Tasmania has launched its final push to be awarded the 19th AFL club, with coaching great Alastair Clarkson declaring “it’s just wrong” the Aussie rules heartland state doesn’t have one yet.
The ‘Last Push To Play’ ad campaign, launched on AFL 360 and to begin airing from Saturday, is centered around the Tasmanian “spirit” and how the AFL “will never be truly complete” without a club there. It shows a young girl running around the state with a footy, joined at times by past and present Tassie AFL players.
Framing the current push as “the last in our lifetime, perhaps the last ever” for a team, it asks supporters to add their names to a list to show their support at BelieveTasmanian.com.au. The site will be fully online from Saturday.
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An excited Jack Riewoldt, after watching the ad, declared he was “ready to run out there for the map”.
A decision on whether to hand Tasmania the 19th license will be made in August. The AFL Commission will make the call but outgoing league CEO Gill McLachlan has said a clear majority of the clubs must also be on board.
“We’re at the pointy end of a long journey, and that’s clearly a really emotive piece, but it’s a critical piece for all Tasmanians to really leave no stone unturned now in this final push for getting a team,” Tasmanian task force member and St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy’s AFL 360.
“As the end of the video says, this is the last push, perhaps in our lifetime, perhaps ever, because if it doesn’t happen now it probably never will.”
Legendary Hawthorn coach Clarkson, who is weighing up whether to return to AFL coaching in 2023, is part of the task force and said the ad reminded him of growing up in the similar footy heartland of Victoria.
Tasmania and the Northern Territory are often suggested as homes of future AFL clubs, given they are traditional Aussie rules states, but the economics – and a preference to expand into larger Queensland and New South Wales markets by previous AFL administrations – have stopped them from joining the league.
The Apple Isle has a stronger case based on population – Darwin, with a population less than half of Geelong, makes the NT case somewhat weaker – while some critics have claimed the AFL talent pool cannot support 20 clubs, despite Australia’s population having grown by eight million between the introduction of 16 teams, and where we sit today with 18.
“It (the ad) just reminded me of, albeit in Victoria, of doing the exact same thing as a kid,” Clarkson said on AFL 360.
“You see the footage of that little girl kicking the footy on that oval – I’m surprised (Grant) Birch (all) didn’t do a calf running on that bridge – and it just reminds me so much of my childhood.
“And it doesn’t matter where it is in Australia, it’s our national game. And we’ve got a heartland in Tasmania that’s not featuring in our national game. It’s just wrong. It’s just wrong, and we’ve got to do something about it.
“We’ve perhaps two or three times over the last 20 years tried to get a team into the competition and the wisdom of the AFL chose not to give us the chance to get in.
“This is the most serious push, but you’re (Nick Riewoldt) right, the moment is right now but we need a rally of the Tasmanian people. If you’re keen about seeing a Tassie team, get your name on the books. “
During his coaching hiatus, Clarkson has spent time in the US with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, who he believes have similarities to the proposed Tasmanian club.
Green Bay, a town of just over 100,000 people in Wisconsin near the Canadian border, is easily the smallest host of a major American pro sports team (though the larger city of Milwaukee, 180km south, makes it a bigger market than some others).
In modern times a team would never be placed in a town like Green Bay – it is the NFL’s third-oldest team, dating back to 1919, and a history of success has helped cement its place in the league – but overcoming its problems makes it a model for Tassie, according to Clarkson.
“You wouldn’t believe the synergies between the whole culture of that area in Wisconsin, and Green Bay, it’s just so similar,” he said on Fox Footy.
“They’ve got a little bit more snow than Tassie’s got, but the culture of the people, they’re blue collar, they’re passionate for their sport, particularly football.
“And they’ve also got an ownership model, or an owner’s equity model, that sits very, very comfortably with what we want to do down in Tasmania as well. The fact that a whole state is supporting just one team – very, very similar to what goes on with Green Bay. “