Perth’s past is golden but their future is grim
The most pressing football issue in WA is not the decline of juggernaut West Coast’s ageing list, the loss of players and teams in the bush nor the challenges to junior development.
Rather, it is the fate of Perth Football Club.
The Demons are in serious trouble.
Their distant past is golden but their present is mediocre and their future is grim.
Perth are struggling on the field with every one of their four teams second-last on their relative ladders, their recruiting zones are barren and the proposed multi million-dollar Lathlain Park redevelopment is in doubt.
Their very survival is in the balance.
If not for their decent financial position, with reasonable surpluses in the past two years and about half a million dollars ballast in their Centurions fund, there would be growing questions about their capacity to stay alive beyond the next year or two.
But how are the Demons going to thrive even if they do manage to survive?
The proposed development of a new home base, which has more than $10 million committed from government and council sources, is teetering after a souring in the relationship between Perth and the Town of Victoria Park.
Although managing relationships with vital stakeholders is a critical function of any club board and management, Perth have not been able to identify the council personnel nor issue that is the main impediment to their poor connection.
Remember, this is a council that attempted to prevent West Coast playing WAFL matches at a ground where they had just spent $70 million to build their own headquarters.
Perth’s playing woes are even more dire than their relationship dramas.
They have just passed 9000 days since they last won a league final and it has been two generations since they were genuine premiership challengers.
Garry Moss, if he decides to stay as coach, can anticipate some thankless labours over the next season or two.
Perth have won just two league matches this season – by a combined total of three points - and it is impossible to see them contending for a flag in the next few years.
It is now 45 years since their last one with only two WAFL clubs – including themselves - enduring longer premiership droughts.
Subiaco had to wait 49 years before their 1973 premiership ended the WAFL’s longest drought but that was a near half-century that included 19 finals campaigns.
And Perth had finals appearances in 20 of the 48 seasons between their first flag in 1907 and their next one in 1955.
The current Demons have been in finals just five times since 1977 with just four wins in that long stretch.
Finding decent talent has been an issue for Perth for much of that period with the club’s development zones producing modest harvests while the recruitment of former AFL stars, with a few exceptions like Ross Young and Clint Jones, generating more busts than booms.
The WA Football Commission is about to release its boundary review that will provide Perth with extra suburbs to draw on but that is likely to be little more than tinkering at the edges of a gerrymandered system.
How does Perth compete with Claremont, for example, where a junior team recently had a weekend in Melbourne in which the highlights included a personal address by Nathan Buckley before a Friday night match?
The challenge in the Perth districts is to supply meals and boots to junior footballers; that in Claremont is which Brownlow medallist to organise for a pre-match function.
The solution to Perth’s woes is not clear but their issues are many and complex.
A candid and searching club review should be the place to start . . . and there is little time to waste.
There are two bright lights at Perth though, sadly, one of them won’t shine again this season. The courage of co-captain Michael Sinclair is beyond question after he returned to the field against Subiaco despite sustaining what was later diagnosed as a torn kidney.
Sinclair has been in hospital since the round 8 incident, has required urgent surgery to repair complications and will not play again this year. There is also doubt about his future prospects.
Youngster Brodie Gray plays in the spirit of his captain as he showed with a career-high 14 tackles against South Fremantle on Saturday. Gray has now laid a remarkable 88 tackles in his nine matches this season and is well on track to break former Demon Aidan Tropiano’s home-and-away season record of 157.
IMAGE: The West Australian.