Tasmanians must fight the AFL to get a team
There will always be proud and passionate Tasmanians who want to see an AFL team represent their state. Yet does Tassie realistically have any chance of landing an AFL team in the future?
Tasmania has produced numerous bona-fide footy legends such as Peter Hudson, Royce Hart, Ian Stewart and St Kilda’s only premiership captain Darrel Baldock.
Other recent players include Paul Sproule, Michael Roach, Rodney Eade, Matthew Richardson, James Manson, Alistair Lynch, Darrin Pritchard, Brodie Holland, Russell Robertson, Trent Nicholls, the Febey twins, the Gale and Rawlings brothers, Graham Wright, Adrian Fletcher, Andy Lovell, Paul Williams, Daryn Cresswell and Doug Barwick.
There were many more who crossed Bass Strait in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
Along with some local talent, about half of the above mentioned played in the 1990 Prichard-led Tasmanian state team that defeated Victoria by 33 points at North Hobart Oval. They would have made a decent team in the regular AFL season.
The current group of Tassie players are a bit thinner than in the past, but includes Jack Riewoldt, Grant Birchall, Aaron Joseph, Justin Sherman, Aaron Cornelius, Tom Collier, Jeremy Howe and Brad Green, to name a few.
So why is Tassie constantly snubbed by the AFL when the league is looking for expansion teams?
Here’s three reasons straight off the bat. The first two you’ll have heard before. The third, however, is the killer.
1. The lack of big corporates
The small Tasmanian business environment was thought not to be robust enough to afford a VFL license back in the 80s when West Coast and Brisbane joined.
Its exodus of youth to the mainland highlights how its economy cannot sustain its own population, let alone a footy team. The population has remained at a relatively constant number of 450-500,000 for the past 30 years.
Adelaide, Port Adelaide and even Fremantle had the big corporate backing to enter the league, whereas Tassie has always been viewed as a risk.
2. The AFL’s profit motive
The AFL’s business argument cannot be denied. Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney have so much more potential than Tasmania.
The AFL has considered the risk and gone for untapped markets with large potential. Tasmania is on a hiding to nothing with an already AFL-converted small population, most of which happily support an existing AFL team and have done for years.
Where’s the upside compared to Western Sydney? Living out there is a population of two or three million – around five times the size of Tassie – and most of them are rugby league supporters.
There is a potential to convert half of these supporters to AFL within a generation’s time. Head Office call it ‘demand-generation’.
Sure, it’s yet to come off, but you can’t blame them trying.
3. The placid acceptance by Tasmanian footy fans.
First there was Hawthorn, then North Melbourne. Each one came into Tassie territory as an adopted ‘home’ teams. On this point, Tasmanians have no one to blame but themselves.
If Tasmanians truly were passionate about having their own team in the AFL, wouldn’t they be rioting in the street against the Tasmanian Government’s push for Hawthorn and then, adding insult to injury, North?
Where is the passion that was displayed by Hawthorn and Melbourne diehard fans when both faced extinction or merger in 1990?
Who can forget retired Hawks ruckman Don Scott ripping the Melbourne emblem off a Hawthorn jumper?
Who is the Tassie equivalent, shredding North and Hawthorn jumpers and proudly holding up Tasmanian’s traditional primrose and dark green?
What about the fight shown by Richmond, Footscray or Fitzroy? Sure, Fitzroy may have fallen by the wayside, but how did the others survive?
Mobilisation and voice embarrassed the AFL into support for them. The irrational overcame the rational. Heart outweighed the corporate dollar.
In the 1990s there were money-raising tins in Tassie pubs for all of these Victorian teams.
Where are the tins in Tassie pubs for Tassie’s own team, today? They certainly won’t be in Melbourne pubs, that’s for sure.
There will be always be a few commentators – like Tim Lane – who carry influence and say it is socially unjust. In an Age article last month, Lane pointed out the conundrum of a state that historically has uncontrollable passion in intrastate matches, but can barely raise a souffle as a whole.
Demetriou has taken advantage of Tasmania, cunningly playing the mainland against the Tassies. Tasmania’s divided footy fans have unwittingly played right into his hands.
Is it a coincidence that an ex-Hawthorn and North Melbourne hack runs the AFL and his teams are in Tassie? Would it be different if a Tassie legend like Huddo was the kingpin?
Maybe. But not until the greater majority unite and vote with their feet will anything change.
Not until a permanent ink blotch is put on Demetriou’s roadmap to AFL assimilation.
Not until fans turn up to Hawthorn games and uproot the goal posts like the Wynyard supporters did in the 1967 state final, or storm Blundstone Oval with banners and pickards telling North where to shove it.
Not until the heart and voice of a football state overlooked for too long stands up and fights as one will the status quo be questioned.
Cue Peter Finch: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”
The reality is Tassie will never be a financially viable proposition for the AFL. The AFL will quite probably look to New Zealand first. Unless that riles the average Tassie footy fan enough to physically mobilise themselves, it’ll be a Carlton-Kiwi grand final in 2022.
Tassie has simply gotten used to being the poor cousin, supporting other state’s teams as their number one team.
No, you will not see Tasmanians rejecting Hawthorn or North Melbourne.
Look at the next game at Aurora Stadium. You will see a happily clad crowd of brown and gold, cheering on a foreign team as their own.
Or will we? C’mon Tassie, show us your true colours. Primrose and Green.