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What’s In a Name? Plenty: AGE article from Tuesday 8th June 2008

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Ted Whitten Statue

This article by Peter Hanlon- who is a good quality journalist / feature writer for THE AGE Newspaper appeared in the sport lift out section of ‘The Age’ on Tuesday 3rd June 2008. You can read it also in the REAL FOOTY archive.

TOMORROW morning, at a not-so-long-ago decaying ground in Melbourne’s inner-west, another step will be taken in a football club’s rejuvenation. The club sits third on the AFL ladder, has just beaten the top team, and is enjoying its best start to a season ever.
These are heady times for this club, which is as proud of its history as rivals who boast of much more than just one day of ultimate glory. Given past struggles just to survive, it is a time to celebrate its very being. To rejoice in who it is.
It’s a shame you have to scroll all the way down to the fine print to be reminded of this club’s true name: Footscray.
It is more than 11 years since the administration of then-new president David Smorgon complemented its new off-field personnel with a change of name, playing venue, logo and club song, along with a new coach in Terry Wallace. At the time, the club’s membership had dipped to just over 10,000 — lower than when it won the 1954 flag.
Then, the club was seeking a new beginning, having played its last game at Whitten Oval. As Smorgon said yesterday, few people leaving the ground after the Bulldogs had beaten West Coast that day would have believed that any heavy machinery moving in a decade later would have been charged with anything but demolition.
But that was then. The Doggies are now alive and well, with more than 27,000 members, continuing AFL largesse and the fruits of government funding materialising at their Whitten Oval home. The new Elite Learning Centre, to be opened tomorrow, is just one stage of a development that will bolster a football club and benefit a community. Arguably, the time for a new beginning was right in 1996. But, as callers to talkback radio in recent days have proposed, maybe now is a good time to go back, while moving proudly forward. For that song to again begin: “Sons of the ‘Scray”.
Smorgon says a reversion from the trading name Western Bulldogs to Footscray Football Club is not on the agenda, “nowhere on the list of 100 things we’ve got to do”. While he is president, he says, it will not happen.
He doesn’t doubt that, to many, the name is important. “But I say to those people, we’ve moved on. We are the Western Bulldogs, and we’re creating our history on the back of the Footscray Football Club history.”
The change was made, Smorgon says, because of a belief that the club’s identity was limited, that as Western Bulldogs they could better tap into sponsorship, build coteries and other support from the entire western region of Melbourne, with its 600,000-plus people. “We felt that Footscray was a restriction on growing our brand.” But football supporters do not see their club as a brand. They see it as players, people, a jumper. Something to love, that their mum and dad loved before them. Something to cheer and be cheered by. Something that gives them hope. Of no club is this truer than the Dogs.
Smorgon says the change has been a success, although not all that was hoped for has been achieved. Research shows 55% of members reside in the west, up from 50%. Given the migration to one of Melbourne’s boom regions in the past decade, this can hardly be seen as endorsement of the “brand” name. The transition certainly wasn’t seamless, with premiership full-forward Jack Collins tackling Smorgon’s administration at the time under the banner of “Footscray Forever”. A website, “Footscray Not Western Bulldogs”, maintains the rage today, carrying an AFL ladder featuring Northern Blues, Eastern Hawks, Central Demons, Country Cats, etc. “Grab a street directory and try and find West Coast Eagles or Port Power in them, let alone Western Bulldogs,” it barks, concluding that “the only west or western I want to know about is Scott West”.
Smorgon is not concerned that, in a competition hell-bent on expansion, the word “Western” may soon be shared with another team, residing in the Sydney market that so tantalises the AFL.
As for North Melbourne’s recent decision to embrace its identity and relegate Kangaroos to nickname status, he could not comprehend that club’s thinking. Yet surely the notion of catching support with an all-encompassing name sells short those 27,000-plus members, who proudly see their club just as it is styled in the last line of their song: “The team of the mighty west.” People who would be proud to again call their club Footscray, no matter where they live.
 

So let’s have a look at a few quotes from this article-

Smorgon says a reversion from the trading name Western Bulldogs to Footscray Football Club is not on the agenda, “nowhere on the list of 100 things we’ve got to do”.

So it is worth wondering what is the actual 99th and 101st list of things we have got to do by? The 99th must still be quite important- perhaps a new colour scheme for the carpet in the foyer of the staff tea room. Maybe the 101st is changing the name back to Footscray? If there are 100 more pressing things than that- the Bulldogs must be a busy organisation. We should be running the country.
The next day THE AGE also mocked the Presidents quote about the 100 things we have got to do.

He doesn’t doubt that, to many, the name is important. “But I say to those people, we’ve moved on. We are the Western Bulldogs, and we’re creating our history on the back of the Footscray Football Club history.”

(1) Well if it is recognised that the name is undoubtedly important -why not do something about it if you want the membership to increase? Refer to the Kangaroos reverting back to North Melbourne and the 12,000 extra they attained. More on that just below and further down.

(2) Who have moved on? This ‘we have moved on’ is one of those rhetorical quotes used by those who’s next line is nearly always ‘Get over it.’

I didn’t ‘move on’ and nor have many others- which includes 8 other Victorian clubs. One Victorian club followed our lead and did ‘move on’ but now they have ‘moved backwards’ which gained them 12,000 extra members. As for both ‘moving on’ and ‘creating our own history’- only Fremantle and Richmond of the other 16 clubs have not BETTERED us since 1997. They have ‘equalled us’ in that their high point is a Preliminary Final, but they have only reached it and lost once (Fremantle in 2006 Richmond in 2001) we have lost three Preliminary Finals(1997,1998, 2008) compared with their one. So we are either better than them or equal with them depending on your point of view.

The transition certainly wasn’t seamless, with premiership full-forward Jack Collins tackling Smorgon’s administration at the time under the banner of “Footscray Forever”.

Sadly Jack Collins died suddenly just a month after this article was printed. He was not initially aware of this story, learning of it soon after it appeared, but then a cruel and untimely fatal heart attack intervened before he could offer his viewpoint. Jack was working on his memoirs at the time of his unexpected death. This is an absolute tragedy both obviously personally but also professionally as an Australian Football identity. His autobiography would have been brilliant- his story wouldn’t have pulled any punches- he was no yes man or sycophant. There was a strong similarity with Jack Collins and the great Laurie Nash, though Jack was certainly more modest than the South Melbourne legend! Laurie Nash was one of the South Melbourne stalwarts who remained embittered about them becoming the Sydney Swans. He point blank refused to accept it, just as Jack couldn’t take Footscray becoming Western Bulldogs. Some journalists in the early days of the 1982 season lambasted Laurie Nash for his outspoken opposition to the move to Sydney, yet would he have cared about what others thought of him? No at all, that wasn’t the Laurie Nash way. Jack was similar, no sacred cows with either of them.

Smorgon is not concerned that, in a competition hell-bent on expansion, the word “Western” may soon be shared with another team, residing in the Sydney market that so tantalises the AFL.

Oh well I guess we had the West in the name before these Western Sydney interlopers join the AFL.I wonder what the West Coast Eagles think? They had the west in their title before we did. They have only been around for a bit over 20 years, but the West has been in their original name since they began in 1987. We at ‘The Bulldogs’ hooked on to west around 10 years after the coastal eagles did, despite having another name for over 100 years beforehand.

The change was made, Smorgon says, because of a belief that the club’s identity was limited, that as Western Bulldogs they could better tap into sponsorship, build coteries and other support from the entire western region of Melbourne, with its 600,000-plus people. “We felt that Footscray was a restriction on growing our brand.”

Well I think we can believe that when ALL train station platforms in the Western suburbs of Melbourne are full of Western Bulldogs supporters rather Collingwood, Carlton and others on a match day. These Western fans are both –
(a) Those who never followed ‘The Bulldogs’ before when we were Footscray, because they were Collingwood supporters etc etc. However now they have changed teams from Collingwood to us because they feel an affinity to the red, white and blue because we have become the Western Bulldogs. These converted supporters now recognise Western is their team- despite living for over 40 years in St Albans, Sunshine, Braybrook, Deer Park, Albion
(b) People from the same suburbs mentioned above who previously had no interest in Australian Rules Football, but now follow the great Australian game and the red, white and blue because we are Western. Footscray meant nothing to them apparently it obviously restricted them from helping to grow our brand.

As for North Melbourne’s recent decision to embrace its identity and relegate Kangaroos to nickname status, he could not comprehend that club’s thinking.

So it would appear that the 12,000 extra members they roped in since changing back to North Melbourne is hard to comprehend? There must be 12,000 intellectually ungifted people out there who bought a North Melbourne membership but weren’t clever enough to do so when they were just the marsupial as their real name? Maybe they are better off with 12k less members – quality of members is better than quantity of members. The next tried and trusted response from those who make light of North Melbourne’s strengthened position will be that the 12,000 were all sympathy memberships! Yes some probably did buy a membership for them to congratulate them for rejecting the Gold Coast offer- but really who genuinely believes they received 12,000 sympathy votes?

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