Pridham, a member of the AFL’s coronavirus cabinet, which helped steer the competition through the early dramatic weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, said he would urge Gillon McLachlan and the AFL Commission to prioritise the wishes of football fans as it set about rebuilding the game.
He has called for a national reserves competition playing curtain-raisers before every home-and-away game as part of his blueprint to bring supporters back to football.
“I’m in favour of exploring whatever means are safe if it means bringing back paying,” Pridham told The Age. “I’ve changed my position. I think it’s important for the industry and for people who want sport back.
“For people who think it’s not practical or fair on the players I would remind them of the First World War and the notion of someone saying: ‘I’d rather not go to the Somme this week. I’m with my partner, I have other responsibilities. I’ll go next year.’
“For footballers, this is their career. This is how they support themselves and their families and when something is really important you make sacrifices. For the 98 per cent of players who want to play we should give them the opportunity.
“It’s the 98 per cent I prefer to focus on. There has to be a reward for those who put their hands up. I know in my business [Pridham, CEO of the Australian banking division of Moelis & Company, is one of Australia’s leading investment bankers] many people are doing things they would rather not be doing.”
- AFL needs to enforce a hard cap on football spending.
- A national reserves competition playing curtain-raisers.
- AFL should prioritise developing the game in the northern states.
- Players who agreed to join quarantine hubs should be rewarded.
- No stigma in seeking AFL help, nor special importance in being an unassisted club.
Recoiling at suggestions the league could combine Sydney, GWS, the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast into one second-tier VFL side, Pridham said now was the time to truly challenge NRL and soccer in New South Wales and Queensland. “The Giants are our fierce rivals,” he said. “It is crazy to suggest we would join forces for a second-tier team.
“I think there has to be a review of everything that happens in football. Everything is up for grabs, we need to run things efficiently and better. Ironically, in this instance, it’s the way it used to be.
“I never understood why we scrapped the reserves and a national second-tier reserves competition is what we need to bring back. It’s great for fans, it’s great for players and it’s great for clubs.”
Pridham also said the AFL had no choice but to enforce a hard cap on football spending across the competition, something McLachlan has not yet taken a position on and a push being strongly resisted by the wealthier clubs.
“Just like a national reserves competition where everyone has an equal opportunity, a hard cap is crucial to ensure no club can have a competitive advantage. The new agreement says no club can spend any more money than the assisted clubs.”
Despite grounds such as the MCG, the SCG and Marvel Stadium resisting heavy traffic in the past, Pridham said: “The venues haven’t had much of a time of it lately and I’m sure they would look at hosting curtain-raisers before AFL games.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a football person who doesn’t love the idea of watching their up-and-coming players. What the fans want is what we should be doing.”
While the Swans chairman cast doubt on the future of his club’s feeder competition, the NEAFL, he urged the AFL to prioritise developing the game in the northern states. Pridham said while the strength of the SANFL and the WAFL would prove a challenge, a national reserves competition would work in tandem with reduced playing lists.
One of four club presidents, along with Eddie McGuire, Jeff Kennett and Peter Gordon, to work with the commission as it secured a $600 million line of credit for the competition, Pridham said the so-called corona cabinet was no longer meeting on a regular basis.
Describing the experience as “very stressful in a whole lot of ways”, Pridham added: “It was a very good group to work with and everyone behaved appropriately. But there were some tense moments.”
In a strongly worded and occasionally emotional letter forwarded late on Thursday to Sydney members and other stakeholders the Swans chairman invoked the club’s long and occasionally turbulent history and underlined its crucial role as an AFL pioneer.
Painting a stark picture of the club’s state, Pridham said the Swans would be forced to turn to the AFL for assistance within three months and that key programs including the club’s academy – which launched both Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills – had been suspended.
“Post-1982, our club survived countless threats of oblivion. Private ownership mis-steps, stock market crashes, a global financial crisis and now in 2020, perhaps our greatest challenge: COVID-19.”
Pridham added: “No football club has faced oblivion only to survive, endure and then thrive more than has the Sydney Swans/South Melbourne. We will once again endure and then thrive. This I can promise you.”
Caroline Wilson is a Walkley award-winning columnist and former chief football writer for The Age.