Australia’s richest footrace Stawell Gift on hold drawing a pall over busy Easter business
This autumn, for the first time since World War II, footy fields across Victoria will be empty on Saturdays.
- All country clubs will take a hit from the postponement, but some will be hit harder than others
- Most rely on the support of local businesses that may also be impacted by the coronavirus crisis
- Umpires, too, will be cooling their heels instead of blowing their whistles, with some losing an income stream
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all aspects of life, including sport, with the AFL and state football bodies strongly recommending leagues suspend play until May 31.
But for some regional clubs already struggling to survive, the coronavirus-induced shutdown could be their death knell, especially if it drags out beyond June.
Terang-Mortlake Football Netball Club president David Roberts said all clubs would take a hit from the postponement but that some would be hit harder than others.
“I’m a bit worried for football in general. A lot of your smaller community-type clubs will struggle,” he said.
Clubs are thinking of how to keep players fit for when they get back on the field. (ABC Grandstand: Joel Peterson)
“If you have a year off footy, those blokes that are maybe helping out in the reserves, they’ll find something else to do on their weekends.
“In 12 months’ time, they might say: ‘Geez, last year I went fishing every Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it, why should I play footy again?’
“It will be interesting to see the ramifications long term — a lot of those things we won’t know for another 12 months, 18 months, two years.”
Join in the chorus
Roberts said Terang-Mortlake, which played in the Hampden league in south-west Victoria, was well-placed to survive the shutdown, but the club and its hometowns would be impacted financially and socially in the short term.
“We get 150 people [to the clubrooms] for tea on a Thursday night to read the sides out, have a meal,” he said.
The weekly gatherings generate income for the club and the local businesses that provide the food.
It’s also a popular social event, as is going to the footy on a Saturday.
“Pensioners in the town, that’s their get out every Saturday, to go to the footy,” Roberts said.
Hear our mighty roar
Shepparton East Football Netball Club president Mark Frost told The Conversation Hour that clubs in a financially fragile position would struggle because they relied on the support of local businesses and residents.
“It has shaken all country footy,” he said.
“Thursday-night dinners … sponsorship … Saturday [revenue] from your canteen and your gates — that’s all income which keeps your clubs afloat.
“A number of businesses out there at the moment have got a lot of concerns and that’s where a lot of our money comes in from.”
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
And then there’s the health and fitness of footballers and netballers to consider.
“Our committee will come up with a plan on how to minimise the impact of getting someone testing positive, to safeguard the welfare of our players and the people around our players,” said John Brunt, president of the Maffra Football Netball Club.
“We must keep our footballers in some sort of shape to do justice for the club when they’re expected to play again.
“Our thirds were quite angry when they were told they wouldn’t be able to train — everyone wants to keep everyone else safe, everybody is trying to do the right thing, but they also want to play football.”
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Don’t forget the umpires
Footy and netball wouldn’t exist without the umpires, who will also be cooling their heels instead of blowing their whistles.
“Umpiring is two days a week; I’d say 60 per cent of my income comes from umpiring during the winter,” Shannon Darmuc said.
“I lose my job at the surf club during the winter because it’s very quiet, and even at the caravan park, my days cut back significantly to just one, so my life is umpiring.
“Now that they’ve postponed the season, it’s going to be tough.”
The postponement means umpires like Shannon Darmuc will have one less income stream. (Supplied)
While the 22-year-old lived with his parents, he said he knew many young people who would be hit hard by the postponement.
“I’ve got a bit saved up, but I’ll be chewing through that quickly, I reckon.”
Darmuc also volunteers with two groups also affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I help out at St Vinnies in the shop, also organising kids camps, ” he said.
“I’m not really sure what I’m going to do when everything’s cancelled, because that’s literally my whole life — umpiring and helping other people — and now I can’t do either.”
Dan Swallow, secretary of the Latrobe Valley Umpires Association, said umpires would keep up their training in isolation.