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 formed 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.

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5 Comments

Filed under Features, Off Field

5 responses to “Is North relevant?

  1. TVOR

    Welcome back Rev – you have been missed. A terrific article that strikes a chord. I am one of those who are deeply worries about North, but hope they make it out of this trough. I believe they will, but it may be a long wait until we see North at the top again. With Collingwood now boasting 70,000 members, how do clubs like North compete? Whilst your belief that the AFL will not let North fail, I am interested to know your thoughts on how the club can lift itself out of the duldrums independent of any external influences.

    • Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that North have made three consecutive profits without selling a home game. If North do sell 2-4 home games to Hobart and/or Ballarat in the coming years, you can expect a significant increase to the bottom line. And while North’s footy expenditure was 15th of all the clubs in 2010 (from memory?), there’s a bit of ducks and drakes going on with the figures quoted eg. part of Collingwood’s football expenses are attributed to the high rent of their incredibly costly facility.

      The footy arms race – assistant coaches, sports scientists, expensive medicos – is interesting. There’s no question North can never win that race. But how much of a difference does it make? I really don’t think that much. Where it does make a difference is in recruitment and development. There’s no question Collingwood have excelled at this. But a key trait of the Arocca administration is prioritising this investment – North have broadened their development coaching base by about 4 fold, and their recruitment expertise has been significantly increased. After putting this in place over the last 2-3 years, we probably won’t see whether this investment has borne fruit for another couple of years. We’ll see.

      But there’s one thing that separates North from many clubs: a strong football culture. It’s been there for the last 40 years. And don’t believe everything you read, it’s still there.

      So between the salary cap, the draft, smart use of North’s football budget and a strong football culture, I see no reason why North can’t contend for a premiership in the next couple of years.

  2. Mic_Vic

    GDay Rev
    You’re certainly on the mark with your last paragrpah regarding budget and expenditure. Especially in this climate, you have to tighten the belt and be resourceful. Some might point at loss of revenue stream by getting rid of pokies, but the Club is based in a community center!
    3 Game memberships have been a Godsend – let’s not forget that the 70,000 posted is an adjusted figure based on all memberships. Good promotion, but misleading.
    If we continue being innovative as we always have we’ll pull through. Now for some wins on the board!!!

  3. There are some interesting points in here. The most obvious is the the AFL has little to gain from killing off North.

    They need to ensure that there are 18 teams (a 9 games a week) for the TV rights. If North folds who do you replace us with? The obvious choice – Tasmania – is worth much to the AFL. Tassie is a regional TV market therefore there isn’t much to be gained in advertising dollars and thus not much in the TV rights.

    The AFL also need a certain amount of games per year at Etihad and the MCG and although they would live with the loss of 3 or 4 games if we sell some interstate the 15 games a year we play in Melbourne currently is a big whole to fill.

    Also, and here is the important part – We are cheap. There might only be 30,000 North supporters out there, but we still pour money into the AFL in TV ratings, gate receipts, food sales at games, merchandise sales etc etc. And for this they give us a few million a year. The alternative, jettison North and our couple of million in ‘grants’ ( actually a bribe for screwing us in the fixture every year) and spend $10-15 million a year developing a new market, like GWS or Gold Coast, if that goes well, maybe after 4 or 5 years of spending you might end up with 25,000-30,000 members for these new teams – but are those supporters generate more revenue than the North ones? Unlikely.

    The story is simple, until the AFL have a better option (and now that the prioirties of GWS and Gold Coast are gone) then they will continue to prop up North (And Port Adel, and Melbourne, and the Western Bulldogs and anyone else who needs it). We just need to find a way to eek out some profits whilst still spending enough on football operations to actually be competitive. Which I personally think is very possible.

  4. Steve

    Hi there all I am a long-distance North supporter from Perth and agreewith your comments. We would all lose if North was no more. That is because North is one club that has a proud history and strong culture and has always performed and acquitted themselves well even though they are often playing teams with more star studded players. What North have often lacked in class they have more than made up for in effort and commitment and a never say die attitude.
    They are often the under dogs but still manage to make the finals in most seasons. It is this spirit and soul that is the epitome of what team sport is all about and captures the hearts and minds and dreams of people more than big dollars and flashy players.
    Sport now days is often taken over by commercialism and big budgets so to experience and follow North over a long period of time has show me that what is lasting and fulfilling is the spirit and character shown by the whole team at North.
    If North were to close not only would we be losing a proud and successful club but we would be losing an important part of Australia’s sporting heritage.

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