Dockers: the rematch

Architect CARL PAYNE lives in White Gum Valley. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED he responds to HANNAH MORRIS, who wrote a stirring piece on why she was heart-broken about the Dockers moving to Cockburn.

HANNAH, based on your statement that you can’t recall a time before the Dockers, it seems you may be around your early to mid-twenties.

An age of great idealism and focus. It’s the only way to be when young; and one that a few oldies could emulate as well. But it does have its drawbacks. Marketing and advertising has perhaps never been more persuasive and ubiquitous. And out of this corporate marketing approach came the West Coast Eagles; and a few years later, the Fremantle Dockers. Both are “owned” by the WA Football Commission; they are our state representatives on the national stage. They are run and managed as separate entities, with separate boards and management structures; and this requires them—and allows them—to market and to guide their separate strategic approaches as they see fit, in the football marketplace.

Chardonnay Set

When the Eagles were first formed, they were promoted as being “our WA team in the VFL”. Some viewed them as a “state-side”, but there were more WA-born players still playing in the VFL than were selected in the inaugural Eagles squad. The Eagles didn’t get every player they wanted. This fact created the underlying impression among many footy watchers, that WA could and should have a second side in the VFL. When the AFL was formed a few years later, and then following the Eagles first flag-winning year in 1992, this impression grew into the reality of the second side. It was both marketing smarts; and a recognition of the strength of the Freo Footy tradition, that drove the second side to be based in Fremantle. Hannah, this decision was also driven by canny corporate ambitions. It suited the marketeers to classify and promote the Eagles as the “Chardonnay Set”; and to fill the marketing vacuum thus created with the “Blue Collar” players of Fremantle. Suddenly, almost overnight, as is the case with many cynical and clever marketing and advertising campaigns, an “old-tradition” was created.

Italian heritage

The first Dockers jumper colours were red, white, green and purple, promoted as being part of Fremantle’s Italian heritage. (No, not the red and green of the north and south moles structures.) It took many years; and many colour and design experiments, to finally settle on the purple and white. The original colours of red and green were “fragmenting and distracting” according to polling at the time. So, the marketing people; and the advertising gurus, took over. It happens all the time, it’s not new. But it IS an example of change and evolution Bella. Just like going to Cockburn is. When the corporates who control large sport – all large sport – want to make a strategic decision based on their perspective of “what needs to happen”, they won’t ever take sentiment into account. Ever. All the statements made at the origin of the Dockers will be just so much baggage to be discarded.

I started to follow the Eagles when they were first formed. For a footy-follower, they were irresistible. Even today, some of my local Dockers mates pretend to deny this, forgetting that we went along to every Eagles home match; and screamed ourselves hoarse. But I digress a little. Despite good on-field success; a few flags and some Brownlows, there have also been the lows associated with aspects of large organisations. And the Eagles board and management continues to sound just like the Dockers board and management. All “World-class”; and “Best-practice”; and “Results-driven-process”; “undeniable challenges” and so on and so on. Management clap-trap.

Second team

I still follow the Eagles; I’m a member; and because I have lived in Fremantle since 1977, I can’t help but see the Dockers as my second team. It seems natural to me, because I’m also following the fortunes of the young Dockers players. I’d love to see them have some on-field success in the last game of the full season. But at a board and management level, the Dockers showed their hand when they sacked Harvey. That’s corporate behaviour, no sentiment there.

So, enjoy watching the Dockers Hannah.

They may train in Cockburn, but they are still yours; they’ve just grown up a bit and moved out of home. But watch the players; follow their moves and their highs and lows.

Don’t fall for the marketing; it will only bring you down, because it’s not real.

The young athletes are.

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