Pre Eagles / Crows... were the "smallest" VFL clubs bigger than the "biggest" SANFL or WAFL clubs?

Bunk Moreland

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This seemed like the best place to ask this question. And yes I realise it's probably provocative for some people, but I have no agenda here, I'm just surprised by what I've seen and would like to dig deeper.

In a recent discussion on the main board, I was trying to demonstrate where the VFL/SANFL/WAFL clubs were in 1986, and posted the average home crowds for each that year:

1 Carlton 35,431
2 Essendon 26,406
3 Collingwood 26,038
4 Sydney 25,847
5 North Melbourne 25,234
6 Richmond 24,656
7 Melbourne 22,532
8 Footscray 19,599
9 Hawthorn 18,320
10 Fitzroy 15,578
11 Geelong 15,319
12 St Kilda 15,214

13 Port Adelaide 12,455
14 Sturt 11,478
15 North Adelaide 10,012
16 West Adelaide 9,495
17 Central District 8,642
18 South Adelaide 8,289
19 West Torrens 7,893
20 Woodville 7,722
21 Glenelg 7,573
22 Norwood 7,083

23 Subiaco 6,962
24 East Fremantle 6,808
25 Perth 6,591
26 Claremont 6,401
27 West Perth 6,294
28 East Perth 6,086
29 South Fremantle 5,890
30 Swan Districts 5,808
It was suggested that the horse had probably bolted by then, so I did the same thing for 1980. Real state leagues then, two divisions of VFA, South were still in Melbourne.

VFL
SANFL
WAFL
VFA D1
VFA D2

1 Richmond 43,062
2 Collingwood 34,436
3 Essendon 32,981
4 Carlton 29,106
5 Geelong 25,713
6 Melbourne 23,544
7 Hawthorn 22,955
8 St. Kilda 22,040
9 North Melbourne 19,516
10 Footscray 17,782
11 Fitzroy 16,927
12 South Melbourne 16,849

13 Port Adelaide 14,114
14 Norwood 11,250

15 Swan Districts 11,150
16 Sturt 10,704
17 South Fremantle 9,827
18 Claremont 9,825

19 Glenelg 8,771
20 East Perth 8,704
21 West Perth 8,520

22 Central District 7,085
23 Subiaco 7,036
24 East Fremantle 6,727

25 South Adelaide 6,126
26 Sandringham 5,868
27 North Adelaide 5,811
28 Perth 5,688
29 West Adelaide 5,450
30 Preston 5,000
31 West Torrens 4,978
32 Port Melbourne 4,733
33 Frankston 4,667

34 Woodville 3,786
35 Dandenong 3,093
36 Werribee 2,863
37 Camberwell 2,860
38 Coburg 2,833
39 Williamstown 2,338
40 Oakleigh 2,150
41 Caulfield 2,122
42 Prahran 2,000
43 Geelong West 1,978
44 Brunswick 1,589

45 Yarraville 1,323
46 Mordialloc 1,244
47 Northcote 1,233
48 Waverley 1,156
49 Box Hill 883
50 Sunshine 606
Being well used to discussions about how WAFL/SANFL clubs could and should have joined "the big league", rather than some of the Vic clubs, I was surprised at the numbers. Were the cellar dwellers of the VFL actually bigger than WA / SA powerhouses?

So I ask the question, because obviously the crowds are only one element. Are their other measures available (financials, membership, etc) that would help to measure the relative size / resources of the bottom of the VFL vs the top of the SANFL / WAFL?

I guess the question is, were the smaller Vic clubs really just fortunate to be in the VFL/AFL, or were they genuinely better placed to be there than WA/SA clubs?
 

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Garlic muncher

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I can't produce financials and i am not originally a sandgroper, but a few of my kids are :), but from my living here for 20 odd years and going to WAFL games for about that length of time i reckon 5 clubs could have been big enough to join a expanded VFL or compete with them, albeit the lower ranked clubs in terms of crowds.

( not in order)

East Freo
South Freo
West Perth
East Perth
Swan Districts

The AFL has decimated the WAFL in terms of attendance.

The lower ranked VFL clubs benefited from the strength of the Collingwood and Carlton's of this world.

I might also point out that graph of attendances for the WAFL is weird, the highest drawing team of 1986 is about the least popular, just like the VFL there is quite a discrepancy between the popularity of teams, that graph is just so even between all teams it is weird. - is it quite frankly a socialists wet dream.
 

Established1870

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That's not the question. Try re-reading.
No I got the question and Port back then would've been more supported than the smaller VFL clubs. You can't make a proper survey to get accurate results from back then because there's too many things to confuse the statistics. Now we have statistics to go by and to again answer your question, no.
 

Kwality

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As a Subi member in 1986, the last year before the national comp kicked off & premiers that year, no one I knew seriously believed we could/should be going in to a national comp, sure we gave the Hawks a run in a VFL/WAFL premiers game, but only a few WAFL club diehards argued for anything but an Eagles style team - I couldn't ever follow say East Fremantle, ie the club I most respected, was too often in the finals, & whose fans expected & took success, a club that played it hard (check out how often kids drafted come thru the East Freo system).
Club membership was not the norm in those days in WA, more so in Vic - its a measure, not sure of its relevance as any sort of real indicator.

The VFL relied on WAFL support to get a WA club off the ground making it difficult for any individual club to successfully act alone - would have been a very rocky road if the VFL tried it.
 

Gigantor

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Interesting numbers.

Even by 1980, the VFL was considered the biggest comp but....a team like Port was easily a match for clubs like South, Footscray, etc.

Of course that's two different issues (size and support of the club versus the playing list).

It's all academic now. The AFL is huge now because the VFL bludgeoned the state leagues into submission (and the VFA for that matter).

Some sort of partnership between the three state leagues would never have worked. Someone needs to take control, and push through.

If you want evidence of what happens when powerful state bodies try and arrange things as a partnership, you need look no further than rugby union.

Interesting that back in the day, Yarraville was getting 1,300 in the 2nd division of the VFA, Williamstown 2,300 and Werribee 2,500.
 

Our Game

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I know that Footscray before the merger with Fitzroy was on in the late 1980s had a membership of between 4000 and 6000 only and the club was millions in debt. Even then over half were from the eastern suburbs.
 

Established1870

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By 1980 the best players were all going to Vic ( in general) by and large supporters of the WAFL and SANFL knew they were feeder leagues.
Talking to SANFL supporters, it took Port getting into the AFL to admit that the SANFL was a feeder league for most of them. Never underestimate the parochialism of Kick-a-Vic Souf Aussies.
 

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Prince Imperial

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Garlic muncher

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Memberships for all clubs was far smaller in those days. Geelong in '89 had 7k members.

http://footyindustry.com/files/afl/members/2016/AFlmembers1984-2016_aug13.png
Go back a few years, possibly the 1970's to get membership of Collingwood you had to be endorsed by another member, i assume it was like that for all the clubs.

The huge push for increased Membership numbers at VFL and AFL clubs is in the scheme of the length of the comp is relatively new.

My guess is that Graeme Samuel, a great businessman from the initial commission was the real architect of increasing membership at the clubs.
 

Garlic muncher

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Memberships for all clubs was far smaller in those days. Geelong in '89 had 7k members.

http://footyindustry.com/files/afl/members/2016/AFlmembers1984-2016_aug13.png
In those days those 6540 members were the actual people who wanted the club to take specific directions and would sit in the members stand, they were the people who would actively vote and campaign on football club issues, people who were interested in footy but not interested enough to become members would pay at the gate.
 

Barney_stinson

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Hard to say going purely on Alberton figures as the ground has as small capacity.

Could get 30,000 to H&A games at football park pre Crows.
Considering the record crowd is 22,738 in 1977 I find that hard to believe. Average crowds would have been between 15,000 and 18,000 any given Saturday.

Now, when you add the size of the population in South Australia compared to Victoria, Norwood, Port Adelaide and Glenelg would have been mid table in terms of supporters. They would have been bigger than Footsgray, St Kilda, Fitzroy.

However, memberships and season tickets were not over a huge thing in Adelaide. I supported the North Adelaide Football club all the way through the 1980's and I can never getting a season ticket or even membership once. I just rocked up and on big games, you judt turned up earlier for the reserves to get in.
 

SgtSchulz

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Considering the record crowd is 22,738 in 1977 I find that hard to believe. Average crowds would have been between 15,000 and 18,000 any given Saturday.

Now, when you add the size of the population in South Australia compared to Victoria, Norwood, Port Adelaide and Glenelg would have been mid table in terms of supporters. They would have been bigger than Footsgray, St Kilda, Fitzroy.

However, memberships and season tickets were not over a huge thing in Adelaide. I supported the North Adelaide Football club all the way through the 1980's and I can never getting a season ticket or even membership once. I just rocked up and on big games, you judt turned up earlier for the reserves to get in.
Port Adelaide home games at Football Park.
1990 Round 2 - 36,397
1981 Round 22 - 35,213
1983 Round 11 - 33,342
1985 Round 4 - 31,797
1977 Round 4 - 32,395
 

Bunk Moreland

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In those days those 6540 members were the actual people who wanted the club to take specific directions and would sit in the members stand, they were the people who would actively vote and campaign on football club issues, people who were interested in footy but not interested enough to become members would pay at the gate.
True

Members is those days were genuine members, more what we now know as (for example) "social club members" etc. full voting rights, etc.

The explodion in club memberships of the last 10-20 years is more just season-ticket holders. Most basic members don't have voting rights etc.
 

Silent Alarm

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The problem that the WAFL traditionally had was the relatively even spread in support.

So the angst that would've arose when some clubs were admitted to a national league would've been pretty notable. How do you really choose four clubs when quite often one who is successful (East Fremantle) might not have that many supporters? This evenness extends a little more to the fact that going off the 1980 cut off, even the stigmatised Perth won four flags in a row in the 60s. Other unsuccessful sides like Claremont also had years where they dominated, while Souths and East Perth tended to win one every so often to keep their numbers up. Subiaco were probably never ever a chance for promotion but they did go from 0-100 in a financial sense in the late 1980s.

At school I used to canvass kids about who they supported in the WAFL growing up. I was in the Claremont zone but they barely had a stranglehold. To this day I really don't think one or two clubs absolutely jump out as the dominantly supported one, like Port / Norwood or Collingwood / Carlton / Richmond / Essendon are. Reckon South Fremantle did well but they seem to be quieter than East Fremantle supporters, who seem to be mouthy and let everyone know – and they also seemed to gravitate towards the Eagles far more than Bullies fans did. Swans fans are really loyal and all the people I know who never adopted an AFL club or never cared about the AFL, they are all Swans. I think East Perth had rabid bogans but I don't really know too many who supported them. Never met a Subi fan before I became good mates with one. Haven't since.
 

Silent Alarm

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Considering the record crowd is 22,738 in 1977 I find that hard to believe. Average crowds would have been between 15,000 and 18,000 any given Saturday.

Now, when you add the size of the population in South Australia compared to Victoria, Norwood, Port Adelaide and Glenelg would have been mid table in terms of supporters. They would have been bigger than Footsgray, St Kilda, Fitzroy.

However, memberships and season tickets were not over a huge thing in Adelaide. I supported the North Adelaide Football club all the way through the 1980's and I can never getting a season ticket or even membership once. I just rocked up and on big games, you judt turned up earlier for the reserves to get in.
Same for the WAFL.
 
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