The recent victory of the 3P ticket in the Eels board elections promises positive change, but the club’s poor on-field record will continue unless they take on significant reform.
The horrible on-field performances by the Parramatta club are partly the result of poor decision-making and lack of planning by administrators, led by chief executive Dennis Fitzgerald, who has been in charge for 30 years.
The infamous Chinese vouchers-for-votes fiasco last week was the final straw for Eels’ members, who have secured change for a club that has not won a premiership since 1986 despite fielding strong rosters.
But the job of now resurrecting the Eels is a monstrous one, made difficult by an administrative structure that doesn’t allow the football arms to focus on getting good football results.
The first thing to be done is the Eels football club must take control of all football sides, and amendments must be made to the Leagues Club structure to ensure the football club receives funding from the Leagues club, under any circumstances.
Currently the Leagues Club controls the Eels NRL and NYC sides, with the football club only in control of the junior representative sides. This situation was introduced by Fitzgerald and voted upon in 2001 when Parramatta enjoyed some success on the field and appeared to be the benchmark club in Sydney.
However, the situation not only enhanced Fitzgerald’s power, it made things messier should problems arise, as they have now.
The Leagues Club is now reportedly saddled with $20m debt, which club great Terry Ledbeater noted this week was affecting the playing side.
“I don’t think there is a winning feeling around the place … Feleti Mateo came out and said it doesn’t affect the players … but it has got to when there is doubts cast about the club’s future,” he said.
While they might hate to even consider it, the Eels could look to their arch-enemies the Bulldogs for a model on which to build success.
At the Bulldogs, the football club controls all the Bulldogs sides.
Crucially, the football club also has the extra vote in the League Club boardroom, giving it control of the purse strings – meaning the Bulldogs are always financially secure. All legal expenses involving players or officials are also unwritten by the League Club and the League Club covers any shortfall in the football club’s budget.
Introducing this structure is necessary for the Eels to ensure they are financially secure, and to allow football-minded people to focus on getting the Eels football team back on track.
Parramatta should also introduce a separate CEO and chairman for both the leagues and football clubs, as they are separate entities and require different skill sets. Both clubs have to work harmoniously and a management committee made up of both CEOs and chairmen could oversee the operations of both.
Now that 3P has total control of the Eels at Football Club and Leagues Club levels, they should also be looking to cut out leaks.
When the Eels lost to the Bulldogs two weeks ago Brett Kenny (a Football Club director) made comments to various newspapers about the performance. Parramatta has to cut out leaks and ensure the only people heard are Daniel Anderson and whoever they appoint as CEO.
I can’t see Fitzgerald surviving much longer now that he’s going to be held accountable for his actions and will be restricted in what he can say to various media outlets.
Fitzgerald has been the longest serving CEO in premiership history, completing 30 years in late 2008. To break Fitzgerald’s power at Parramatta was a huge task, but somehow 3P achieved the impossible.
The now face a massive task to clean up the mess on and off the field.
The 2009 season is virtually a write off and the best thing the board can do is give Daniel Anderson the freedom to select and cut players he desires, and give him the budget for recruitment for next season.
Parramatta is in need of some hard-headed players to compliment the young players coming through the ranks.
Fans have to be patient and supportive of the new set-up in place at Parramatta, and as long as they are making progress in small blocks, then they should be happy.
Matthew O’Neill is an expert columnist with www.rleague.com.