The Survival of Stand-alone VFL Clubs


TWITTER – @JClark182


It is really disappointing to see the current plight of stand-alone clubs in the VFL.

We have seen a couple of clubs go under in recent years and other sides are hanging on for dear life.

Reports have emerged that the proud Port Melbourne Football Club are in a battle to stay afloat, with increasing debts of around $300,000.

It is terrible that a 143 year-old club that has achieved, and continues to achieve, plenty of on-field success finds itself in such a precarious position.

The Frankston Football Club – a club that has existed since 1887 – is in a current hiatus due to financial difficulties.

It is imperative that these standalone clubs (Port Melbourne, Frankston, Williamstown, North Ballarat and Coburg) survive for the betterment of state league football.

Each of these clubs has its own rich and unique culture and history.

As a listed player for the Bendigo Football Club in 2014, I saw firsthand the effects a folding club has on not only the players, but the coaches, volunteers and supporters.

Unlike Port Melbourne, the Gold did not achieve on-field success, but the club certainly had heart and soul.

It had volunteers that gave up so much of their precious time to be the first to arrive and last to leave training sessions, doing everything they could to help the club.

It had its passionate supporters that were front and centre of every quarter and three-quarter-time coach’s address, braving the blisteringly cold weather and wearing the navy blue and gold club colours.

But like many other stand-alone VFL clubs, the Gold could simply not compete with the financially strong AFL-aligned opposition clubs.

A symbol of the club’s culture took place in June of its final season in the VFL – right when the club was at rock bottom.

Before training on typically chilly Wednesday night in Bendigo, the playing group was told of the decision to terminate the club’s VFL licence.

It was an emotional time for some players and to compound issues, the club’s training ground, the Queen Elizabeth Oval, was unavailable to train on.

But instead of calling it a night, the players jogged down to a local park near the ground and conducted a training session under the dimly-lit light posts.

We had to contend with the lack of light, low-lying branches, inconveniently placed trees and I couldn’t help but think of the contrast in training conditions between the Gold and its opposition.

But despite all this, it was still fun; the club was under-resourced, yet still maintained a positive atmosphere due to the unyielding mateship that the group had.

Unfortunately, the long-term viability of football clubs at state-league level is determined by the almighty dollar and I fear that we will see more proud clubs disband because of this.


About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.


  1. rabid dog says


  2. Article says that Port has a debt of 300k. This is not correct. Port had a financial loss of $300k but is nowhere near being in debt.

    It is a pity that the Gold had folded. Id like to see another club from that region compete in the league with it being well promoted so the locals get behind it. Play games when the local leagues are not playing so that you do not compete with them.

  3. Dave Brown says

    Yep, I think what is happening in state leagues at the moment draws out the real contradiction at the heart of our game, Jackson. The AFL is the national body and a league and, naturally cares significantly more about one of those roles than the other (being the one that makes money).

    Here in SA we have at least two clubs in financial difficulty in a competition propped up by declining pokie revenue and the long term windfall created by the sale of the land around Football Park. Yet, when you see the set up the AFL Reserves sides have compared to the SANFL clubs the contrast is stark.

    We need an AFL reserves competition but while the AFL is able to idly stand by and watch the life leach out of the standalones and the VFL morph into a convenient reserves comp, of course it is going to act in its financial best interests. Meanwhile, I’ll be purchasing a Coburg membership this year.

  4. Jackson Port Melbourne is a proud club, with a great history. I’ve barracked for them for over 40 years, was a member for 20+,and was a small scale ‘sponsor’ being in the Burra club. Having said that i can’t see them surviving.

    What we call football is part of a big entertainment industry where success is measured and costed in the M$. The AFL is by far the biggest sporting (entertainment) code in the land. Suburban competitions, rural competitions are floundering if not dying. I loved the old VFA, with the halcyon days of the 1970’s being majestic. But that’s 40 years ago, with the world moving on.

    Sport is a commodity with the $$ being the primary driver. I’d love to be wrong but i don’t hold a great amount of hope in this context. By 2020 what we call the VFL will probably be gone, with the reserves returning. Those clubs in the VFL some may go to suburban leagues to survive/prosper, others may go under. The AFL was quite ruthless with two founding clubs, Fitzroy and South Melbourne. Those clubs are no longer here but the AFL’s marketing gurus usurped their history to artificially attach to new interstate clubs to give them some credibilty.

    Jackson i’m happy to be,would love to be, proven wrong but in the corporate world sympathy is in short supply. The AFL does not need these clubs. saying tat i wonder what the football world, outside the AFL looks like in 15 years. Hmmmm.


  5. bring back the torp says

    The AFL is supposed to be “the protector of the code”.

    Allowing the proud & historic 2nd tier to wither away is diluting overall football culture. This will have a long-term detrimental impact on support for AF.

    The 2nd tier takes elite AF to the suburbs, is affordable, & convenient, & celebrates suburban tribalism.
    Sadly, the overpaid AFL executives might not be too perturbed.

    I would prefer AFL clubs to scrap their own Reserves teams -& use the 2nd tier clubs for listed players not in the AFL side -& fully fund the 2nd tier.

  6. It’s not just the second tier that’s battling. I know there are clubs in Brisbane (Uni Qld) who have dropped down from the QAFL (now a 3rd tier comp) to the QFA (next level down) simply because it’s better with their finances to compete at that level. In Mackay the losing Grand Finalist Moranbah aren’t fielding senior, and more worryingly for the code’s suit and tie brigage women’s teams this year (although that’s more to do with the end of the mining boom and lack of players) but the Whitsunday club I’m sure will battle to survive after Debbie came though. Even in the heartland, arguably the highest profile metro comp the EDFL had to not only change from 18.5 to 19.5 as their top aged youth tier but not all clubs will have a team in that competition when last year there were 3 divisions occasionally topped up by clubs fielding a 2nd team. I’ve seen a team in Wangaratta (North Wangaratta) whom I’m sure would be battling to get through this year given their home ground was unfit for playing due to contamination from a nearby gun club.

    Yet the head office at the AFL, whom let’s not forget will have lost money this financial year, doesn’t give a toss. Instead they are being forced to bow to the demands of players at the top level, many of whom would pay lip service to lower tier footy and be dragged kicking and screaming to watch their reserves teams, to take more than their share of incoming revenues.

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