THE playing future of the Frankston Football Club hinges on a must-win presentation to AFL chiefs on 30 June.
That deadline is concentrating the mind of new Dolphins general manager Gary Buckenara as he plots the club’s course back into VFL ranks.
A successful outcome will help the club get its playing licence back for next year after being forced to sit out the 2017 season.
Crippling pokies-related debts and an under-utilised function centre brought the 1887 club to its knees and provided a huge wake-up call to sporting clubs relying on gaming income for their survival. It is believed the Dolphins paid $30,000-$40,000 too much for each of their 29 under-used pokies machines and set the seeds for a disastrous chain of events.
“Paying too much for the machines would have been OK if we had the patronage,” Buckenara said.
“If we had paid less for the machines we would have been making more money, but patronage was not enough to cover loan repayments.”
Accumulated debts mounted until the club owed $1.5 million, making player and staff payments difficult. This lack of cash flow inhibited promotion of the new function centre, undermining both sources of income.
“We didn’t have the funds to promote the centre as we should have. It’s a fantastic venue but because we didn’t have the money to pay a manager and had a skeleton staff from the football club running it, it was just sitting there.
“So many people didn’t even know it existed.”
But things are looking up for the club which is desperate to resurrect itself and become the powerhouse for football it has previously been.
“A manager has been appointed and we see a successful future relies on getting the Functions by the Bay centre running successfully,” Buckenara said.
The Dolphins debt has been brought down to a more manageable $410,000 over four years “which gives us a fighting chance”.
The club is aiming for 1000 members by the time of the AFL presentation – up from 350 now – which he believes would be the largest of any VFL club. “That would give us something to crow about and would certainly turn heads,” Buckenara said.
He said “a lot” of commitments from sponsors for 2018 depended on getting the playing licence renewed, and that the Frankston Council had approved a naming rights sponsor for Frankston Park to be announced on 31 April.
“We offer fantastic opportunities for sponsors and anyone can get their name linked to the club.” He hinted that Frankston-based South East Water would be an ideal fit, given its presence in the town and links to supporters.
Buckenara, who lives at Rosebud, said the club’s strengths were based on having a stable nine-member board, with AFL life member and long-time football administrator Ian Dicker, of Mt Eliza, acting as an advisor. “We have put the past behind us and are going forward as a new entity,” he said.
He said the Frankston Dolphins were the only standalone or non-aligned VFL club and offered an important gateway for young players – especially from Gippsland and the Mornington Peninsula – to enter AFL ranks from their local clubs.
“The chances of young players getting a game each week with us is much greater than at the aligned clubs, such as Sandringham or Casey; we offer 23 positions each week.”
“We have got all of the Mornington Peninsula and south-east Victoria – it’s a huge catchment but we will have to fight hard for it,” he said.
“Kids playing junior footy, say in Frankston or the Mornington Peninsula, can go on to play for the Dandenong Stingrays but, after that, there needs to be an elite level of football – which we say is the Dolphins.
“That will be part of our presentation to the AFL.”
Buckenara said the south-east region of Victoria had the highest football participation rate in Australia. He said the Dolphins had produced 240 VFL/AFL players – more than any other club. Those to have gone on to become big names include John Coleman, Leigh Matthews and Dermot Brereton, as well as Bulldog’s premiership coach Luke Beveridge and players Matthew Boyd and Tory Dickson, Tiger Sam Lloyd and Essendon’s Mark Baguley and Michael Hibberd.