THERE was more than one battle for survival going on at the Tarwin football ground last Saturday.
While Foster and Stony Creek were facing off in the Elimination Final out on the ground, the Alberton Football Netball League had called an emergency meeting of its directors in the Tarwin social rooms.
And as the main game raged outside, it was just as hot inside with the Alberton representatives initially directing their ire at their former president, John Schelling, now a member of the AFL Gippsland Commission and AFL Gippsland region manager Travis Switzer.
By the time the meeting broke up shortly before half time, Schelling had left the room and smoke was still coming out of the ears of Alberton president, Barry Stride.
“We’ve got to be able to talk to the people who made the decision,” he said.
“We had a meeting last Monday with the Gippsland Commission but they don’t want to have any more to do with it.
“But it’s a problem of their making. They assured us that there would be eight teams as a minimum, and we’ve been left with seven.
“What are they trying to do to us?
“We told them seven sides isn’t viable.
“Since then, I’ve made four phone calls to AFL Gippsland and they won’t even return our calls.
“We’ve also tried to talk to AFL Vic Country but they say the issue is closed. They won’t talk to us either but after Monday I think we’ll get a meeting with them.”
The reason Mr Stride is so confident he’ll get a meeting is that Alberton is now threatening to sue AFL Victoria Country.
“We met with our legal people here today. It would cost us a lot of money to take action but if they won’t even talk to us, what option do we have?
“The issue would be finding a case we could challenge. They’ve been pretty clever with the way they’ve gone about it,” he said.
“We’ve got two sides in the final here today, Stony Creek and Foster, and we’re told we might not have a lot of these players here next year if it stays like this.
“Footy and netball is the backbone of the South Gippsland community and they’re threatening that.
“Taking five clubs from us is ridiculous. What made them think they could do that?
“This problem was created by AFL Gippsland. They didn’t have a Plan B when they went into this. We told them that the Korumburra-Bena appeal would be upheld.
“It was a flawed process. They put one club in and took one club out. There was always going to be issues with that.”
Mr Stride said Alberton had been given permission by the AFL Gippsland Commission to approach eight neighbouring clubs to see if they were interested in coming across; Woodside, Yarram, Mirboo North, Poowong and Nyora were among those mentioned.
“But the Gippsland Commission had already told the other leagues before we could even get a chance to talk to the clubs. They all said no.
“The attitude of the seven clubs (remaining in the Alberton league) at the two meetings we’ve had is 100% support for what we are going to do.
“And they are already taking steps to make sure that their players don’t leave next year.”
Mr Stride said if AFL Gippsland wanted change, they could have opted for a transitional approach first, possibly with Phillip Island and Kilcunda-Bass joining the other Ellinbank clubs in the West Gippsland league first then seeing what happens after that.
“For a 125 year old league to be treated like this is an absolute disgrace. There’s no other seven-club league in Victoria. What were they thinking?
“No one likes taking legal action. It’s a path we don’t want to take but they’re forcing us to look at it,” Mr Stride said.