Standing together

The clubs of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition have made it clear they wish to explore their options moving forward. 179445

By sports editor Russell Bennett

AFL Victoria’s involvement in the ‘G25’ independent review into Gippsland football and netball has been brought into question after West Gippsland club presidents say they were told by an AFL Victoria paid employee on Monday night that their competition would remain unchanged for the time being.

The review – run by ColganBauer – is publicised as being independent of the AFL and is still calling for submissions until the end of this month from football and netball people all over Gippsland.

But Inverloch Kongwak president Peter Butcher, Nar Nar Goon counterpart Mick Keane, Phillip Island president Chris Ross, Garfield president Rod Murphy, Cora Lynn president Andrew Bergmeier, and Dalyston president Andy Thomas told the Gazette that all 12 clubs were already informed on Monday night – at a WGFNC presidents meeting with Richard Black, head of South Eastern Victoria (which includes both the Gippsland and South East regions) – that their competition would stay as is moving into 2021.

It’s just the latest hammer blow to community footy’s governing body in the wake of job cuts and commission dismissals across the state.

The revelation comes after each of the WGFNC presidents – as a collective – sent a letter on Friday to Black in his role as head of AFL Gippsland advising him that their clubs are considering their options moving forward.

They’re set to take their destiny into their own hands, and make a decision for 2021 onwards prior to 31 October this year.

One of those possibilities is forming a new entity and going it alone as their own, separate competition away from AFL Gippsland; and another involves entering into discussions with AFL Outer East – where they could be administered as an independent competition under the current West Gippsland model for an extended period of time.

Butcher said the clubs were told on Monday night that AFL Gippsland wants to keep the clubs together for stability, moving forward.

“It’s all good and well them saying that, but I don’t believe a word they say,” he said.

“They’ve done a backflip on this.”

He added that stability is one thing he felt the clubs have never had under AFL Gippsland, and that’s the guiding principle behind why the clubs are looking to take their future into their own hands.

Keane said Black was yet to respond to the clubs’ letter.

“If the consultation with leagues and clubs throughout Gippsland had been any good, we wouldn’t be having these issues now,” he said.

Thomas said he “likes a lot of the work ColganBauer has done” on the review in regards to its detail, but also questioned the absence of a significant focus on the Gippsland League.

Bergmeier said he’s not convinced AFL Victoria is on the same page as the WGFNC clubs.

“I believe the trust bucket is very low at the moment (when it comes to AFL Victoria), and it’s been that way ever since the G25 was brought into it,” he said.

“There’s nothing that was said on Monday night that would change my opinion on that matter.”

Bergmeier, the long-time Cobras president, said the G25 review – ironically – didn’t see the big picture from a Gippsland perspective.

“And how can a review truly be independent if it’s being paid for?” he asked.

“It’d be interesting to know how much AFL Gippsland has invested in this review.

“I left that meeting thinking it wasn’t really consultative – that it wanted our perspective on the face of it, but wasn’t taking notice of what we actually said.”

Ross, the president of the two-time reigning WGFNC senior premier, added: “All we want is stability. The total unknown of the G25 is worrying as there are different things we’re hearing. We have a great competition and it would be such a shame if two of our clubs were forced back to Alberton. It would most definitely kill those clubs”.

The G25 review – or the Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan – has been driven by AFL Victoria and is backed by the sport’s governing body.

According to correspondence sent to the Gazette, the plan was created “with a view to looking beyond regional commission boundaries and serving as a vision piece for Gippsland and bordering commissions”.

On 8 May, it was announced that the AFL South East regional commission had been removed – almost exactly a year since the unceremonious dumping of the AFL Gippsland commission.

The G25 draft report was released back in March, and left many stunned.

The 86-page report made a series of draft recommendations – including, as part of ‘Phase 1’, moving two West Gippsland Football Netball Competition clubs into the neighbouring Alberton League, where they’d joined the WGFNC from in the first place.

‘Phase 2’, planned to be implemented ahead of 2025, included a massive structural change – shifting to a divisional structure for the Ellinbank and District Football League, and the WGFNC.

The report has been criticised in some corners for its lack of focus on the premier league in the Gippsland region, the Gippsland League.

The Gazette asked Black about the letter he received from the club presidents, and the presidents’ take on what they were told at Monday night’s meeting. He responded with: “I am a strong advocate for the strength and current structure of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition in the Gippsland region”.