WITH less than three months until it becomes a stand-alone VFL club, outgoing Bendigo Gold chairman Peter Lodewijks believes the building blocks are falling into place for a successful transition.
After 10 years aligned with AFL club Essendon, the Gold and Bombers will sever ties at the end of this VFL season and each field stand-alone teams from next year.
It will be Bendigo’s second crack at the stand-alone VFL model following the Bendigo Diggers, who competed from 1998 to 2002 and won just seven of 95 games before aligning with Essendon to form the Bendigo Bombers, and now the Bendigo Gold.
While he no longer holds an official position with the Gold after last week handing over the chairman’s role to Tim Dickson, Lodewijks is confident that the club will be in a position to hit the ground running from the start of October once the Bendigo-Essendon alignment ends.
“I think we’re definitely on track,” Lodewijks said.
“From a player perspective, Aussie (Jones, coach) started on that a month ago and we’d think that when we start training in November, there will be 60 or 70 players turn up.
“I know Aussie is doing all the right things to make that happen, so we’re comfortable with how that side of it is going.
“From a commercial perspective, there’s constant work to be done, but we’re already talking to prospective sponsors now about next year.
“To be honest, I don’t think we could be in a better spot to hit the ground running come October when we go stand-alone.”
Building a competitive list of 35 and securing the sponsorship dollars to finance a stand-alone team are the two biggest challenges confronting the Gold, along with building a strong central Victorian supporter base.
Finances – in particular – are going to be critical, with estimates putting the cost of running the club next year at about $600,000.
The Gold are well down the path of their sponsorship targets, with 60 per cent of what they require already secured, with significant support from the Bendigo Bank.
“The bulk of what we’ve secured so far has been through the Bendigo Bank, whose support has been fantastic,” Lodewijks said.
“But in saying that, we’ve got seven or eight other proposals that are being considered at the moment, and we’re not talking $2000 type sponsors, they are significant figures.
“So we’re confident we will land two or three of those as well.”
The need for significant sponsorship support is compounded by the Gold’s lack of a home base, which affects their ability to fundraise.
The Gold plays their home games at Bendigo’s Queen Elizabeth Oval, but nothing more.
Other than playing games at the QEO, the Gold has no other attachment to the ground, despite Bendigo having now had a VFL team for 15 years.
The club has no social rooms with which to hold after-match and social functions and its nomadic existence is best shown by the numerous administration bases it has been shunted to and from.
Throughout Bendigo’s VFL existence as the Diggers, Bombers and Gold, the club has used offices in Golden Square, Flora Hill, had a part-time base at Poyser Motors in Epsom, and even been based out of Lodewijks’ home, before moving to the Bendigo Media Centre last year.
“We need a home base, otherwise this club will always remain nomadic in nature and have no ability to grow and foster a culture,” Lodewijks said.
“You look at our honour board... we’ve got it displayed on our website, but we’ve got nowhere to physically hang one.
“If you go to North Ballarat, you see photos hanging up of every player who has been drafted.
“We’ve had a few players drafted, but we’ve got nowhere to hang our photos of them.
“Basically, all we can do at the moment is just fundraise during match hours.
“What would be ideal is somewhere we can engage with our supporters and community, but also provides alternative fundraising avenues, rather than just relying on sponsorship and match-day raffles, canteen and bar sales and gate takings.
“Obviously, the ideal location for that facility would be where we play our games in Bendigo, and that’s the QEO.”
Added new chairman Dickson: “Everyone needs a home... it’s hard to engage a supporter base if we don’t have a home.
“Part of having an identity is actually having a home and somewhere to hang club memorabilia and for the supporter base to go back to after a game.”
On-field, the Gold took a major step forward in its preparations for 2013 with last month’s appointment of former St Kilda player Austinn Jones as coach for the next two years.
A mandate of the Gold’s successful applicant was the coach must live in Bendigo.
The last time Bendigo’s VFL coach lived in Bendigo was in 2006 when Matthew Knights was in charge of the then Bendigo Bombers.
However, Knights moved to Melbourne in 2007 to share his VFL role with that as Essendon’s development coach.
Since then Knights’ successors in Adrian Hickmott, Shannon Grant and Hayden Skipworth have all been based in Melbourne, robbing the club of the Bendigo-based figurehead a coach provides.
With the VFL the next level down from the AFL and the Gold being able to guarantee 22 – sometimes 23 spots – every week as a stand-alone team, Lodewijks is confident Jones will have no shortage of players vying for a place on the list over summer.
“From what I’ve been told the quality is around and there’s a lot of guys interested,” Lodewijks said.
“Aussie is looking to build a list by getting young guys in to stick around for a few years and develop.
“We’ve got to be realistic about next year... we’re not going to go straight to the top of the ladder.
“But we don’t want to be like Frankston or the Diggers of the past where you lose by a lot.
“So it’s about setting some realistic targets where we win a few games, but don’t lose games by too much, either.
“If we’re competitive next year, we can then build on that in year two and year three once the players are starting to grow.”
The Gold are also mindful of finding a niche in the Bendigo football community, with their preferred option at this stage to make Friday night home games their timeslot.
“We showed against Geelong earlier in the season that it can work,” Lodewijks said.
“In the five years I’ve been involved with the club that’s been the best game-day experience we’ve had, and although we got flogged, it was great to see the buzz of a big crowd there.
“We need a bit of luck with the weather, and some help from the VFL with getting the right clubs up here like a Collingwood, Geelong and Essendon, but we think it can work.
“It’s an exciting time for the club going stand-alone next year.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done, but we’re progressing well and we firmly believe that when the time comes to end the alignment with Essendon, we’ll be well placed to make a real go of it on our own.”
Meanwhile, the Gold’s 2012 season continues tomorrow with a home game against Sandringham at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
The Gold is well positioned for a tilt at the finals, with the side sitting fifth on the ladder with an 8-5 record and having won six of its past seven games.