OPINION: The time is now to rally around SANFL strugglers West Adelaide

West Adelaide coach Brad Gotch with his side in 2021.
West Adelaide coach Brad Gotch with his side in 2021. (Image: West Adelaide FC)

One bad game by no means marks the death of a club. What a handful of unwanted records tumbling on one day, a potential third wooden spoon in a row and a gloomy club statement do make for, however, is a loud and clear “help” from West Adelaide.

I love SANFL football and I always have.

It stems from trudging along to suburban Adelaide ovals as a seven-year-old and watching iconic personalities and even more iconic ability run around whilst being so close to the action. It was the likes of three time Magarey Medallist Jimmy Allan and three time Ken Farmer Medallist Brant Chambers then, and now it’s Glenelg’s Liam McBean and Norwood’s Mitch Grigg who set the stage alight.

And whilst everyone is a fan of their own club, every SANFL supporter wants to see the league thrive. That only happens when all ten clubs are playing a brand of football that they themselves are proud of. 

Last Saturday against Sturt, West Adelaide registered 0.6. It was the lowest SANFL league score since Norwood finished with 0.5 against Port Adelaide in 1909, it was the first time since 1913 that a SANFL league team had failed to score a goal and it was the Bloods’ lowest score since 1901 – 120 years ago.

You don’t need to be a genius to recognise that this result is shattering. It’s heartbreaking.

West Adelaide is a proud club, first playing league footy in 1897, winning nine premierships since then and producing a myriad of stars at the highest level. But this week is perhaps the lowest they’ve ever been, and it’s agonising.

The club released a statement on Monday apologising “unreservedly” to their members, sponsors and supporters for their performance on the weekend. 

“We do not intend to detract from the efforts of the Sturt Football Club as they clearly showed superior skill and endeavour on the day,” it read. 

“However, our performance was well below the standard expected of a team representing the West Adelaide Football Club.”

Currently led by former South Adelaide mentor Brad Gotch and captain Tom Keough, the Bloods started the season by taking it all the way up to minor premier Glenelg and just falling short, but have since then managed just two wins against Norwood and Central District. 

“It is understandable that members and supporters are upset and disappointed at the result and those feelings are shared by the board, the coaches, staff and volunteers and everyone who represents the West Adelaide Football Club,” the statement signed by club President Murray Forbes and Football Director Derek Bonner continued. 

“The players, coaches and staff are working hard to take the club forward and we must show them out unconditional support.”

Sturt’s Casey Voss is chased by West Adelaide’s Hugh Haysman in their round 16 SANFL clash. (Image: Sturt FC)

Just six years ago this club won the premiership under the guidance of coach Mark Mickan, upsetting the heavily fancied Eagles on grand final day. A year later and they finish bottom of the premiership table. Now in 2021, they’re going to find it mighty hard to get out of the cellar again, this time destined for the wooden spoon for the third year in a row. 

You attend a West Adelaide game and you see supporters who have stood on the terraces for decades. They’ve seen the likes of Adam Cooney, Dominic Cassisi, Hamish Hartlett, Izak Rankine, Mark Ricciuto and more come through the doors before making their mark in the AFL.

And ask any of those supporters to regale you with stories of those players who did their best work at Richmond Oval (now Hisense Stadium) too, and they’ll divulge for twenty minutes about the determination and drive of Neil Kerley or the brilliance of Grant Fielke. 

Just recently, their women’s football program has been an exceptional outlet for productivity and showcasing the best talent in the country. They reached the Grand Final this year, and have produced the likes of sisters Hannah Button and Rachelle Martin, who now ply their trade in the AFLW.

But right now, 124 years of the good and the bad looks incredibly small in the rear-view mirror, and an understanding of what comes next is incredibly vital. 

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As long-time SANFL commentator and expert Chris Kendall said to West Adelaide supporters when wrapping up the SANFL Digital Pass’ coverage of the match on Saturday, “your team will never be this bad again.”

“This is a proud club here at West Adelaide, and those 21 players out there are hurting desperately, they had their arms around each other,” he said. 

“Today was a very dark day for the West Adelaide Football Club, but it won’t be this bad again; get behind your club, because you really need to at a time like this. 

“I’m not a West Adelaide supporter, but my heart is really breaking watching this. The SANFL needs a really strong competition and something like this is just very hard to see, no question about that.”

It is a sentiment that anyone who cares about the future and integrity of the SANFL can agree with, because every supporter would have undoubtedly felt pain like this before. 

Take for example in January of 2013, when my club Sturt were almost forced to shut their doors for good due to financial strife. Supporters rallied, plans were put in place and within five years the club had won back-to-back premierships. 

All SANFL clubs battled hard to keep afloat when the COVID-19 pandemic took a hold in 2020, and with the nature of state league football being the way it is, we could’ve guessed that a challenge wouldn’t be too far around the next corner. 

No club is immune to their troughs, they’re part and parcel when it comes to having peaks (such as a premiership). But it is how they respond, that is important. 

Let’s not forget, there is no prize in finishing last in the SANFL, you don’t get a first round draft pick. At best you may get the certainty of opening the doors come the new year. 

Whilst we can be assured players, coaches, staff, volunteers and the board are doing everything they can to keep West Adelaide on the right track, it is up to the fans – both West Adelaide and non-Bloods supporters – to help this club belong. 

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