Culture is King (apparently)

By Lachlan Waterman

What is this thing called culture? It seems AFL clubs are protecting, defending, or denying theirs.

Club’s labour long and hard, all in the name of “protecting the brand.” Perception becomes reality. Is it as simple as Leigh Matthews suggests?

“When you win everyone is happy. The board, fans, players, wives. Winning is the essence of a good culture.” Let’s take a look at the culture of the AFL clubs:



The ugly ducklings have become the benchmark. In the last 20 years the Swans have competed in 14 finals campaigns for 4 Grand Finals. A plethora of discards from other clubs are now premiership players – Kennedy, Mattner, Richards, Shaw, and Morton. The Richard Colless led administration has in place a coaching succession plan modeled on the great Liverpool success of the 80s.



‘The Mayblooms’ as Hawthorn were once known, rarely made it to September let alone blossomed in spring. Since ‘Kennedy’s Commandoes’ broke through for Hawthorns first flag in 1961, it has become the most successful club in the last 50 years. The Hawks have been quick to move with the times – re-locating their headquarters to Waverly, tapping into the Tasmanian market and building on their ever-expanding membership.



Long-term sponsor in Toyota, 2 cups in the trophy cabinet in their first 20 years is good going. Trigg & Co. have been in their roles for a long time now, and The Crows may need to re-invigorate their stocks. Despite Adelaide’s 2 premierships, the Crows have never dominated for a decade or so. 5 successive finals their best return under Neil Craig. The ‘Chardonnay Set’ moves to Adelaide Oval in 2014, which will be interesting.



Never far from a headline, the front or back page, 70,000 members and an undeniable power-house. Still not convinced the ‘Colliwobbles’ are dead and buried, despite their 2010 triumph. Had Lady-Luck not revealed the sultry side to her nature the Saints may have pinched that game.

Another Collingwood Carlton GF will have the AFL ‘bean counters’ salivating.




West Coast:

Win at all costs – us against the world mentality from the big birds in the West. A wonderful record boasting 5 Grand Finals and 3 Premierships since its inception in 1987. Off the field the Eagles have endured much speculation and drama linked to drugs/steroids/’Ice’/Cocaine/’Angel Dust etc… All is quickly forgotten when the Eagles are flying.



Remember when the milk drinkers were perennial bridesmaids? The fact is, the Cats never bottomed out to gain ultimate success – their lowest finish being 12th in 2001 when some of their stars weren’t even shaving. The turnaround came from Costa, Cook, Balme and Thompson, with recruiter Stephen Wells the un-sung hero. Consider this: In their last Premiership team half of the starting 22 were taken beyond No.28 in the draft. Think Matthew Stokes. Have also maintained Geelong’s traditional attacking flair. 4in 7 years is possible. Think Hawthorn ’91.



Had to endure a decade of in-fighting between staff from East Fremantle and South Fremantle. President Steve Harris has been pivotal in re-branding the club with the regal purple jumper and the move to Cockburn where world-class facilities are being built. Coming up 20 years and yet to make a Grand Final, the next decade3 is crucial for the Dockers.


North Melbourne:

Gutsy little club and usually super-competitive. North have often been the pace setters in innovation over the years – capitalizing on the 10 year rule and becoming the Friday night specialist of the 80s and 90s. Have a long list of powerful leaders in Bob Ansett, Ron Casey, Allen Aylett and now James Brayshaw who oversaw the $16m development at Arden St along with securing a lucrative market in Tasmania for Kanga matches.



Proud. Arrogant. Ruthless. Successful. Some suggest the Ratten sacking reeked of Carlton ruthlessness of the 80s, others believe it was two years overdue. In 2008 Carlton had Collingwood’s measure, two years later the Pies salute and the Blues slump to 8th. An ageing list will have Mick working hard for his moula.



An AFL powerhouse with 16 Premierships, the Bombers are building a state-of-the-art facility near the Melbourne airport. Appear to run smooth and quiet off the field, rarely hitting the papers for all the wrong reasons. Can Essendon’s golden boy deliver the goods?


St. Kilda:

A much better run organization than the “party boy/Saints disco days of the 70s and 80s. Although it still has had its share of incidents that tarnished the Saints image. 2009 was their golden opportunity – 20-2 in the regular season and couldn’t convert easy opportunities in front of goal when it mattered. Never short of celebrity support – Molly Meldrum, Eric Banna, Michael Gudinski and Shane Warne all passionate Saints fans.



Wouldn’t be a footy season without someone on Richmond’s list hitting the papers for an off field indiscretion. Maxfield, Ottens and Morton all became premiership players at their second club. No longer turning over coaches like leased cars, there are signs of more stability at Tigerland. An ambitious membership target of 75,000 by 2014 announced by the CEO and a solid list gives the Tiger faithful reasons for optimism. Is it a case of bewaring the sleeping Tiger or another false dawn?



The three peat of 01-03 put AFL on the map in Queensland. When the rivalry deepens between the Gold Coast it could be beneficial for both clubs. Voss was big on mental disintegration of opponents as Captain; time will tell if his methods work as a coach.


Port Adelaide:

It’s easy to forget Port has 1 AFL flag (2004) a GF appearance in 2007 to go with their rich history of 36 SANFL titles. Things have turned sour quickly since 07, 3M in debt, modest membership numbers and no-one turning up to their games. The Power will need to turn things around promptly.




Success-deprived Dee’s fans face the awkward dilemma of tobogganing at LakeMountain or the slopes of Mount St. Gwinear. Post Norm Smith era, Melbourne’s best era was under John Northey where they played for keeps and owned the Elimination Final.


Western Bulldogs:

Working class club, The ‘Dogs last GF was in 1961. Ouch. Once described by John Elliot as a “tragic history.” The Bullies are on the re-build. Again.


Gold Coast:

Suns Coach Guy McKenna has denied there is a culture problem. Betting scandals, Thailand brawling and an arrest during the Christmas break suggest otherwise. Bold claims of a premiership in the next 3 years from Chairman John Witheriff sound similar to the Christopher Skase days at Brisbane Bears. Work in progress.



Have taken a different path under master spruiker Kevin Sheedy. Relying on a younger demographic of uncontracted players sprinkled with experienced veterans to mentor the young list. Early days, but on their way…


  1. Barkly St End says

    The concept of culture in footy is a bit like the chicken or egg question.

    Is it culture which ultimately assists you on the way to a premiership, or is it actually winning the premiership which allows everyone else to assign you with a culture?

    Is it a winning culture which allows you to win, or do you actually have to start winning first to earn the right to possess a winning culture.

    By definition, the minute you string a few losses together, you clearly no longer possess the winning culture that allowed you to notch up wins with gay abandon.

    Or, it’s a bit of both feeding each other at both ends, and it is something observable over a period of 3 to 5 years. When it’s all said and done, achievements noted, you can assess a period and conclude: well, a winning culture was definitely instilled in the playing group over that period, changes were made that gave clear results, improvements were lcearly observable, etc, etc.

    I think we can do that with both the Swans and the Cats (both have had great Presidents and CEOs, it all starts at the top).

    And you can compare that to the clubs that didn’t achive success over that same period, and invariably conclude the opposite.

    And then you can look at some clubs (like my own), and maybe answer that initial question: something intangible infiltrates a club at some point, gets in under the door, imbues everything with an odour that you can’t shake off, it lingers for years, decades, half a century, or more – it may not be culture as such, but geez, it seems to put you in that basket marked: never to taste success.

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