When something falls apart we can, with the aid of wisdom-giving hindsight, trace the cause back to a clear fork in the road.
A place where, if you could go back in time, you would almost certainly make a different decision.
This applies to relationships, businesses, organisations and a vast number of other entities.
The most important one in terms of this discussion is football clubs.
It is always dangerous to ask a question with the prefix ‘what if?’ — especially before a team has actually folded — but here at Musings HQ we like to use our imagination.
What if North Melbourne had pounced quicker in 1996 and Fitzroy never left Victoria? What if Footscray’s faithful couldn’t muster the $2 million needed to save their club in the previous decade? What if Hawthorn’s vote had supported a merger with Melbourne as the Demons’ one did?
The possibilities and theories which would arise surrounding those new storylines verge on endless, and at this point in time are quite simply redundant.
But the Goulburn Valley can still save Ardmona Football Club.
The Cats are struggling to stay relevant after dropping their senior side back to the reserves, and an inability to build a public profile will not help them recruit the 15-30 players they need to become sustainable once more.
When the decision, in conjunction with Kyabram District Football League and AFL Goulburn Murray, was made to cull Ardmona’s top tier, various reasons were given.
The side had lost its first two games by a combined total of 602 points, and a lower level would help the players be more competitive.
Since dropping a grade the Cats have lost 13 games by an average of 158 points, and currently have a percentage of just 8.01.
While not as drastic as the start of the season, it is hardly a record which could be used to confidently lure new members.
Another point which came up was the plight of Bendigo Football League club Kyneton.
The Tigers failed to field a senior side in 2013, but returned a season later to record six wins.
When you compare the Tigers and the Cats though, one stark difference stands out.
Kyneton was able to put another year into its youth teams and use them to supplement a return to the senior level.
The Cats have no such luxury, with just a thirds side which currently sits at 3-12, but it is a fact I have harped on enough this season already.
So the question I want to ask today is, ‘‘What if Ardmona had remained in the seniors this year?’’
Let’s hop in the DeLorean and take a look at how that would have played out.
May 6: No offence intended to the jungle cats, but massive beltings at the hands of Undera (254 points) and Rushworth (348 points) in the first two rounds would have only been a taste of what was to come for Ardmona. Fixtures against Girgarre, Lancaster and Murchison-Toolamba follow where the Cats continue to get belted by record margins around the 400-point mark.
By this time, metro and national news services are starting to take notice (you only have to look at how much coverage Nunawading Football Club receives at the moment).
May 27: An Avenel side finally warming up in the season puts 75 goals past Ardmona’s defensive unit. Coverage, both in The News and elsewhere, reaches fever pitch. D-grade celebrities and ex-AFL players begin to talk about pulling on the boots for the struggling club to lend a hand.
June 20: Stanhope, Merrigum and Violet Town have their way with Ardmona and suddenly the season is looking more like the plot of a bad horror flick than a football campaign.
The key difference is that the Cats stay relevant. Every week a new voice chimes in pledging support for the remainder of this year and beyond.
‘‘The Gun’’ brings his playing aspirations forward a week and ends up pulling on the boots at Ardmona Recreation Reserve instead of Katamatite, dragging the rest of the sports desk with him.
June 24: Screaming out for a bye, the Cats fall by their biggest margin yet to Tallygaroopna — 500 points. Relief is on the horizon though, with a number of late clearances coming to the club and word of a deal struck with Warwick Capper.
August 12: Fast-forward through six rounds of tough football and things are shaping better at Ardmona.
Margins are down, morale is steady and the community has embraced the club’s plight with function attendance at an all-time high.
The final two weeks of the year loom as the hardest yet, but the Cats are hopeful.
August 26: Nagambie and Avenel compound Ardmona’s misery with wins somewhere north of 500 points.
The Victorian football media swamp the club with requests for interviews with the worst club in the country.
February 1, 2018: The tag stings, but it galvanises everyone involved with the Cats.
They use it to recruit — throwing down the challenge to players across the state to help turn the worst season on record into something to be proud of — and plaster their names across the internet when that breakthrough win finally comes.
Pre-season numbers hit highs not seen in years as membership swells.
Of course, this exercise is useless now.
The Cats are by no means done and dusted, but will need the support of everyone in the Greater Shepparton region and beyond when they return to the senior level next season.
And they must, because there is absolutely nothing to be gained from another year wallowing in the reserves (not that AFL Victoria will allow it).
I hear you ask, ‘‘what are you going to do about it?’’, and I agree.
There is nothing worse than someone who offers only problems and no solutions.
So here’s my pledge: When Ardmona’s top team confirms a return to where it belongs, ‘‘The Gun’’ will be at the front of the line — at the canteen, bar and first warm-up lap of the pre-season.
Because we all need to pitch in to make sure the region does not lose any clubs, no matter how tough it gets.