A tale of two clubs

Only a few years ago, new presidents took the reins of Melbourne and North Melbourne, seeking to rebuild their respective clubs. In the seasons since, the chosen path for each president has been very different. And the results are stark.

James Brayshaw - getting the job done

James Brayshaw took over North Melbourne at the end of 2007, Jimmy Stynes in mid-2008. In many respects, the clubs were in similar positions at the time: high debt, low revenue, a neglected backyard, no real facilities and a trashed brand.

While North’s on-field performances were superior, history shows that 2007’s preliminary final berth was the exception rather than the rule. Both teams needed rebuilding, it’s just that Melbourne had better draft picks.

Although both presidents started out in similar ways – asserting a new vision, surrounding themselves with their people and appointing a new CEO – their divergent styles soon became apparent. The key difference can be summarised with one word: delegation.

Stynes rolled his sleeves up and got to work. He has been omnipresent, and achieved much.

Brayshaw, however, took a back seat. While remaining publicly visible, his preference was always to defer to Eugene Arocca as CEO, and allow the NMFC staff to take charge.

Both have made monumental progress in a number of areas. Most critically, Stynes and Brayshaw have successfully sold hope to the faithful, transforming the besieged mentality of each club into one of quiet confidence.

That is, until recently. Melbourne is back under siege, its football department in tatters.

It appears that Stynes can’t do everything. His people, namely Schwab (CEO) and Connelly (General Manager of Football), have either let him down or been unable to move out of his shadow.

Facing the club’s biggest crisis since he took over, Stynes’ first key move has been to bring in Gary Lyon, his old mate. Clearly, Stynes has trust issues.

While there’s no doubt that Stynes’ ill-health has been a devastating blow to Melbourne’s fortunes, one would think this would provide impetus for Jimmy to make room for others. Either there is no-one else – something I find difficult to believe – or Stynes simply refuses to relinquish control. And now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Meanwhile, Brayshaw has successfully overseen a quiet transformation of North Melbourne, with appropriate respect to its proud culture. The football department is as strong as ever, under the watch of North’s quiet achiever, Donald McDonald (affectionately known as ‘The Chief’).

With Arocca as CEO, only North Melbourne’s debt remains untackled. But with all other pieces falling into place, an assault is imminent and achievable.

Despite this tale of two clubs, Brayshaw’s presidency has been marred by heavy criticism from sections of the footy media, while Stynes somehow continues his (benevolent) dictatorship with almost universal support.

Surely it’s time (some) people woke up and smelt the Sherrin?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A tale of two clubs

  1. TVOR

    Bit harsh calling Styne’s leadership a dictatorship Rev, albeit benevolent. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any Melbourne person who didn’t want him at the helm. I very much doubt if the current malaise the club finds itself in would have manifested if Stynes was fully fit and able to dedicate himself to the cause. That being said, his support crew of Schwab and Connelly have let the club down, and the fact that the infighting between them and the senior players has become public is an indictment on the club management.

    It is clear that Brayshaw has been the better delegator. But could this be because he wears too many hats already? And to blithely suggest that an assault on the debt is ‘imminent and achieveable’ fails to question why it has been left to fester this long under Brayshaw. It also fails to acknowledge the inroads made by Stynes for Melbourne on this front. A lot of Brayshaw’s previous financial efforts have concentrated on demanding more money for the ‘poorer’ clubs from the AFL, rather than taking more proactive steps as Stynes has. For the record, I support a more equal wealth distribution between the clubs, and the recent North announcement with Tasmania is a tangible positive step towards fiscal stability.

    Brayshaw has been a positive influence, but I feel you give him too much credit and not enough to Stynes.

    • I agree that Stynes’ leadership has been very much welcomed by Melbourne. And, by-in-large, he has done an exceptional job. Maybe the club would not be in the troubled waters it finds itself if Stynes’ health had not been an issue? Maybe not?

      But that demonstrates my point entirely – a football club is much, much bigger than any one individual. For Melbourne FC to have credibility and stability, it needs to be able to stand up for itself as a club, not because of one inspirational leader. From my (very comfortable) ivory tower, Stynes seems unwilling or unable to let that happen, and the results speak for themselves: infighting, destablisation and a poor football culture.

      Brayshaw doesn’t wear too many hats. While he hasn’t always handled his president’s hat well in the media, he’s come a long way and has made no dire blunders. If all Brayshaw does as president is provide club stability, a clear vision and a good management team to do the job, than he’s achieved more than most.

      The debt issue is an interesting one, and you will no doubt be surprised to hear that I have a view on it. Here’s a few points:
      1. Carrying debt, while not ideal, needs to be kept in perspective. North’s debt of approximately $4-5m represents 20-25% of annual turnover and is eminently serviceable. Most businesses operate with substantially more debt than that (and dare I mention the US with debt at over 100% of GDP?!?). While paying interest is not fun, North can deal with it.
      2. While I believe Melbourne’s debt was at a more perilous level than North’s, Stynes’ prioritisation of debt demolition may be viewed respectively with a critical eye. What if, instead, he’d kept his eye on the ball – literally – and focused his attention on football? Once that’s right, and you’ve got good management in place, debt demolition becomes a whole lot easier and the rest looks after itself. Would Melbourne be in their diabolical state if they had chosen this path?
      3. Arocca has made it clear that it was his priority to put in place a clear vision, get our own backyard sorted and get some runs on the board before asking our supporters to reach into their pockets and eliminate the club’s debt. It is now easy to see those runs on the board, and the football team is looking great. In this framework, eradicating North’s relatively small debt (smaller than Richmond’s, the Dog’s and Carlton’s I believe) is, as I said, eminently achievable. Watch this space.

      Finally, to suggest Brayshaw is simply demanding more money for poorer clubs is a bit of a misrepresentation. What Brayshaw is asking for is equity, not handouts. Equity in fixturing, equity in stadium deals, equity of access to audiences. If we don’t get it, he argues for financial compensation. It’s pretty hard to fault his case.

      In short, while Brayshaw is in many ways half the charismatic leader Stynes is, I believe his presidency has actually been much more successful. Yet Brayshaw cops all the flack, and Stynes’ illness somehow makes him Teflon coated.

      I just think the media analysis is out of whack, and feel the need to provide some balance.

  2. I would find it difficult to call Melbourne’s leadership a dictatorship. It’s far from it.
    Cam Schwab is one of the nicest blokes who has been working his arse off helping the club succeed. Sure they are a young developing team who are playing kids and are rebuilding still. They are getting there though.
    The positives are that they have their debts under control.
    They have some awesome young guns playing for their team.
    They have an inspirational President who is unwell with stomach cancer.
    Jimmy Stynes is a really nice guy. He’s not a dictator.
    Chris Connolly is awesome as well. Probably should be the coach of Melbourne. Knows the team back to front and inside out.

    James Brayshaw is good looking, funny, awesome and is extremely emotional as well as passionate about his mighty North Melbourne footy club.
    Many people don’t like him and that’s fine but don’t ever say the negative stuff to those of us who love him to bits. He’s got the best coach (in our eyes) Brad Scott at the club which I am personally rapt with. In fact I am over the moon that we have got Brad Scott as coach.
    That was all because James Brayshaw did the right thing and appointed him as our coach.

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