Tuesday 26th May, 2020

City of Footscray – Lack of Gratitude

What gratitude for over 100 years of financial assistance

Back in 1994 the then Victorian State Government amalgamated local councils across Victoria and this technically came into being late in that year. The result was that councils became bigger in their physical size but also nearly all had their names changed. So those who lived in Werribee are no longer receiving their services or paying their rates to the City of Werribee. From late 1994 their rates were now collected for the City Of Wyndham. That was just one of the name changes.

An unintended consequence of this is that the then Premier of Victoria- Jeff Kennett (later to be Hawthorn Football Club President) has played a small part (probably through sheer coincidence) in facilitating the removal of the name Footscray from the football club that is had been since the 1880’s.  This is expanded on further down this page.

Of the canonical 12 Victorian Football League Clubs (those in the V.F.L between the years of 1925-1981) these councils were connected with them

Carlton City of Melbourne
Collingwood City of Collingwood
Essendon City of Essendon
Fitzroy City of Fitzroy
Footscray City of Footscray
Geelong City of Geelong
Hawthorn City of Hawthorn
Melbourne City of Melbourne
North Melbourne City of Melbourne
Richmond City of Richmond
South Melbourne City of South Melbourne
St Kilda City of St Kilda & City of Moorabbin

So a ‘City of’ existed for Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Footscray, Geelong, Hawthorn, Melbourne, Richmond, South Melbourne and St Kilda.  Geelong, Carlton and North Melbourne are the three outsiders from the ‘V.F.L’s Canonical 12 of 1925-1981’. Geelong firstly because they are not from Melbourne, then there is Carlton and North Melbourne, because those two did not come from the council that held their name.  Actually North Melbourne sort of half did, as the word Melbourne was in it but the North part was not.

In December 1994 the Footscray Football Club had the strongest connection to its local council except the non –Melbourne based Geelong. The nearest challenger to Footscray in the closeness between club and the council of the same name, back in December 1994 was Collingwood.

Most clubs had left their home grounds by the end of 1994 but the Footscray Football Club was playing within the boundaries of the City of Footscray and the Collingwood Football Club was playing some but not all, of their home games in the City of Collingwood. So Collingwood and Footscray were representing the Cities of Collingwood and Footscray, but outside of those 2, all others were no longer playing home games in the suburb where their ground were. The exception here is Carlton – whom played in the suburb of North Carlton, but they were NOT representing the City of Carlton as it did not exist.

Geelong is not from Melbourne so outside of them, Footscray gets the points on the basis that we played more games in Footscray than Collingwood did at their traditional home. Throw in the quirk that although Collingwood City Council had the Collingwood Football Club representing them, their Victoria Park home ground is actually in the suburb of Abbotsford and NOT in the suburb of Collingwood! Surprisingly that is not well known.

From the remaining 8 of the 10 Melbourne teams, Essendon Football Club still trained at their administrative base in the suburb of Essendon from the City of Essendon; Richmond continued to train in the suburb of Richmond from the City of Richmond.

St Kilda (for 1965) Fitzroy (for 1967) Hawthorn(for 1974) and South Melbourne(for 1982) had seen their teams move away from playing home games in their traditional suburb- but the Council still bore their original name just like Essendon and Richmond up to late 1994.

Melbourne Football Club was and still is under the City of Melbourne, though the bond between both is not as obvious as is (or was) with Footscray, Collingwood and Geelong.  The City of Melbourne wasn’t a strong connection to both Carlton and North Melbourne, though Arden Street in North Melbourne was and still is around the block away from a few Melbourne City Council work depots.

It is so different now though – Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond are part of the City Of Yarra. Hawthorn residents receive services from the City of Boroondara; South Melbourne and St Kilda are with the City of Port Phillip. Melbourne, Carlton and North Melbourne are still with the City of Melbourne and Geelong is the odd one out. The Geelong City Council emerged into the City of Greater Geelong. So Geelong they didn’t lose their name- the just got a greater added to it. Essendon is the City of Moonee Ponds and Footscray is the City of Maribyrnong.

The City of Maribyrnong is actually somewhat of a misleading name for ratepayers of Footscray. The Maribyrnong River was the natural boundary that was the divide between the old Cities of Essendon and Footscray. Another angle is that the divide between what could be called the South of Essendon and the North of Footscray. It separates both so in reality Essendon has as much claim on the Maribyrnong River as does Footscray. If the northern boundary of the City of Maribyrnong was moved upwards- say to the Essendon Airport, then the City of Maribyrnong would make the name geographically correct. As it isn’t then Maribyrnong really is a wrong name for the new City of Footscray. What relevance does the Maribyrnong River have for those ratepayers who live near the Footscray Cemetery as the Maribyrnong River is nowhere near them?   Anyway that is another issue and doesn’t have to be discussed at great length here.

So outside of the Geelong situation, those of us with a traditional council lost our Municipal name of where we came from. Footscray is no different here from Essendon, Collingwood, Hawthorn, Richmond and St Kilda. Except that although there is no longer a City of Essendon or a City of Collingwood etc, these clubs did not change their name. Essendon hasn’t become the Moonee Ponds Bombers. Hawthorn is not the Boroondara Hawks, Collingwood and Richmond didn’t toss a coin over who would be the Yarra Magpies or the Yarra Tigers. Yet Footscray also didn’t become the Maribyrnong Bulldogs- just the nonsensical meaningless named Western Bulldogs.

However the Western Bulldogs owes the Footscray community plenty- even though there is no longer the Footscray City Council. Throughout the entire history of the club- the Footscray Council has helped the Footscray Football Club, in many ways especially financially. The two had a close relationship, certainly not a bed of roses, there were quite a few squabbles through the journey but that will always happen between two big organisations. The two helped each other, home games at Footscray brought in lots of revenue for the Footscray council and the local business community. There were the local hotels, petrol stations, take away food shops, restaurants and local bus companies to name just a few. Also we shouldn’t discount the more cynical and unfortunate forms of income -the parking fine revenue from football fans.

Nevertheless the Footscray Council conclusively helped ‘the Bulldogs’- a lot of the work done at the ground was performed by Footscray Council employees both on weekdays and also on match days. Many of the match day staff were Footscray council employees who manned the ticket booths, clipped the membership tickets at the turnstiles, ushered people into the reserved seated areas in the John Gent Stand, E.J. Whitten Stand, (and the seats in front of the former) fulfilled the electricity requirements and other tasks that usually go unnoticed. During the week council staff would help with the general maintenance tasks and when a big capital works program was under way, for one example the upgrading of the Media area in the John Gent Stand for the beginning of the 1984 season, it was the Footscray council who again helped save ‘the bulldogs’ money with their staff working at the ground which reduced the clubs expenditure on contractors. Although not all staff at the ground was council workers and contractors did work there on the major projects, the football club kept its head above water largely through the efforts of the City of Footscray who were looking after their biggest asset.

Then there is the money situation. The Footscray council has loaned, given, written off and diverted money to the football club, when it could have been spelt elsewhere or even saved for a rainy day. Some Footscray ratepayers would complain about the helping hand that the Footscray Council gave the football club. One bloke I know who worked for the council told me in the early 1990’s that the football club should have its name changed to the City of Footscray Football Club. I didn’t but I should have asked him if a navy blue and white team should change their name to the City of Geelong Football Club as I assumed that they would be receiving similar assistance and they were also his club. Well this bloke (sort of) got his wish because the club did change our name- although not to how he thought it what it should be.  I wonder if he sees the paradox of it all now.

Now back to the main player in the council amalgamations, the then Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett and his state government of 1994. The councils merging and the subsequent change of name made it easier for football clubs to change their name. It would seem to be nigh on impossible for the new board of 1996 to change the Footscray Football clubs name if the council was still the City of Footscray. How would that of gone down- a new administration changes the name of the football club with one of their key reasons being that the Footscray name restricted the ‘growing of the brand’ So how do they tell the councilors and the Footscray ratepayers that the football club needs to disassociate ourselves from the Footscray name because Footscray has a negative image? Could they go to the City of Footscray council chamber and tell them that the football club wants another extension on a loan from the Footscray City Council, but “Oh by the way – we at the football club don’t want the Footscray name anymore but we still want the financial and every other form of assistance that you have been giving us at the football club for over 110 years to continue” The Footscray Council would have every justification in telling the newly established Western Bulldogs board to get out of Footscray. If you are now too uppity for Footscray, or you want to widen your brand- well go somewhere else in the western suburbs- just hop on the train and set up base anywhere else outside of the Footscray Council boundaries. But make sure you give us back every penny, every shilling, pound, dollar and cent that you owe the Footscray ratepayers, because you have one almighty cheek to want to get rid of the name that has serviced you so well for over 100 years. So just remember the cracked footpath you saw in Footscray, the graffiti on some walls- all these things about Footscray that you stuck your nose up- well that might have been corrected, but the Footscray council helped you instead.

But the council amalgamations did happen at the end of 1994- the City of Footscray being incorporated into the City of Maribyrnong just like all others in Victoria. So this gave the new board a smoother ride to implement their extreme changes. Another side effect of the football club not playing in Footscray has been the demise of a few local businesses near the football ground. Two of the famous watering holes- The Rising Sun Hotel and the Albert Hotel closed up after the football club stopped playing games in Footscray. The petrol station in Barkly Street directly opposite the ground also closed down. This is Rates revenue that the council missed out on it- money for the council coffers that could have been channeled into the cracked footpath or graffiti in the mall- but no it couldn’t happen. The vicious circle continues on its journey round and round..

The mantra of –“Don’t tell anyone that we train at Footscray or that we have to go to Footscray to buy something from the club shop”. “People have to and need to be brainwashed/socially engineered (oops don’t say either of those though it is true) It is people need to be ‘encouraged in being proactive in accepting and implementing change. So that they are no longer going to the club shop at the Footscray Football Ground in Footscray to buy the 1954 Footscray Grand Final video-they are instead going to ‘The Bulldogs’ to buy the video of ‘the Bulldogs’ in the 1954 Grand Final. It can be advertised as the only Grand Final the Western Bulldogs have won- or ‘The Bulldogs’ have won- just don’t mention that Footscray won it- because they didn’t, we ‘the Bulldogs’ won it!

“We don’t want to play our home games here in Footscray anymore”  “We don’t want to have anything to do with the Footscray word”, although the football club still want to use the ground in Footscray as a training and administrative base as has been the case (then in 1996) for 113 + years, (now as 2011 approaches 2012) it is close to 130 years. That was fair enough until October 1996. Because from October 1996 when the football club became ‘the team of the west with the football club broadening our brand to appeal to the whole western region’. So the councils in the ‘western region’ that are now the Cities of Brimbank, Hobsons Bay and Wyndham can take over or at least equal the commitment to the club of the City of Maribyrnong. We as a club no longer play at home- outside of Geelong and Melbourne, all other Victorian teams don’t play on their traditional home ground in their original area. The Demons have seen just about everyone else move in to their home ground (the MCG) – a steady stream from Richmond in 1965 to just about all of us at some point, so their home ground advantage has been destroyed. We cannot go back to playing games at the Western Oval in Footscray- the new training facility development has obliterated any possibility of us playing a non- Victorian club like Fremantle or one of the two newest entrants- Gold Coast and the third team with west in their name from Sydney. So the Maribyrnong Council won’t get any revenue from the effects of senior football played at the Footscray ground.

In recent times there have been a few quite public stoushes between the City of Maribyrnong and the Western Bulldogs. I haven’t followed the battles closely so I don’t know which of the two is in the right. But for the sake of the Footscray residing ratepayer- they would have every justification in asking their Maribyrnong Council to persuade the other western region councils to share the financial load for the Western Bulldogs. Why? – Because the Western Bulldogs are the ‘team of the west’- not just Footscray. And Maribyrnong Council has done more than their fair share, especially when they were the Footscray Council for the football club.