Country football is up against it.
Once thriving places full of ex-VFL/AFL players, those elite characters are not travelling to the bush like they used to and it shows by the drop in crowds at games.
Suburban leagues and clubs have become Goliaths and great leagues like the Goulburn Valley are struggling to keep up.
The names to have played in the GVL, who had great careers in the top flight, is impressive.
Mick Gayfer, Simon Eishold, Trent Hotton, David Mensch, Russell Robertson, Mark Blake and Adem Yze are just a handful of former AFL names that immediately spring to mind who dominated in the GVL.
There are still some high-quality operators with experience in the big time running around.
Reigning Morrison medallist Simon Buckley will go down as a great at Echuca after playing with the Murray Bombers following his AFL career.
He is the red-hot favourite to become the first person to win back-to-back league medals in the GVL since David Code in 1980-81.
Rohan Bail has been a quality pick-up for Euroa this season, until being injured, but will play a big role in the Magpies’ finals push when he is fit.
Luke Lowden has been outstanding for a young Shepparton United team, while his former Hawthorn team-mate Matt Spangher has been let down by his body during his time at the Demons.
The best thing about having star quality in community football is it creates a flow-on effect that positively impacts the entire league.
Other good players want to play with stars, increasing the standard of the whole competition.
A better product on the ground brings through the gates the crowds, which have dropped dramatically in the past two seasons.
Why the decline has happened faster than anyone could have expected should not be a surprise if you look at the powerful competitions based around Melbourne.
It is only the first year of AFL Victoria’s salary cap officially being brought in and you only have to look at the figures to see the discrepancy.
Leagues and the AFL’s regional commissions wanted figures from clubs about what they were spending before the salary cap was introduced.
Those numbers were taken into account when the caps were released.
The figures reveal how powerful suburban leagues have become because the figures blow the bush out of the park.
Benefactors, pokies and shrewd operators are reasons for their sky-rocketing success.
Community football should not be about money, but that is the way the game has gone and there is no going back.
There would not be many elite talents, based in Melbourne, who will choose driving two hours away every Saturday if they can get paid more at a club 20 minutes from their front door.
Some Essendon District Football League and Eastern Football League clubs have been fielding teams that would be competitive in the VFL.
I have heard top-line players asking for up to $3000 a game in Melbourne, with individual pay cheques of about $2000 not even uncommon.
The GVL has the highest cap in country Victoria at $185000, but it might as well be Monopoly money in comparison to the EDFL’s premier division ($250000) and the Western Region, Northern and Eastern leagues all on $225000.
Even a traditionally lower standard competition like the Southern Football League is up to $200000.
There are always ways around the salary caps and it is difficult to see how it won’t be rorted.
Advertisements for integrity officers to police the salary cap were going around as recently as last month.
Shepparton forward James Wong was almost lured out of his contract with the Bears to Western Region club Newport Power this year on the promise he would be looked after in his business avenues outside of football.
It is far from the only example, with gifts and cushy jobs always an easy one.
‘‘Your match payments might be lower than average, but here is a plum role that will set you up for life.’’
Country football is not at a crisis point yet, but if the trend of the past few years continues, then it will be.
There is no easy solution, but clubs and boards need to seriously discuss it before it is too late.