Another offseason, and another tumultuous decision.
For a club as young as the Fremantle Football Club, it is hard to imagine any sports administrators presently delivering a more energetic reform agenda in Australian sport. Beyond the logo and team colour changes in 2010, there was the club song vote in 2011, and the (many) changes to the football department personnel.
In the spirit of getting on with things, this is all fine by me. I was rather agnostic about each of these decisions; certainly more than many on the internet forums and talkback radio segments. It has always been my view that mistakes were made in 1994, 1995, and many of the subsequent 'early years' -- certainly more than should be forgiven in a genuine football state -- and many decisions were overdue to correct them.
Freo didn't utilise the generous privileges of AFL foundation, and were never really contenders in the mid-2000s when they should've been. Put simply, Perth is not Brisbane or Sydney, and yet the record of our early years resembled the Bears of the 1990s and the Swans of the 1980s. A lot had to change, and the supporter base rightly deserved a shift in the club's culture for their unwavering loyalty.
Change is hard in any walk of life, but sometimes it has to take place: from my perspective, those inside the walls needed to be trusted in the first instance, judged on the outcome of their actions, and then be held to account if targets were not met. Everyone will not be happy with the changes, but for my two cents: the new jersey looks sharp, and the new logo and song don't offend me. Whether Harvey would've achieved as much as Lyon will, or have proven to be limited and eventually unloved, is now a counterfactual. We simply will never know.
On this latest issue, things for me at least, are different.
Since the story of the Cockburn move broke in the middle of 2012, I have genuinely assumed it to be nothing but a ruse; a clever card trick to up the offer of the Fremantle City Council, and ensure the club was granted more space and assistance funding to expand for the future site it almost certainly needs at Fremantle Oval.
And now, on the cusp of the public announcement, it would appear nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot speak to the figures and fundamentals of the two options, and being a man in business, I certainly appreciate the present administration has compiled a pretty compelling case. In other words, I don't doubt moving to a greenfield site is more prudent on almost every measurement.
I can only offer a personal perspective. I have had the great privilege to visit over 75 countries in my life: on those journeys, I have seen rugby on remote islands, golf, horse racing and tennis in the world's most famous events, and felt my feet shake in football terraces around South America. Sport is a part of my life, and yet I feel I've developed an ability to speak dispassionately about the good and bad parts.
I now live as an expat tragic, in the United Kingdom; down the road from countless lower tier clubs in rickety shed stands, who've long left their best days behind (usually in the 1890s or 1930s). Football clubs often reflect the society around them, and just as the many mining town communities have died in England, so did the success of their clubs.
And yet this is not the story of Western Australia. With such distance from my home state, I can safely say it is a special place, that often doesn't realise how lucky it is. Our children in the middle of this century will likely be better educated, richer and living longer than we do today. Perth will be different. Fremantle will have expanded down to the Passenger Terminal, and probably over the port. It will be virtually a city in its own right; thriving, full of colour and culture. South Terrace will still be its beating heart. And football will still be our first choice sport; the game nearly all kids want to play.
The question for the current administration might appear to be: 'how do we give our players the best facilities to succeed?' I would suggest the key question is a different one: 'how do we stay inherently linked to the story of a changing state? Where is the Fremantle Football Club's place in WA in 2050?'
And how special it would be -- when there's a bigger population, many more minerals out of the ground, a big shiny stadium at Burswood, and a nebulous cross-town rival who belongs to the whole of the 'West Coast', that our club, our team, is a few steps over the old bricks in the old port; an undeniable part of the community whose name it bears -- that it was established in 1995 to ostensibly represent. Let us remember why the AFL granted a second license: because it was a glaring omission that such a proud football heritage was not recognised in the national competition.
Fremantle in Fremantle. It makes sense when you read it. Not Fremantle in a satellite city. Not a greenfield site close to the newest train line. A cluster of buildings right in the heart of a settlement that's nearly two centuries old.
Let's be clear: in comparison with an Essendon or South Sydney, Fremantle has no long history to preserve. On paper, this is probably not a controversial move. But something will certainly be lost. And make no mistake, there is no going back. There will never be a time when the economics of returning to Fremantle will ever make sense.
So to those in the leadership, let me say: I was in that minority, willing to support you on all your other bold moves. But I will not, and cannot endorse this one. I strongly encourage you to reconsider, because it's stay now, or be gone for good.
And from my perspective, the fact the choice to go has (nearly) been made is a real shame, whatever the raw numbers might say.