One of the things which fascinates me most about football is the anthropological aspect. That is, the culture of a football club. Being a lifelong supporter of a team which, until its current golden age, had a long history of underachievement, I am firmly of the belief that a club’s culture off-field will determine its success on-field.
A club needs to have a culture where winning is seen not only as possible, but as natural.
This can be quite hard to achieve, and sometimes to keep. Melbourne Football Club used to have it in spades, right up until they sacked reigning premiership coach Norm Smith in 1965, destroying their club’s mo-jo.
St Kilda did build a bit of such a culture in the mid 1960s, after decades of failure, but chose to waste it by choosing to become a club which partied and misbehaved after hours to excess – a party culture which it was indulging in as recently as at least 10 years ago.
Carlton lost it, and then regained it in the late 60s after it poached Ron Barassi from Melbourne, and hence enjoyed 8 premierships over 28 seasons before the salary cap scandal destroyed its winning culture.
Ron Barassi then went to VFL perennial cellar dwellers North Melbourne as his next challenge after Carlton, and passed on the spark which led to 5 consecutive seasons of grand final appearances and 2 flags.
Hawthorn, once it got started with its first flag in 1961, never stopped. It’s longest gap since then was the 17 years between 1991 and 2008.
A lot of this depends not only on the club’s history and the leadership of the club, but on the coach. An excellent coach, such as a Barassi or a Hafey or a Sheedy, can do wonders for turning around a club’s culture and making it believe that it can win.
Which leads me to Paul Roos. Roos has only coached one AFL Premiership, Sydney’s 2005 drought breaker. But his impact is far greater than that. Not only was he able to win a premiership with the Sydney Swans, but he was, because he was not really interested in making coaching his lifetime career, to develop a succession plan at Sydney which meant that his handpicked successor, John Longmire, coached Sydney to another flag in 2012 and to various other grand finals.
And then Paul Roos moved to Melbourne Football Club. He did this at the behest of the AFL, at a time when the oldest football club in Australia was a basket case. He made it clear that he was not there long term, that his goal was to rebuild the club and to select and mentor a successor who would build on his foundation.
As a result, his handpicked successor, Simon Goodwin, is today leading the Melbourne Football Club into their first grand final in 21 years, and with a chance of winning their first premiership in the AFL era, ending a 57 year drought.
Win or lose (and I hope they lose as I am a Bulldogs supporter!), the impact of Roos both on the Sydney Swans and on Melbourne as a transformer of the club culture is highly significant. This should never be underestimated.