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The issue St Kilda cannot keep sweeping under the carpet

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Expert
3rd March, 2019
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I never thought there would come a day when I applauded someone owning up to a $12 million debt. But here we are.

In his first interview as St Kilda president, business mogul Andrew Bassat opened up about the club’s financial position and the mistakes that have contributed to its debt – specifically the move to Seaford in 2011.

He told The Age, “It was a mistake at the time and it was even worse mistake in hindsight. We shouldn’t have gone to Seaford. The people who made that decision have got a bit to answer for and I think that’s contributed to where we are today, there’s no doubt.”

It’s good to see someone being very open and honest in his comments about the club’s off field position.

However, Bassat remained upbeat about the club’s form, despite finishing a lowly 16th in 2018.

For a side that threatens to rise one season, they only seem to fall backwards the next, taking their fault-less fans for a wicked ride.

2018 started off well for the Saints. The club broke its record membership tally (46,301) last season, but when the first official 2019 club membership tally was released in December 2018, the Saints had the lowest number of members of any Victorian club that provided the figure and slumped to 15th overall.

But can you blame supporters for falling off? No, not really. They’re giving this side so much love, loyalty and support to have mediocrity given in return.

Four wins and a draw in 2018 was hardly the response anyone was expecting after an incredibly promising 2017 season.

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I watched St Kilda play live twice that year and while the game plan was for the most part boring, it was effective.

It was a super defensive style of play and when the game was played on the Saints’ terms, they successfully dismantled the opposition to appear almost non-existent.

The most memorable was a 67-point thrashing of eventual premiers Richmond in front of a full house at Etihad Stadium.

That win, along with 10 others, put St Kilda in a great position to attack the top eight in 2018. Instead they slid to 16th with a whole lot of problems both on and off the field.

As a reward for 2017 efforts, the Saints were given a chance on the Good Friday stage in 2018. And thanks to a 52-point defeat to North Melbourne, they lost the fixture just as quickly.

St Kilda Saints look sad after losing

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Instead, St Kilda will play Port Adelaide in China… I am sure supporters are delighted by that honour.

At first it didn’t make much sense why a club that isn’t 100 per cent controlled by the AFL would voluntarily take part in Port Adelaide’s lacklustre fixture but since learning about the club’s frighteningly large debt, the answer is now clear as daylight.

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In terms of on-field action, the Saints did have a successful start to their JLT pre-season campaign with a solid win over North Melbourne but unfortunately for them, the pre-season is hardly the home-and-away form indicator that it was back in ’90s.

Nowadays it seems the lid is off for the winners, while the fixture is “just a practice game” for the losers. The real test is yet to come.

The signs of improvement aren’t there the same way they are at Brisbane or Carlton. As we saw in 2016 and 2017, when the game plan worked, it really worked. The club finished 9th and 11th respectively – ahead of Richmond, Melbourne, Collingwood and Hawthorn in each or both of those years.

Within 24 months Richmond win a premiership, Collingwood are grand finalists, Hawthorn bounces back into the top four and the Dees win two finals in their best season for over a decade. But for St Kilda it’s a bottom-four finish and another step backwards.

Despite the off-field issues of crippling debt, China, low membership numbers to start the season and on-field lack of performance, the biggest issue of them all is still receiving full support of the club and in some ways, the supporters.

Under Alan Richardson this club isn’t making much progress and instead of the new boss demanding an improvement on the field, he’s given full support to the coach and everything he’s doing.

Bassat told The Age that the club is, “backing (Richardson) unambiguously to achieve” success.

That’s a fair enough statement to make about a coach who has a proven record of some success during his tenure but the reality is Richardson has had none. And he never appears too bothered by it.

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There’s no emotion and no accountability, instead churning out the same stock standard vanilla comments during his press conferences and weekly media appearances.

Come on, Richo. Get angry, get frustrated, cry of sadness or joy. Give the people something to show that this means something to you. Because nothing suggests to me that you’re passionate about this club and its success (or lack of it).

Instead, he’s allowed the supporters to be okay with mediocrity and chalked up “honourable losses” as a win.

I have St Kilda-supporting friends who were proud of the team’s efforts against Richmond (28-point loss at MCG) and West Coast (13-point loss at Optus) in 2018.

Credit where it’s due, they put on a sensational performance against the eventual premiers at home in what was one of their best games of the season – but too often that same effort isn’t there.

These “I am proud of the effort” losses don’t change the fact that the club isn’t walking away with the four points. There is now an attitude of accepting average results and being okay with coming close without actually winning.

Bassat said the club has spent plenty of time developing the club’s culture. Was settling for mediocrity part of that?

This is a club crying for someone to inspire them, to take ownership and leadership and at the moment, coach Richo isn’t the answer.

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(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

For a decade, leadership came in the form of Nick Riewoldt but when he retired at the end of 2017, he left too big of a hole for Richo to cover alone.

The heartbreaking reality is that no one has really stood up in his place.

I appreciate the honesty and transparency from Bassat about the club’s off-field position. It’s a step in the right direction but the Saints still have a long way to go.

The question is can the new St Kilda president steer his new venture in a successful direction, or will it continue on the road to nowhere?

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