BE PROUD Ballarat, even if it hurts a little. Now is the time to start looking towards what we can do better together.
We are on a learning curve when it comes to hosting AFL premiership season matches and need to work out our football identity. At the same time, we cannot afford to become complacent.
One week on and the fall-out to the AFL’s late in the day, depths of winter scheduling continues to sting. It was a dark, gloomy day in Ballarat football history, literally and figuratively.
But this is an early line-in-the-sand moment. Are we up for the challenge?
The league has moved on. The Bulldogs will be back playing under a roof on Saturday night, drier and likely more at ease.
What we need to make clear is that Ballarat is not a league gimmick.
We do not want to become just a country kennel Western Bulldogs tried for a few years then abandoned to move entirely back into their bigger superhero-themed domed home.
We do not want to be a token gesture from the league to regional fans right out across the western districts. Nor do we want to be downgraded to merely hosting pre-season matches under the same premise. Why in a state where the capital city is home to a glut of teams should we have to settle for that?
The AFL and Bulldogs have each backed Ballarat matches with three of five years’ promised play still ahead. This is important but we cannot rely on kind support alone to build what we know we can offer in our backyard.
Cold, ol’ Ballarat quips and shock jock knocks from AFL identities, like Wayne Carey, hurt our reputation, whether our fault or not.
We cannot help the weather. AFL fixturing was out of our control (hopefully that was a lesson for the league to not repeat).
We cannot help the game is predominantly filmed from a grandstand rather than featuring it.
And we knew from the outset we would not get blockbuster matches on Mars. We simply cannot hold them.
But there are factors we can influence and do better.
We need to get more excited when AFL rolls into town.
The Bulldogs-Port Adelaide clash was the third AFL match ever played for premiership points in Ballarat. The city came alive for the historic first match last season with marching bands and Bulldogs’ colours in shop windows all through the main streets.
We cannot afford to lose the spark. We need to reinforce, as a city we have a voracious appetite for AFL matches.
Instead of relying our city’s football heritage and AFL exports like this should be enough, like we are entitled, we need to show we mean business when the Bulldogs come to town.
We need to activate. AFL games in Ballarat are an incredible investment in our community and the flow-on effects are immense economically, at grassroots and in showcasing the region. But we need to do our part to ensure this remains viable.
To the 6000 people who showed up last Sunday, cheering through the rain, this was fantastic. Time for us all to build on this and show we take our city seriously.