Nothing like persecution to fire up the fans
Melbourne Storm’s salary cap scandal will go down as the best thing that has ever happened to the club.
Yes I know it has been stripped of two premierships ( I’ll get onto how ridiculous that is later) and I know the club has been fined, disgraced and denied the chance to win a premiership this year.
But the fact is this scandal will be the making of the Melbourne Storm in the AFL’s heartland.
Before being caught cheating the club was to most Victorians a quirk.
Apart from figuratively the handful of people that bothered to show up to the team’s home games, Melbournians didn’t understand - or care to understand - rugby league. Which made the team’s incredible success such an oddity.
The Storm kept winning premierships and kept producing the best talent in the country, even though the club barely registered in the sports news, in its sports obsessed home. It had done everything right in the sports management guide to winning fans but Melbourne stubbornly refused to fall in love with its own club.
Tickets to the Storm’s game on Friday night at AAMI Park - the newest ground in Melbourne - have been reported as selling like hotcakes with expectations all 20,000 available tickets will be sold. That’s a massive crowd for a league game in Melbourne, especially one that now counts for nothing.
But even better for the club, it has started registering with the sports media in Melbourne and has been widely discussed by sports fans.
I once asked former Australian netballer Eloise Southby- Halbish why her sport struggled to gain media attention. She quoted a discussion she had with Herald Sun journalist Mike Sheahan. Netballers just didn’t get into enough trouble, didn’t cause enough controversy and talking points, Sheahan told her.
Melbourne Storm now has its talking point.
But even better it is viewed as a victim of the Sydney-ruled NRL in its very parochial and competitive hometown.
You only have to look at how differently the scandal has been reported in Melbourne and Sydney to see how Melbourne has got behind the club.
In Sydney the Storm are seen to have got their just deserves.
In Melbourne the consensus largely seems to be that officials orchestrated the salary cap breach, of which the players and coaches are the primary victims. They have been punished for someone else’s wrong.
And in a city where sport is serious business and winning-at-all-costs is understood, taking away premierships is a step too far.
Apart from the fact it makes no sense - we’ll just pretend they didn’t win, that there wasn’t a grand final and they didn’t hold the trophy up - it ignores the fact that you can’t go back in time and take away an experience. Premierships only exist for a short period of time, they are the winning of one game and it’s following celebration.
After that even the club has to move on from them and start a new season. You can’t can’t take away what has been.
But long term this overly-zealous punishment will be great for the Storm. Its game attendances will go up, it will be more visible in the news and more widely discussed and if it can be successful in the near future it will be seen as a tool to deliver a very personal “we’re better than you” message from the city of Melbourne to the city of Sydney.
The only threat to the Storm now is its players. The Storm needs its players to be entirely cleared of any role or knowledge of the salary cap scandal.
If a single player is found to have been involved in the rout, Melbourne will react like a lover betrayed, and our affair with the Storm will be short lived.
A cheating official we can handle, a player - a god - we can not.
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