COUNTRY football is the heart of regional communities.
And with another season just kicking off, the issues in country football surrounding populations, finance and support become another discussion point.
On the back of the three tough seasons farming wise, the effect on local regional communities has been immense.
Socially, a number of clubs are struggling to field league and reserve teams, while economically clubs have also been struggling with finance to be able to recruit Perth-based players.
The issue of recruiting is at the top of the list for many clubs, it can either make or break not only your season, but also the next three to five years.
Many clubs, particularly premiership clubs, would understand having a quality core group of not only players, but mates, makes a massive difference
to your club’s on and off field culture.
It could be argued the most successful clubs, in whichever leagues, have the most money, but having coached a country side for the first time last year, I disagree.
I believe it is the most organised and driven clubs that succeed.
Organisation and drive by local people, both on and off the field, mixed with a strong culture can lead to big results on the field, but also to potentially more recruits in the future.
While I admit having limited experience at a young age (24), I have the uniqueness of having been a paid player for the last three years at York Roos Football Club and a coach for one.
I have also played for Lake King and Kukerin/Dumbleyung in the past and I have a large number of mates playing or involved in country footy throughout the State.
In my position at Farm Weekly I speak to a range of farmers and agribusiness people and quite often the conversation will come back to - “How’s the footy going?”
It is obviously getting harder and harder in the country with dwindling populations and lack of finance and I am unsure of what the solution is.
At the end of the day every league is different.
Bigger leagues such as South West Football
League and Great Northern Football League have a larger population to work with, but also a larger budget, meaning clubs can use that money to lure more quality players, but this also blows the financial expectations of some players out of the water.
Some players who are probably worth $150 a game are asking for $350 as a result.
Again, I remind people this is an opinion piece and these are my own thoughts.
Personally, I see the introduction of the points system as a very good way to even up not only individual competitions but a great way to even up the spread of some of WA’s best football talent across other leagues as well.
But the number of points to which sides should be allocated still needs to be assessed and is being worked through in Central Midlands Coastal Football League and SWFL.
New WACFL general manager Joe Georgiades recently alluded to possible changes via mergers of clubs and leagues in the near future, particularly in the Eastern Wheatbelt, but if that happens the issue of travel becomes even more significant.
Some leagues are already travelling 250-300 kilometres for games which has an impact on the social side of competitions.
Lifting that to 350km for some games just makes it all that bit harder.
Mr Georgiades also alluded to a possible changing of league rules by playing 16-a-side like they do in the Lower South West Football League and by all reports this seems to be a huge success.
That is also a possible option, in particular for those Eastern Wheatbelt towns.
Coming from Lake King, obviously a town which is not blessed with a large population, in the Ravensthorpe and Districts Football Association (RDFA), I pushed a number of years ago for a change to either merge the three-team association, where everybody makes the finals no matter the season result, or for the Lakes Raiders to make the move to merge with Newdegate to join a stronger league.
But I was open to suggestions on how to change the league, or improve the club.
My personal view was a lack of future for a three-team competition.
At the time, when I was 18 in fact, I pushed for the move wanting quality football and quality junior sports as well.
Long story short, the move didn’t happen. The club and the association chose to continue down the three-team league with the hope of a new mining team starting up.
That didn’t happen.
Now the RDFA has gone to 12-a-side football - when it gets that many.
But for an association that far from a major centre such as Perth, Albany or even 250km from Esperance, it was virtually impossible to attract young people or paid players to come and play 12-a-side games when finals were assured anyway.
You could play the last two games of the year and win a flag.
This is not an attack on the RDFA.
It made its decision but it certainly gives an insight as to what, particularly Eastern Wheatbelt clubs and leagues, should think about.
Overall the country football landscape is changing.
Understandably, there is a range of issues which need to be looked at but a ‘thinking outside the square’ type mentality and a local driver is needed in order for leagues and clubs to progress.
Obviously this is going to vary from league to league as they decide to do what is best for them, but the tools and the options presented by the WACFL so far are on the right track, but it is up to leagues to implement those options.
A lack of decision making and an attitude of “it will work itself out” is not the way forward and the tough decisions by individual clubs and associations need to be made sooner rather than later.