Shaun Durward had never played football. He had never seen the Goolwa and Port Elliot Magpies play a game, and with two young daughters he had absolutely no interest in this footy club. Yet, when he was asked to join the committee he didn’t hesitate, and the reason was simple.
For 17 years with Woolworths and Coles it was his job to go to their poorest performing supermarkets and turn things around, and when he learned of the diabolical trouble his local football club was in he just knew that with his business experience he could help. “I’m not one to walk away from someone or something in trouble,” he said.
A mess actually, and there is no blame game here. It happens at clubs, but Goolwa-Port Elliot has a history of things not being done properly. More than a decade ago it was discovered it had operated without a liquor licence for seven years, but the situation was so farcical there was no retribution. In recent years there was no money so bills were shoved into a drawer with the hope they would go away, but businesses start asking about 18-month-old accounts when they total more than $15,000.
Yet, after losing $8K in 2014, with Shaun part of that committee, they made a $17K profit this year after he took over as president – and after paying off the $15K debts. It represents a $32K turnaround. Amazing stuff.
After holding committee meetings without a quorum of members in 2014 the club now has 14 – all exhausted from an incredibly busy year yet excited that the 2016 season is only four months away. Maybe the excited bit is exaggerated for now.
This comes after the 2014 season when Shaun bravely asked the Alexandrina Council to lend the club $25K over four years, only to be berated and humiliated by a particular member with cruel claims the football club committee was made up of “brass necks” for asking for money. “Why don’t you stop paying your players?” she shouted.
Shaun took a hit for the team that night, but he was certainly not deterred by the uneducated ravings, and encouraged by added support by the mayor. “Who is going to watch us if we are getting thumped by 40 goals every game? Shaun asked. “Think of the income lost. We shaved $24K off that expense line… but you can’t just wipe that expense off.
“You want your junior and senior colts players to stay around and watch the senior guys who are their idols. A footy club is so important to the culture of a town. Studies have shown that towns without a footy club have a massive crime rate because the kids don’t have anything to do.”
Amidst growing ridicule from far beyond the Magpies’ clubroom came the first step in Shaun’s plan to turn the financial mess around, and it is a lesson for all. It was to actually have a plan, and this one included purchasing a till for the bar.
Yes, there were issues, but like Shaun said, the first thing the Goolwa & Port Elliot FC committee needed to be told at the start of the 2015 season was not to dwell on what had happened in 2014 and before that.
“I told them don’t focus on it; don’t focus on what went wrong because if you worry about it the situation will eat you alive,” Shaun said. “We need to worry about what we are going to do about getting the club back into shape.
“Okay, last year (2014) was horrendous. The wheels had fallen off, and it was really, really bad. No structures, no procedures… no one following anything.
“If we had a committee meeting some would just go up to the bar and help themselves. When your finances are critical, and the committee members are going up for a free drink, you are in trouble. That is perhaps a small issue, but in the scheme of things it showed where everyone’s head was at. That worried me.
“I started to get more involved halfway through the 2014 season, and I thought, gee, we need to put some structures in place. If you get into financial trouble it is not okay, but if you have plans to get out of it you are half alright. There were just no plans there.
“This is a footy club, but the nuts and bolts of it all is that it is a business. Country clubs are no longer footy clubs they are businesses and you have to run them as one otherwise they won’t be around for long. Passion doesn’t pay the bills any more.
“This time last year I was going into the Middleton Tavern and the Goolwa Hotel with bills up to $4000 that we had not paid to them and saying, I’m sorry, but we’ve got no money. Fortunately, they were both fantastic; incredibly understanding, and we won’t forget that.
“I made it a priority to get those accounts paid off, and when their bills came in this year we ignored the 30 days notice and got the treasurer to pay them that day. All of the other debts were paid off too.
“I said to the committee at the start that 2015 was not going to be an easy year, and it wasn’t. Now most of them are still so exhausted from working so hard.
“It was not a perfect year, but we know we will learn. Every time something happened we wrote it down and said, okay, this is what we can do better next year. A mistake became a new opportunity.
“From this, someone suggested that we needed a players’ handbook to give to all the parents, and next year we will have new policies and procedures that will all be in there.
“If someone has a grizzle there are procedures to sort it out and move forward. Like any business, if you don’t have policies and procedures in place it is just a dog’s breakfast.
“Fraser Cooper is going to be our first junior development manager next year; he’s just one of a number of people here with plenty of passion. Laura Gane is our first child safety officer making sure the juniors are looked after.
“Josh Koop is our vice-president, a young lad who’s also passionate about the club and he wants to learn and be a future president. It’s a matter of educating these guys.”
Imagine that, the Goolwa Port Elliot Football Club having a succession plan. Shaun’s wife, Claudia, will be thrilled to hear this, and their daughters, Charlotte, 11, and Tara, 10, may see their dad more at their basketball club, the Goolwa Magic, where he is already a committee member and a coach. There is no end to this guy’s commitment to the community. Oh, and there is his work with Goolwa Primary.
Shaun admitted that on the eve the AGM last month he stressed over there being enough numbers for a quorum. No need; a club record 30 attended and every one of them praised the work of the current committee, especially its president.
Typically, Shaun acknowledged the outstanding efforts of many before him, and the support of so many quality people in the town. He couldn’t speak more highly of those from the brilliant local service clubs Rotary and Lions, plus the RSL Goolwa Sub-Branch, especially its knock-about manager Paul Menner, his equally likeable side kick Jeff Rainsford and the many other members there who have raised funds to help support the Magpies’ junior programs. And, of course, the sponsors who stuck by the club through the turmoil.
“It’s never been about just me,” Shaun says. And it hasn’t been any magic from his daughters’ basketball club, merely his experience of making things better in supermarkets, albeit his fruitless attempts to fix their trolleys with crooked wheels.
And, according to Shaun, as much as the dramatic turnaround within the club has coincided with it finishing third in 2015 – its best-ever result as a combined club since 2001 – it is not just about the lads who proudly wear the wharf pylon or prison bar guernsey on a winter’s Saturday.
“The Goolwa-Port Elliot Magpies are not just about individuals or a team,” Shaun said. “We’re about being a club, and there’s still a long way to go to be a much better one.”
Fair enough. But maybe when Brett Ebert brings his Magarey Medal form and his 166 AFL games experience with Port Adelaide to Goolwa next season the local Magpies will be better on the field too under new coach Vinnie Rigalo.
And, for the record, Brett is joining the club purely to play alongside his great mate, former coach David Leys, and for petrol money only. That’s character. You always find some in football clubs no matter the darkest moments of despair.