent of the crowd was Tiger fans. It appeared many Melbourne supporters had given up.

I got no pleasure from that game and was dreading it all week. Although they played much better than they had against the Suns, the Demons let it slip in the last quarter. The atmosphere was bleak and we all left feeling pretty ordinary.

My club is far from perfect, as I’ve written many times, but Melbourne seemed to be in freefall. How could a team that had fought back from the brink with Jim Stynes’ debt demolition be in such a deep hole again so quickly?

The Stynes-led effort had raised millions; prior to that the club faced massive debt and low membership figures. Stynes’ team had helped to ensure small profits in recent years and a rise in memberships, but in 2013 the numbers were still low (32,268 as of 26/5).

To make matters worse, Melbourne’s form had been awful and it faced the prospect of forking out big bucks if it sacked Mark Neeld and hired a new coach.

After the game I wrote a match report reflecting the emotions it had evoked. My husband had no sympathy, but I did and felt that fans needed to be at least part of the solution to the latest crisis.

In doing so I should not have resorted to stereotypes and for that I apologise. It was a cheap shot unfairly made in the heat of the moment.

I also want to apologise to anyone who thought I was attacking those who do actively support the club, which I certainly wasn’t. I know a number of die-hard Demons who would never give up on them and still attend games. Anyone who knows me knows that I respect genuine footy fans of all types; I even wrote a book about them.

But I obviously expressed myself badly and am sorry if that impression was given.

On the plus side, the article sparked debate about Melbourne, whether the situation was as dire as some believe and what should happen next. Following another big loss to Fremantle, that discussion clearly needs to continue; the Demons’ woes are literally being debated on SEN as I write.

Thanks to Richmond capitulating once again on the big stage, this time against the Bombers, we might have to add the Tigers to the discussion. Again.

Both clubs need cultural change to instil a genuine winning mentality. Both Richmond and Melbourne have tried this in recent years, with varying degrees of success, but it clearly isn’t working at this point.

It is also simplistic to just blame the coach, as some do at times like this, especially when the same cycle of underachievement has been repeated before. Footy clubs are a sum total of many parts and they all need to be working to enjoy real and sustained success.


  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Cheryl, agreed with your views in this and in your previous article. I don’t want to see any of the Victorian clubs struggle to survive but I worry for Melbourne. The lack of a geographical supporter base is a big problem. Does having the name “Melbourne” give them some sort of false security? What has having that name done for them? I don’t think the AFL needs a team to have the name “Melbourne” to remain strong. The EPL does alright without a team called “London” let alone a team with London referenced in the name. As a football fan I would love to see our oldest club return as a strong club. They need the next Jim Stynes to stand up. I hope it happens.

  2. Cheryl Critchley says

    Thanks Luke. I don’t think anyone (except my husband) wants Melbourne to fold and that’s why I really worry. There were also reports today that the club faced a $2 million plus hit this year which makes things even more perilous. Dermott Brereton was also quoted on the radio throughout last week saying just what you have said – that significant Melbourne people need to stand up but haven’t since Jim sadly died last year. I hope they do too.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    Melbourne will not be allowed to collapse, whatever happens to it on the field. If you look at the history of the VFL/AFL there are about seven Victorian clubs that will always be protected. Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond , Essendon and St Kilda have always been protected because of their large supporter bases. All of these clubs (except Essendon) have had some period of mismanagement during the last 30 years and have been rescued with help from the VFL/AFL – indeed apart from the Huggins/Drake era in the 60s and 70s St Kilda has mostly been mismanaged. But they all survived (unlike Fitzroy and South Melbourne which weren’t protected). Essendon has been well managed for decades but has now run into trouble over drugs. It, too, will be protected. Contrast the way the AFL has dealt with Essendon with the way the NRL dealt with Cronulla.

    Melbourne and Geelong are protected both because of their names and the fact that they are the two oldest clubs in Australia. Indeed Melbourne is the oldest football club in the world still playing at the top level. When the AFL wanted Melbourne and Hawthorn to merge the geographical name and the team colours were basically Melbourne’s. No wonder Don Scott was able to present the “merger” as a Melbourne takeover. Interestingly enough since the failed merger Hawthorn may have joined the ranks of the protected. It has finally developed a big enough supporter base to be commercially desirable.

  4. Cheryl Critchley says

    That’s all fascinating Dave and quite true. But it will be interesting what happens if Melbourne doesn’t improve and continues to lose money again. Would the AFL continue to tolerate that medium-term? It certainly wouldn’t be good for the “brand”. That’s why cultural change is needed so that the club can put itself on a strong footing, just like my club needs to a lesser extent. Richmond is lucky to have a huge fan base that digs deep and almost always turns up (three 80,000+ crowds in the first nine rounds isn’t bad for a team that may miss the finals again for the 13th time). Hawthorn is a good example of a club that has largely got itself out of a hole with good marketing and on-field performance. You may not like his politics but Jeff Kennett did a great job overall.

  5. Dave Nadel says

    I agree with your view on cultural change Cheryl. However if Melbourne doesn’t change, because it is so important to the AFL my guess is that the Commission would just step in, fire the committee and replace whichever club employees that it considers inadequate to their tasks and run the club itself for a couple of years or however long it takes to bring Melbourne up to at least Richmond’s level on and off field. The AFL Commission ultimately controls the licenses of all AFL clubs so they can takeover clubs in extreme circumstances. I would consider these actions undesirable but the disappearance or relocation of Melbourne would be even more undesirable. I would guess that Melbourne has until the end of this season to avoid a Commission takeover.

  6. Cheryl Critchley says

    That’s a really interesting scenario Dave, especially considering the figures now being touted involving a multi-million dollar loss and even more if they have to sack the coach and find a new experienced one.

  7. Mark Doyle says

    The Melbourne Football Club’s current predicament is the result of incredibly bad management over the past 10-15 years by various administrations. These administrations have made some incredibly bad decisions which include employing dud CEO’s, sacking coaches, trading some of their better players and mishandling player retirements. Their worst football decisions have been not recruiting Nic Naitanui and recruiting dud B grade footballers such as Chris Dawes, Shannon Byrnes, Tom Gillies and David Rodan.
    These bad decisions are exacerbated because Melbourne is a poor club and cannot afford to make bad decisions.
    The biggest issue for Melbourne and a number of other Melbourne based clubs is their inability to budget for and sustain levels of revenue compared to the other Melbourne clubs plus Geelong, which limits their ability to be competitive and employ good quality administrators, coaches, sports medicine doctors etc. Clubs such as Melbourne, Richmond, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne and St. Kilda generate revenues of less than $40 million per year, which includes additional dividends from the AFL Commission. Other Melbourne clubs such as Collingwood, Essendon and Hawthorn generate revenues of between $55 and $70 million per year and clubs such as Geelong and Carlton generate revenues of $48 million and $46 million respectively per year.
    Clubs such as Melbourne are fortunate that the AFL Commission is a ‘socialist’ organisation and assists poor and badly managed clubs with equalisation policies such as the player salary cap, restricted recruiting with the draft and additional financial distributions.
    With respect to most supporters of AFL clubs, they are ignorant of the business operations of their club and are incapable of being objective. Most of these supporters are fanatical one-eyed heroworshippers who are only interested in the celebrity lives of their favourite players and can only enjoy football when their team is winning. According to a university national study in the 1990’s, which focused on supporters of the two most popular football codes of aussie rules and rugby league, most supporters’ interest in football is a form of escapism from the stresses of their home and work life.

  8. Mark …. yawn

  9. Cheryl Critchley says

    Mark you make some good points but I disagree that all fans are ignorant. I know some who are very aware about how their club is run and how it operates. The point I’ve been making all along is that if clubs are run so badly then fans should get involved to the best of their ability.

  10. I’m just wondering how your thoughts have progressed now that Jeff Kennett has emerged as a possible leader of the Melbourne Football Club?

  11. Cheryl Critchley says

    I find it interesting that the main person who has publicly put up their hand to take over at Melbourne is a Hawthorn supporter. Don McLardy said in no uncertain terms at today’s president’s lunch that Kennett was not welcome in his eyes – (see, and I doubt many Melbourne fans would want a Hawks fan in charge either. But is there anyone else? The original point I made, albeit very badly, was that too few Melbourne fans were standing up when the club needed it and Kennett’s grand standing makes it look like there are no Melbourne people prepared to do what he is. I really hope there are Melbourne supporters who can and will do what Kennett is saying he wants to, as the club clearly needs help to get back on track. Today’s Melbourne home crowd of 50,835 was also the lowest since 2000. Not good.

  12. I hope Melbourne fold soon and take another Victorian club with them. I hold no hope of this happening, but an 18 team roster has diluted the talent pool and competitiveness. Andy D’s greed for more TV games and $’s is only debasing the competition.
    There is no logical reason other than VFL history for 10 Victorian clubs. Everything other than sentiment and greed says 8 Victorian clubs with 2 in each of the other states.
    Melbourne have not been a serious footy club since the old school tie network sacked Norm Smith. Swooper and Daniher made brave attempts to regenerate them with help from Joe Gutnick, but it was all papering over the cracks in the hollow foundations.

  13. Dave Nadel says

    Looking at the number of players who have stepped up from the VFL, SANFL and WAFL since the expansion teams snapped up all the top young draft picks, I think the talent dilution argument is garbage. I suspect that eventually the AFL will have 20 teams (middle of next decade) This would include a team from Tasmania and a third team from WA. There should also be a team from Canberra but I suspect that it will be the Giants when the AFL finally concedes that AFL is half a century away from competing with Rugby League and Soccer in Western Sydney. Twenty teams would allow two divisions and a fair fixture.

    On the other question that John raised, surely no-one is taking Kennett seriously. He was divisive as Premier (I know some people think he saved Victoria financially but he did it by selling most of our assets) He was divisive as President of Hawthorn even though they won a Premiership on his watch. Melbourne is already divided and factionalised. Why would they want Jeff?

  14. Cheryl, culture is certainly a critical element of a club.

    From an outsider’s point of view, it seems to me that the tail wags the dog a lot at the MFC. From reports, the lack of effort in the infamous game against Geelong in 2011 was a player-led dexpression of disatisfaction with Schwab. Schwab did get the chop only for that to be overturned and instead, it was Bailey who got the flick. It would appear that some players lost interest after that.

    It was also reported that the players had the major say in the selection of Captain/s. I dont think anyone outside of the MFC thought their selections were the right ones.

    From what I’ve seen on the field, player commitment and effort seems to be negotiable. Neeld comes across as wanting to be a friend and mentor to the players and I’m not sure that’s the answer.

  15. Cheryl Critchley says

    That’s an interesting theory Peter. There is probably also some internal division following the happenings of the past two years, which would not be helping. I don’t like the idea of giving players too much power as they are essentially there to be moulded into a good team. Sure, give them a say in some areas but there should be experts at a club, including the coach, assistants and footy managers, who are there to lead them and look at the “big picture”. Allowing players to run the joint would be like a school giving students more say than the teachers.

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