Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

The AFL treats Tasmania pretty much as the British Colonial Office treated the colony of New South Wales during the 19th century.

Someone in an office at Docklands comes up with a new plan or policy for footy on the island; AFL Tasmania implements it. No one asks the Tasmanians what they want, or in what numbers they want it.

This year, courtesy of AFL Tasmania, the Tasmanian statewide league has two new “franchises”, Western Storm and Hobart City. To make way for them, South Launceston and North Hobart, two of the state’s oldest and proudest clubs, were robbed of their status as senior teams. South Launceston (formerly City South and, before that, City) is the club, among others, of Cazaly and Laurie Nash. In the old days, North Hobart was Tassie’s Collingwood.

The rationale, as I understand it, is that the new arrangements will facilitate more Tasmanian juniors making the AFL draft. Well, they better, because some of us with connections to the two old clubs stretching back nearly a century are watching the “franchises” closely. If they don’t produce AFL recruits in any greater numbers than the past, the treatment of South Launceston and North Hobart will stand as an act of corporate vandalism.

Now there seem to be moves afoot to get North Melbourne to play eight games each season from Tasmania. The idea is that this will make them a “Tasmanian” team. Meanwhile, Hawthorn will be encouraged to return to Victoria, the idea presumably being that this, after all, was the Hawks’ “home” all the time. And, all the time, what is being played with here is the affections of the people. What is being loosened are the ties that bind the game together.

In principle, I support the idea of a Tasmanian team in the AFL. How many other Tasmanians support the idea is hard to say – I suspect the figure fluctuates like support for a republic. The idea certainly has passionate and eloquent supporters.

Musician Shane Pullen, formerly of Hobart, currently has a song circling the island that addresses Andrew Demetriou and borrows its tune from Abba’s old hit, Fernando: “We’ve got bums for seats for Andrew/ Where our members long to go and watch the stars on nights like this…”

But there’s also people like my son-in-law, who comes from Burnie and barracks for Hawthorn. He doesn’t want Hawthorn leaving Tasmania; in fact, he is adamantly opposed to it. Then there’s my father-in-law who lives in Burnie and hates Hawthorn because he reckons the money being paid to the Hawks by the Tasmanian government should have gone into hospitals.

My father-in-law is a Richmond man. Would he transfer his allegiance to a new Tasmanian team? Not likely. There are Tasmanian families that have been supporting VFL/AFL clubs for generations – in this sense, Tasmanians are no different to Victorians.

The Tasmanian footy landscape is not so simple as it may seem and, over the past decade, there is no doubt Hawthorn has put down roots in the island. In my observation, if you track club allegiances back far enough, even through generations, they will generally begin with a premiership somewhere. Hawthorn has won two premierships while it’s been on the island.

What should happen next in Tasmania? I want to know what Tasmanians think. If the AFL doesn't bother finding out and merely implements another imperial directive, Tasmanians will see yet again that they are being taken utterly for granted.