Town for the taking
If you’re a Dockers fan, set aside the immediate elation of a 75-point thrashing of your arch enemy in Sunday’s Western Derby. There’s bigger fish to fry.
The Fremantle Football Club, after 15 years spent mostly as a punchline, finds itself at an historic juncture.
Sunday’s result got Freo back on track in its assault on this year’s finals series, but the symbolic implications are potentially far more wide-reaching.
It’s now obvious that West Coast are a terrible football team with little prospect of getting better any time soon. Compounding the Eagles’ problems are the timing of their fall, with draft concessions to the 17th and 18th AFL clubs certain to lengthen the timeframe for any draft-led recovery.
The Dockers, meanwhile, have a core of emerging young talent that is likely to improve as its stars like Pavlich, Hasleby and Sandilands play through the twilight of their peak.
Fremantle now has an opportunity that has never before presented itself: it can take this town for its own.
Like the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA, the New York Mets in Major League Baseball and Manchester City in British soccer, the Dockers have always played second fiddle to their larger, more successful rivals.
It began from the Dockers’ inception: the club’s ragtag inaugural list was Ben Allen’s wonky knees and a bunch of AFL discards plus overlooked WAFL toilers. Big brothers West Coast, meanwhile, were the reigning premiers.
And so it has gone ever since. Even the Dockers brief periods of success have been overshadowed by West Coast (how much credit does Chris Connolly’s 2006 side get for its preliminary final appearance and third placing on the ladder? None – the Eagles won the flag).
The result: Perth is West Coast’s town, it always has been, and the Eagles know it. They’ve enjoyed stronger corporate support, higher membership, bigger profits and better press. They’ve been bigger, better and more arrogant.
It would be a mistake for anyone to think that’s the natural order of things.
The Yankees, with their 27 World Series championships, are the most valuable and successful franchise in American professional sport. They’ve got the highest payroll, the most fans, the most profitable stadium and they dominate the New York and national media. But in 1980s, a bunch of swaggering, boozing, brawling baseballers from the Mets emerged as the Yankees hit a rare period of mediocrity. The Mets won the 1986 championship and took the city for themselves. New York was a Mets town.
Talk about loyalty all you like, but the facts are people gravitate towards winners. The Dockers have a chance to paint Perth purple.
Fremantle’s patchy history in the AFL has obscured the longer term truth about footy in the port. “Fremantle” used to represent success, toughness and intimidation. The Sharks and Bulldogs have 42 WAFL premierships between them and Fremantle names like Marsh, Sheedy, Doig, Gerovich, Michael, Rioli, Peake, Matera, Mainwaring, Worsfold and Jakovich are WA football royalty.
If the new generation of Dockers can build a culture of long term success on the foundations of a promising beginning to 2010, they could take this town for good.