Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Sad Situation of Richmond

Some of the following could have been included in the Why I've Arrived Where I'm At post from March, and some from Elitist But Not Elite as well but I was trying to put a limit on my rambling at the time.

On Friday the Richmond Soccer Club put the following message on their Facebook page:


I would be lying if I said I was surprised, as this has been a long time coming, six years in fact.

A poor start to the 2011 season by the Under 21's precipitated the end of Helmut Katizki's presidency at Richmond. Donald MacLaren had taken over the side after assisting Jim Maclean, and an element of the committee from the juniors side were not satisfied with performances. The pressure to make a change continued to build, and eventually a newcomer to the committee, Jean-Marc Imbert, was made caretaker coach for the remainder of the season.

The following year it was senior coach Michael Chatzitrifonos who was under the pump. Early season losses prompted agitation from some of the committee. He had cut Didier Imbert from the senior squad during pre-season, before politicking forced a reconsideration. The tensions reached a head in early June following a 0-2 loss at home to Hume City when Chatzitrifonos quit his post after being confronted post-game.

Kalitzki managed to get Chatzitrifonos back on board the following day but the damage had been done. Captain Michael Ferrante, struggling with a back injury that would not see him play regularly for another year after surgery, left the club dismayed at the politics that had crept in, clearly able to see the writing on the wall. The team's results would improve, eventually finishing just three points off a finals berth, despite the turmoil off the park.

The committee was now dis-functional and having failed to oust Chatzitrifonos they now set their sights on Kalitzki. Their meetings required security intervention. Prior to the final game of the season, Kalitzki met with the players to announce he had stood down as president. Though he always honoured promises over player wages, he told them to see the new committee about payments for the final game but hoped that they would still turn out and play for each other and their coach. Following a spirited 1-1 draw away at the league champions Dandenong Thunder, Chatzitrifonos finished his tenure at the club after five years.

The new committee appointed Imbert as first team coach for the following season. The core of the playing squad moved on, though Davey van 't Schip was happy to stay and play with his mates who had remained. A bust-up with Imbert in pre-season though saw him follow Ferrante and Tom Milardovic to Pascoe Vale where he remains to this day, one of the best players in the NPLV. After four straight defeats at the start of the 2013 season, culminating in an embarrassing 2-7 defeat at home to Northcote City, Imbert was dismissed. By the end of the year the club was relegated, and those that had ousted Kalitzki had all jumped off the ship they had sunk.

                          Sub Bill Fleming Medal for Gold Medal and.....


The club rallied under a new committee and in 2015 with the backing of sponsorship from Concave won the then NPL1 to secure promotion back into the top tier. Instantly relegated, it was a second successive relegation this season that has brought the club to the brink on which it now sits.

So in reading the commentary to the club's EGM announcement it was interesting to see how some apportion the blame for the predicament.

There were some fingers pointed at the FFV and also the NPL set-up as a whole. What is clear is that relegation from the NPL will have a more devastating effect on clubs than relegation from the VPL did. What can a club do if the bulk of their junior players may be looking to stay in the NPL system by moving to other clubs? When committee people may be pondering such a move for their own children, it's easy to see how a crippling exodus may occur. Battling to meet the costly NPL requirements no doubt causes a lot of burn-out as well.

Does the NPL set up, particularly in NPL2 do clubs any favours? I recall in the heyday of Friday nights at Kevin Bartlett Reserve, the bar and canteen would make twice as much as it would with the same crowd on a Saturday afternoon. So what does hosting a single busload of players and officials from Goulburn Valley or Murray United on a Saturday offer? A 28 game season means six more week's worth of wages need to be found than previously. Not that every club relegated from the NPLV will find themselves in Richmond's predicament, but there would be a few others skating closer to the edge than they'd like to admit.

Of course the lack of stability since the departure of Kalitzki leads some to point out the perils of relying on a single benefactor. From what I've seen though, few clubs would cover their costs on gate takings alone. Surely a benefactor or sponsorship is preferable to using junior membership fees? The old chestnut of clubs being at the mercy of the whims of such benefactors also rises, as if they just like to withdraw their support for a laugh. Most benefactors would prefer clubs become less reliant on them, but that can take years to achieve. Since Kalitzki the club was aided by various sponsors, none of whom have been long term.

I think the situation Richmond has found itself in illustrates how committees with junior parents dominated by self-interest will destroy more clubs than these supposedly flip-flopping benefactors do. And for that the FFV has to shoulder some of the blame. A decade ago now the FFV forced clubs to alter their constitutions to allow the parents of junior players a vote at club's elections, which probably assisted the ousting of Kalitzki at a club with a small member base like Richmond.

Of course the two A-League clubs with teams in the NPLV do not have to comply with these rules. These privately owned clubs are allowed to operate without the ability of a group of Under 14's parents upset at being confined to the back pitch all season to wrest control from Sheikh Mansour. Melbourne Victory's chairman Anthony Di Pietro is safe in the knowledge he doesn't need to placate the parents of the kids sitting on the bench in their NPL2 West U20's team to keep his role. Funnily enough the person I used to argue with on Twitter about the unfairness of this is currently on the run in Romania from Australian taxation authorities so we are not able to resume that debate.

Though the FFV saw fit to meddle with constitutions, there's no protections put in place that could prevent the scenario that has occurred at Richmond. When those on the committee failed to get their way in sacking the coach and demanded money they had put into the club back, the president had the option of paying them, or standing down and letting them have their way once the situation had become untenable. When the following committee failed to achieve what they wanted and left, they were free to be able to do so. They did not have to be held to account, it was left to others to pick up the pieces if they wanted the club to carry on, and saddled with debt they managed to move it on a little further to the crossroads it now finds itself.

It also needs to be noted that none of the changes to the competition made with the introduction of the NPL where made with the clubs, and their best interests, in mind. As with much of Australian football decisions are made on a "top down" basis. The authorities give little consideration to those running clubs. If clubs fall over they know another one will take it's place.

Having put in 30 hours a week at the club for over ten years, it would be sad to see it go under. Cannot say, though, that I'd be sad enough about it to go through all that again to save it. Which in itself is the saddest part.

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