Actually, it’s the talk that’s back, and it’s provoking and evoking responses ranging from the bad smell / bad penny sigh of “Oh, no, not that again”, through the wariness of “Once bitten, twice shy” to the somewhat sceptical “Let’s hope they get it right this time”.
It’s talk of another whole-of-State Tasmanian senior football competition.
Is this, as the saying goes, ‘good for football’, or just one more ‘it seemed a good idea at the time’ ?
But first, some background to put this in the context of our unique demographics as the nation’s only decentralised State.
Although the mainland States have significant regional cities such as Geelong, Newcastle and the string of cities up the coast of Queensland, all of them are dominated by their capitals to a great or greater degree. For WA, SA and Victoria, the capital’s proportion1 of each State’s population is 74%, 74% and 71% respectively, for NSW it is 63%, and although for Queensland it is 46%, there is no other urban area big enough to challenge the dominance of Brisbane.
The effect is straightforward. Sydney-, Melbourne-, Brisbane-, Adelaide- and Perth-based politicians, bureaucrats, administrators, managers and CEOs can usually get away with a ‘What’s good for the capital is good for the State’ approach, and can shrug off any discontent from their regional and rural hinterland, although most are savvy enough to try to pretend otherwise: a sitting State premier lost government in November 1999 partly because he was, or was perceived to be, uncaring about his regional voters.
But here in Tasmania, according to the source cited above, Hobart has only 41% of the State’s population (but that depends on what ‘Hobart’ means). Allegations of ‘southern bias’ have to be taken seriously, and ‘the regionals’ have to be kept very much in the loop, so much so that sometimes this provokes counter-accusations of northern favouritism, in the way that a father umpiring his son’s match might ignore free kicks the boy deserved. Few mainland elections are lost because of alleged favouritism towards one or more of their larger ‘regional’ cities.
It’s the same in the politics of football. The traditional TFL (1908-1985) was capital based, as was, and still are, the WAFL and the SANFL, and as was the VFL and the VFA. None of the mainland leagues seriously claimed to comprise the whole of their States, nor were they expected to.
But here in this sceptred isle, demi-paradise, we had two other top-level football competitions, the Launceston-based NTFA (1886-1986) and the North West’s NWFU (1910-1986), complementing, if not rivalling, the TFL; uniquely, the premiers in each of our competitions played off for a State Premiership most years 1909-1978, and the result was not always a win for the capital city club2.
In what was definitely (seen as) ‘a good idea at the time’, senior Tasmanian football was united in a statewide competition for 15 years 1986-2000, generally known as the Statewide League. One reason often urged for its failure is that it was just an expansion of the southern-based TFL, and its history seems to bear this out. For its first eight seasons its clubs were 60% ex-TFL, and the North West and North could be said to have been under-represented; only in seasons 1994-1997 was there a more even south-north balance. Another criticism is that northern clubs won only three of the 15 premierships, but how much of that was due to lack of ability as distinct from ‘southern bias’ is too hard a question to look at here. (Observations, anyone ?)
But the biggest weakness of the Statewide TFL was the dilution of local rivalries in the expanded Home & Away roster. Hobart v North Hobart, Launceston v North Launceston and Burnie v Devonport meant immensely more at the North Hobart Oval, York Park and West Park/Devonport Oval respectively than a home match featuring a visiting far-off club ‘about whom we know nothing’, as some 1930s politician said about Danzig (which is even farther away). Besides, travelling 700km over Tasmania’s generally substandard roads for, say, a Burnie v Sandy Bay match was a challenge for even the most rabid barrackers.
The AFL can get away with this sort of thing at WA’s Subiaco, SA’s Football Park, Sydney’s SCG and Brisbane’s The Gabba because there’s enough local supporter mass to fill these stadiums, and there’s also enough fans of the traditional VFL clubs throughout the nation to supply some vocals for the visitors. But Glenorchy fans in Burnie and Devonport fans in Hobart could probably have been counted on an old-style timber-cutter’s hand.
So, how to go statewide again, but retain regional and local rivalries ?
The solution lies in the application and adaptation of the American conference arrangement grouping teams on a geographical basis. It evolved because of the vast distances there when setting up competitions stretching from sea to shining sea, enabling local teams to play most of their games against local rivals.3 All the North American Big Four, the NFL, the NHL, and NBA and MLB, use conference arrangements.
Here’s a conference arrangement applied to a whole-of-State 12-club league: six northern clubs in one conference, six southern clubs in the other, each club’s 11 opponents split five in its own conference and six in the other. Each club plays its five own-conference opponents three times (on a two-year cycle to even out home games) for 15 matches, and its six other-conference opponents once, for a further six (three at home and three away, also on a two-year cycle): total 21 matches. Each club’s supporters need travel out of their comfort zones only three times each H&A season.
(Maybe each conference could be named after a regional football Legend, rather than the very plainly geographical Northern and Southern - the Baldock Conference and the Hudson Conference looks fine, but perhaps it’d be even more appropriate to name them after truly local icons of the game, memorialising those who shone in the former regional competitions. Suggestions called for.)
The two conferences run their own separate ladders, with their H&A seasons culminating in two conference Finals Series, ending with two conference title games producing a southern conference winner and runner-up and a northern conference winner and runner-up; neither winner is yet a ‘Premier’, nor are the games which produced them grand finals. In the NFL, the two conference winners, who are called the NFC and the AFC Champions, meet in one of the world’s great sporting spectacles, the Superbowl.
But this arrangement, neat though it is, has a fatal flaw - in any given NFL season, the two competing Superbowl teams may not be the best two teams in the competition.
We, however, could make use of a quintessentially Australian arrangement to overcome this: the McIntyre Final Four4. Actually, three of them, two for the conference Finals Series, and the third for the ‘League’ Finals Series.
The top fours in our conferences play off in their own-conference McIntyre Final Fours to decide the two conference winners and the two conference runners-up, the plain term ‘winner’ being used here because customary Australian usage limits the term ‘Champion’ to teams undefeated throughout the premiership season5. (At this stage, therefore, two winners have something to write home about, but it’s not the ultimate prize - they’ve yet to earn that.
Next, the southern and northern winners and their runners-up now play-off in a ‘League’ McIntyre Final Four to find the League Premier, as follows.
The two winners meet in the League First Semi-final for a place in the League Grand Final, with the loser exercising the double chance in the League Preliminary Final; the two runners-up met in the League Second Semi-final for the other place in the Preliminary Final, with the loser’s season ending.
Therefore - and, dear readers, you might need paper and coloured pencils here, or adapt the table from the link below4 - the League’s Grand Final could feature:
(a) the two Conference Winners (as in the Superbowl); or
(b) a Conference Winner v a Conference Runner-up from different conferences; or
(c) a Conference Winner v a Conference Runner-up from the same conference. (Note that our ‘Tasmanian Bowl’ - a name, hopefully, never likely to find favour - must always include at least one Conference Winner.)
This local adaptation should give our League Grand Final a better chance of featuring the best brace of teams.
Now, for the last haggle - which clubs ?
For the southern conference, it seems a no-brainer to include those five current SFL Premier League clubs which are ex-TFL, namely, in order of TFL membership, North Hobart (1908), Glenorchy (as New Town 1919), Hobart (1945), and Sandy Bay and Clarence (both 1947).
The tricky bit is the sixth club.
There are at least four reasonable and logical choices, insofar as reason and logic get a say; three of these options involve one of the remaining SFL Premier League clubs:
(i) Brighton, as a NE-of-Hobart club parallelling New Norfolk’s NW location (it could be reckoned a second Eastern Shore club, too);
(ii) Kingborough/Kingston, which would be in a south-of-the-CBD relation to the Hobart and North Hobart FCs as Glenorchy is in the northern suburbs;
(iii) Lauderdale, giving the Eastern Shore a second club in addition to Clarence; or, taking a different tack,
(iv) revive and restore one of Tasmanian football’s great clubs, one which won 8 premierships in its 41 year TFL membership (1945-1985), including one in its second season, especially as it still has strongly competitive junior clubs. Bringing back Sandy Bay would rectify what many see as a great wrong in southern Tasmania’s football past, and as filling a gap in its present.
It’s even trickier up north. (Southern readers might be tempted to opine “Isn’t it always ?”)
Three Launceston clubs plus three on the Coast looks to be the most obvious set-up, and current NTFL clubs Launceston, South Launceston and the Northern Bombers (formerly North Launceston) neatly form the first threesome. But it’s far trickier deciding the three on the Coast from among Wynyard, Smithton and Burnie in the far NW, and Penguin, Ulverstone, Latrobe and the two Devonport clubs.
Perhaps population6 might be a criterion, so here are some stats: first the smaller centres - Ulverstone over 9500, Wynyard about 5000, and Smithton, Penguin and Latrobe all about 3000; the two much larger centres are Burnie about 21000 and Devonport about 26000 (which currently has two NTFL clubs); Tourism Tasmania’s latest Fact Sheet7 gives Launceston’s population as 98000.
If the criterion is recent NTFL premiership success 1987-2006, then Ulverstone with 8, and Burnie with 6, are shoe-ins, while the three Launceston clubs would be struggling with only three flags among them in their combined 32 completed seasons, a contrast complicated by their 25-season combined participation in the former Statewide TFL.
Then there’s the ‘issue’ of what to call this 21st century whole-of-State football competition . . .
These are definitely ‘Don’t go there’ zones for amateur incomers - comments and suggestions, thanks.
3 In fact, the NFL’s two conferences are now nationwide; it’s the divisional system that caters for local rivalries; Wikipedia gives a clear outline.
5 The NTFL’s Northern Bombers had the chance to earn this appellation in 2003, but fell at the last hurdle - the Grand Final: what a bummer ! Earlier, in the AFL, Essendon came close through winning all but one H&A game in 2000; the first of Collingwood’s famous 1927-1930 consecutive Premiership teams dropped just one game, a final, for a 19-1 season; there are probably instances among the records in the TFL, the NTFA and the NWFU - info needed from the knowledgeable.
6 Up-to-date population stats seem elusive and the expected sources seemed opaque; two Wikipedia sites were the most readily accessible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Cities_in_Tasmania and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Towns_in_Tasmania ;
PS: a version of this article also appears in http://www.fullpointsfooty.net/essays_and_reviews.htm
Leonard Colquhoun 7248
IT’S BACK …