Home » Country football dying a ‘slow death’ with thousand-dollar player payments blamed for killing the game

Country football dying a ‘slow death’ with thousand-dollar player payments blamed for killing the game

Country football dying a ‘slow death’ with thousand-dollar player payments blamed for killing the game

A tired, quiet group of footballers walks off the ground with their heads down. Charlton has lost by 104 points and no-one has the energy to analyse the match or even commiserate.

As they walk into the clubrooms, one player says to the coach, “You just got to be positive.”

But it’s hard to stay positive when you’re yet to win a game 12 weeks into the season and you’re languishing on the bottom of the ladder.

Despite their on-field struggles and being a small rural town of just 1,000, a loud crowd of hundreds has gathered at the Charlton Recreation Reserve to watch football on a sunny winter afternoon in Northern Victoria.

a guy looking serious in conversation, with hands on hips looking to the left

Kris Dixon says increasing payments are threatening his club’s future.(ABC News: Matthew Holmes)

The dominant team, the Sea Lake-Nandaly Tigers, is second on the North Central Football League ladder.

The Navy Blues had braced for a big defeat but that didn’t make it sting less.

During the third quarter, spectators stand near a fire and a “beer ute”, watching and drinking.

An onlooker shrieks, “45 grand for that?” when a Sea Lake player misses.

a photo of a group of spectators laughing, drinking beer, watching football

A comment is rewarded with loud laughter from the group standing behind the goalposts. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

He was referring to rumours of the amount opposition players are paid to be on the field.

It reflects an underlying distrust and belief held by the Charlton community — and many in country Victoria — that small country clubs are increasingly unable to compete with clubs that can afford to pay their senior players big money.

Sealake-Nandaly Football Netball Club president Ivan Tait said the club was not paying a player $45,000 a season, which would equate to $2,500 a game.

“All player declarations and salary cap figures are private and confidential,” he said.

“Like every club, we are required to submit these figures into AFL Central Victoria at the start of the season.”

Two older males sit behind eskies in the back of a ute

Being on “beer ute” duty is an important job on game day. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Paying under the table

Senior community football players and coaches are paid per game, with the amounts being tightly held secrets by clubs.

AFL Victoria brought in salary caps in 2016, which impose a limit of how much each club can spend on players.

They range from $30,000 in the Omeo League in the state’s east to $130,000 in Northern Victoria.

Rumours turned to reality when the Wangaratta Magpies were caught having breached their salary cap in 2022.

football players celebrate and commiserate on an oval

The Wangaratta Magpies were stripped of their 2022 Ovens and Murray premiership.(Supplied: YouTube)

They were stripped of their Ovens and Murray Premiership, lost four premiership points, and were fined the amount of the breach — $28,000.

AFL Victoria has since vowed to crack down on salary cap breaches and recently audited 118 grand finalists, with four clubs caught breaching the cap last year.

Country football remains rife with unsubstantiated rumours that clubs are paying players with cash, prams, or even phoney jobs to get around the salary cap.