ONE of the most respected people in local football, MPNFL Life Member Mark Hustwaite has pleaded with AFL South East to work together with clubs and not to make decisions for the benefit of the minority.
Hustwaite, who is willing to assist the league to help improve clubs, has been involved in the MPNFL for more than 30 years, is a life member at Rosebud and Pines football clubs, is a premiership player and coach, interleague coach and currently the football manager at Rosebud. There’s not much ‘Hussy’ hasn’t achieved in our game.
Without question, Hustwaite is well qualified to comment on the health of the competition and the proposed AFL South East changes.
In the past week, Hustwaite has received unexpected calls from AFL South East general manager John Anderson and football manager Cam Roberts to discuss his club’s stance on the proposal.
Hustwaite made it clear to both of them that his club and surrounding clubs were united in their thoughts on the proposal.
Hustwaite, who agreed that it looked as though AFL South East was trying to ‘divide and conquer’, said it appeared that AFL South East has a template on how our local competition should be structured.
“However, they are not taking into account the unique features of our competition and its geography,” Hustwaite said.
“It is well known that divisional football and promotion/relegation work in other regions and metro competitions. This template does not suit our region. Nepean Division has been in a very healthy state since becoming more geographical in 2006,” Hustwaite said.
“In this region over the past 30 years, several alterations have been made to the competition that have not served the clubs well. Generally, clubs who have been ‘promoted’ have struggled in the higher division – it has hurt the club by breaking up local rivalries, reducing their ability to raise funds through lower gate takings/canteen and other sales. The pressure to perform also demands that the clubs spend more to remain competitive, however, they are restricted in their ability to raise as much.
Hustwaite said if Rosebud was placed in ‘Division One’ and lost rivalries against Rye, Dromana and Red Hill, it could cost the club as much as $40,000 in revenue each year.
“AFL South East is attempting to legislate for the small number of clubs who are struggling. The clubs in our region who are ‘struggling’ are in this position for one or a combination of reasons.
“We need to address club issues in changing demographics, financial position, links between junior and senior clubs and the retention of youth/teenage footballers. Junior boys’ football in this area (in the smaller townships) has been in a sad decline for quite some time. Right now, I would say it’s almost at its weakest in 10 years.”
One questions how that would compete against Cranbourne, Narre Warren, Berwick and Beaconsfield.
Hustwaite said altering the structure of football in this region may only create a ‘quick fix’.
“Rather than have the options presented to us as the ‘only’ choices, we need to use the AFL resources and professionals within our region to work with the clubs who are struggling and address their individual needs,” Hustwaite said.
“If we can achieve the aim of improving the ‘health’ of every club that would like assistance, this would make for a sustainable local football environment. There may be some clubs who need to investigate alterations to the competition they are in, but wholesale change is not required.
“What we need right now is to get the AFL South East right behind us and work together for the best results in local football,” Hustwaite said.
Watching it all unfold with a keen eye is Southern Football Netball League (SFNL), who may also be impacted with the AFL South East recommendations, given region divisional football may also impact their member clubs including Cerberus, South Mornington, Skye, Lyndhurst, Carrum and Chelsea Heights.
However, SFNL General Manager David Canizzio would not be drawn into making comment.
“I respect the process that AFL SE is going through and I’m sure there will come a time when it will be appropriate to make comment,” Canizzio said.