Bendigo Gold chairman Tim Dickson and coach Aussie Jones gaze into their crystal ball and outline the VFL club's future.
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
AT the end of July, Bendigo Football Club chairman Tim Dickson announced the Gold’s future was in jeopardy.
In a last-ditch attempt to establish a stand-alone Victorian Football League club in Bendigo, Dickson threw the Gold’s future into the hands of the community, council and businesses.
Substantially increased support was needed, or the club would hand back its VFL licence.
The Gold stared into the abyss during its eight-week survival campaign.
It plunged to as low as a 10 per cent chance of playing next season, before Bendigo rallied and pulled the club back from the brink.
But how did the Gold come to be in such a desperate state?
“Looking back, not being involved, it appears that the Diggers (1998-2002) got themselves into some financial issues,” Dickson said.
“I certainly don’t want to throw spears because I don’t know the ins and outs, but I think there was one portion of living above their means.
“The way out at that stage was to create and alignment with Essendon (in 2003).
“It meant there wasn’t a strong reliance on work away from on-field, because it was basically funded by Essendon.
“When we went stand-alone (last year) that funding ceased, but there were a lot of costs incurred on the club that weren’t there under the Essendon alignment.”
WHAT LESSONS MUST THE CLUB LEARN FROM ITS PAST?
FINANCIAL battles tells only part of the tale of the Bendigo Football Club’s history.
A struggling team, a disengaged community, problems with a QEO co-tenant and too few opportunities for local players are some of the issues the club has faced.
When announcing the Gold’s survival, Dickson hailed a new era for the club.
So how has the Gold learned from the past?
“The stand-alone model, inherently, it is a hard slog,” Dickson said.
“However, the teams that have done well in the VFL have got significant revenue streams off-field.
“What we’ve done (with the survival campaign) puts us in a realm far and above most other VFL clubs.
“We’re a long way to achieving our forecast for next year and we’re six months out from the first bounce.
“What that allows us to do now is spend some time identifying those off-field revenue streams.”
Better community engagement, player pathways and dealings with sponsors are key to the Gold’s sustainability.
“We believe that this model we’ve got needs to be a community model,” Dickson said.
“We need to engage the community far and above what any other VFL club does and we’ve started that this year.
“The second thing is we need a pathway for local guys here, but we’re also a pathway for guys from outside the region.
“It’s very hard for me not to drive the wedge in, but I know from when I took over the work off-field around sponsorship servicing - that’s been one of the criticisms from around Diggers days.
“I’ve got my own businesses and I understand we need to give more back to sponsors and that’s what we’ll be doing.”
WHAT IS THE CLUB DOING TO SECURE A PERMANENT HOME?
A new opportunity could see the Gold move into South Bendigo’s clubrooms at the QEO.
For the first time in the BFC’s 16-season history, it would have a home.
But before anything happens South needs the green light from council for its desired move to Harry Trott Oval in Kennington.
“I can say we’ve spoken with South, not at length, and we’ve spoken to council about it,” Dickson said.
“There’s a fairly large plan and there’s a lot of stakeholders that need to be satisfied out of this.
“The one thing is people I talk to that are across this is we are in people’s plans, we are one of the dominos, but there’s a lot of dominos that need to fall.”
HOW COMPETITIVE WILL THE GOLD BE NEXT YEAR?
A WINLESS season doesn’t sum up some of the Gold’s better performances in 2013, but three new record losses gave the club’s detractors plenty of ammunition.
Simply put, it can’t happen again.
So what can the public expect from the Gold next season?
“We have to learn from what we did last year,” coach Aussie Jones said.
“I’m happy for expectations to lift, but we need to be balanced about them as well.
“We’re not going to spend up massive next year, it’s a gradual improvement.
“I don’t want people out there thinking we’re going to win 10 or 12 games next year, three or four would be nice.”
Sustainability is Dickson’s buzzword.
He knows Bendigo hungers for a successful VFL side, and so do the people within the club, but Dickson cautions that improvement needs to be built brick-by-brick.
“You don’t go from where we have been this year to playing finals or winning a grand final in one year without putting a whole heap of pressure on your financial state,” Dickson said.
WHAT WILL THE SQUAD LOOK LIKE NEXT SEASON?
“IT will actually look pretty similar to this year,” Jones said.
“We’ll probably average 12 months older in terms of the guys we’ve got that will stay on, but also the guys we recruit we’ll go a little bit older – where we can.
“We’ll be a little bit older, a little bigger and a little bit stronger, but the make-up will be pretty similar I reckon – about two-thirds (based) in Bendigo.
“We’re talking to some big midfielders.
"We’re hopeful of signing a couple of big blokes from Queensland as well.”
WHY DOESN’T THE GOLD SIGN A MARQUEE PLAYER?
MANY people believe signing a big name player would give the Gold credibility, so why doesn’t the club chase retiring or de-listed AFL stars?
“Everyone wants us to get a marquee, but what people don’t realise is that a marquee for us – a real big marquee – will probably be 30 per cent of our salary cap gone in one hit and I don’t like that as a coach,” says Jones.
“I think it would be nice to get three or four Alik Magin types (ex-Gold Coast Sun who won the VFL coaches player of the year) to put a bit more depth in the list.
“I’m being very specific with guys that have come off an AFL list and there’s only two guys that have come off an AFL list that we can attract or offer something."
One of those players was ex-Carlton and Richmond forward Andrew Collins, who was announced as Bridgewater's coach for next season on Friday.
The other is Kerang's tall defender Troy Davis.
“He’s come off Melbourne’s list, so for someone like that, he’s someone from the region and we can offer him senior VFL footy every week," Jones said.
“There’s still a few de-listings to come and we’ll keep an eye on them.
“(We) might get a couple of big brutes or a couple of indigenous kids down from the Northern Territory.
“It might not be marquees, but we’ll unleash a few hopefully that people come up on a Friday night and come back just to watch some of the talent.”
WHY AREN’T THEIR MORE BFNL PLAYERS IN THE SQUAD?
“A LOT of that’s out of our control,” said Jones.
“I probably spoke to somewhere between 40 and 50 players in the Bendigo league last year that didn’t come in, for whatever reason.
“Some guys love their cash, some guys can’t give that commitment to VFL footy.
“And other young guys that do make the commitment love it and thrive in an elite environment.
“Again, we’ll target a lot of guys in BFL footy.
“I think everyone knows the names that we should be talking to, but we’ll go for younger guys.
“It will be these young guys that are emerging.
“The guys that have played inter-league footy or have played really good Bendigo footy that I’ve seen first hand that have got the scope to play VFL footy.
“I’d love to give guys in the Bendigo league, outside of our big names, the first opportunity to play VFL footy, but they’ve got to be the right sort of characters as well.
“They’ve got to want to make that commitment.
“Some guys are quite happy playing local footy.”
APART FROM WINS, HOW WILL YOU GAUGE SQUAD SUCCESS?
“WE want to develop footballers and that happened this year, we saw so many guys playing out of their skin and improving,” Jones said.
“We (also) want to get players drafted.
“All off-season it has been ‘how can we get Alik onto an AFL list?’.
“It hasn’t been that selfish view of if we lose Alik that’s something we need to replace.
“If we can get Alik drafted and then one or two on top of that that’s huge for our club.
“There’s a lot of guys not only in this region, but outside the region, that are probably good enough to play AFL footy – they just need the right direction.
“If we get one or two (drafted) those guys will see us as a fantastic opportunity and will come in for their opportunity to be drafted.”
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE CLUB IN FIVE YEARS’ TIME?
THE Gold wants to be a successful club on and off the field within five years.
That means aspiring to play finals and establishing a VFL presence as part of the central Victorian football landscape.
“If we continue to improve in the way that we envisage we should then we should be ultra-competitive, but a lot of things can change,” Dickson said.
“From a financial viewpoint (we want to be) a sustainable club where our reliance on sponsors and gate receipts is alleviated a little bit by off-field revenue streams.
“One thing that is very important to us is the culture of our club.
“In five years’ time where our club is at, is one being very competitive, but also having a culture within our club that is conducive to all stakeholders.
“Off-field we understand that we need to look like a real football club out of this too.
“We want off-field people to want to be involved, families want to be involved.
“I’d like to think our culture would be the envy of all football clubs in five years’ time.”
Dickson believes this is the club’s last chance to get it right.
However, he’s been heartened by the response to the club’s survival campaign.
“Fortunately for us, the overwhelming majority of people want a VFL presence here,” he said.
“For those that don’t, I’d like to thank them for their contribution over the eight weeks.
“But they need to get used to the fact that we’re around, that conversation is over now.
“If they still don’t believe we should be around, the simple fact is we are.
“We’ve got a lot of relationships we need to rebuild and we will rebuild those.
“That’s no criticism of anyone working at the club in the past or anyone that’s been here before.
“We need to give the community a reason to get behind us.
“They’ve come out and supported us, now we need to repay that.”