COMMENTS from former Bordertown and Kaniva/Leeor United football coach Mal Coutts have sparked a debate about player payments in the Horsham District Football Netball League.
Speaking to the Wimmera Mail-Times after a 240-point loss to reigning premier Laharum last weekend, Pimpinio coach Coutts suggested the Mountain Men had too much money for Pimpinio to be competitive with them.
It was the second time a senior district league coach has made a public comment about Laharum’s finances this year.
In the Mail-Times’ Football Netball Focus liftout in March, Natimuk United coach Tim Friend picked Laharum as the team to beat, saying: “money talks”.
Laharum coach Shannon Argall said his club was disappointed with the comments and that they undermined a culture he and the board had helped build.
“We’ve been working extremely hard over the past three years since the club has come from second last to winning a premiership last year,” he said.
“Within that premiership team, 18 of the 21 players were juniors with the club and have remained loyal.
“Two years ago, we set about changing the club’s culture and putting in a professional environment that looks at the way we train, our recovery, our strategies and improving ourselves.
“We’ve worked so hard for it, and for people to say that we’re just trying to buy premierships is ridiculous.”
“WE’VE WORKED SO HARD FOR IT, AND FOR PEOPLE TO SAY THAT WE’RE JUST TRYING TO BUY PREMIERSHIPS IS RIDICULOUS.”- LAHARUM COACH SHANNON ARGALL
Argall said some of his players – including star recruit Dylan Parish – had knocked back more lucrative offers from rival clubs to remain at Laharum.
“The rumour mill is always rife with talk, and usually whatever people hear is three times what players are actually being paid,” he said.
“Many of our paid players have declined other much higher offers because they love the club and they want to taste success.
"We’ve actually lowered our budget this year and it’s really disappointing, and I think pretty weak that some coaches are saying our success is only attributed to player payments and our budget.”
Argall said nearly all of the club’s paid players had taken pay cuts this year as the club diverted money into improving facilities at Cameron Oval.
He said money did not guarantee success either.
“There’s no doubt money is a big issue in country footy and it can lead to success, but if clubs don’t manage player and coaching payments, it can really ruin them for quite a number of years,” he said.
Coutts said he was not criticising Laharum for having money or spending it, but was speaking about the issue of money more generally.
“I’m not having a go at Laharum for having more money than some other clubs – if they’ve got the money and they want to spend it, then good luck to them,” he said.
“All I’m saying is it’s hard for clubs who don’t have as much money to compete with the ones that do.
“If one club spends $100,000 on players – and I’m not saying that’s what Laharum is spending – and another team spends $20,000, the one spending $100,000 is probably going to win more games.”
“IF ONE CLUB SPENDS $100,000 ON PLAYERS AND ANOTHER TEAM SPENDS $20,000, THE ONE SPENDING $100,000 IS PROBABLY GOING TO WIN MORE GAMES.”- PIMPINIO COACH MAL COUTTS
Horsham District Football Netball League chairman Graeme King said he was not aware of an official complaint registered with the league by Laharum.
He said player payments were an issue the league had no control over, and would not comment on Laharum’s budget.
“They tried salary caps and all that years ago, and that was a bit of a toothless tiger,” he said.
“No-one has been able to come up with any other solutions since then, so I think we’re always going to have supposed strong clubs that are doing better than others.”
AFL Wimmera Mallee Region Commission chairman John Smith said the imbalance between rich and poor clubs in country football was concerning, but that Coutts’ comments were uncalled for.
“I have no idea whether the facts are right or wrong in this case, but I’m surprised that Mal would make such a comment,” he said.
Smith said money was undeniably an issue in country football, and said AFL Victoria was working on equalisation measures.
“AFL Victoria is looking at a player points system,” he said.
“Obviously there’s concern within the football fraternity about trying to bring in some form of equalisation.
“The sooner it happens, the better.”