There is no doubt that Perth Glory signing Robbie Fowler has been a major coup for the club and again shows how determined owner Tony Sage is to see the club succeed. For which every football fan in Western Australia should applaud him.
However there needs to be some caution, now that the euphoria has begun to dissipate.
First of all Fowler is 35 years old, at the end of his career. He can do a job in the A League as he showed last season at a poor club; and was he ever as fit as maybe he could have been? At a better club, the burden and workload should be less and he should thrive.
It is to some intents and purposes sad that the signing of a 35 year old – albeit a legend of the game – can cause so much excitement, as it shows that the league is not attracting younger players who may also pull the crowds. But any publicity for the game is good publicity, although he still couldn’t make the back page of the West Australian!
Fowler on the pitch is going to have to be handled with care if Perth Glory is to get the best out of him. Hopefully Dave Mitchell will have already spoken to him and discussed how he plans to make the most of the man’s talents.
Do not be surprised if he is used only for an hour or seventy minutes in a lot of cases. If Glory have a game in Perth on a Sunday and a game over East or in New Zealand on the following Friday, do not be surprised if he gets left behind, for that game. Better to nurse your asset through the season so that he can perform at his best when he plays, than if you push him to play every game. Old bodies take longer to recover and to fly two days after a game would not benefit Fowler in the slightest.
But the biggest area where there needs to be caution is off the pitch.
When owner Tony Sage unveiled his new signing he made two very deliberate comments that Glory fans need to take heed of, “Now we need our fans and supporters to return the faith by purchasing season memberships. We also need strong support from the commercial and business world and it would be remiss of me not to thank those organisations and individuals who have already pledged their support.”
Sage was quoted in the season that just passed that the club needed 10,000 to break even and on another occasion 13,000. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
The club averaged 9209 last season. With Fowler on the books the crowd average to break even is no doubt going to rise. If it doesn’t, do not be surprised if at the end of 2010/11 both Fowler and Sage ride off into the sunset. No man can be expected to carry the continued losses that he has for the past two seasons.
There is no doubt the football public need to get behind the club on a regular basis, but some of the onus needs to go back onto the club.
With Fowler on board they need to have a strategy as to how they can gain maximum publicity from his presence to pull people through the gate on match days, and simply having a column in one of our local newspapers or a segment on official partner 6PR simply will not bring those results.
There needs to be an almighty push to increase memberships, but the club equally needs to look at what members want for their money. The biggest mistake the club ever made was stopping the shuttle bus service for members from the car park by the freeway on Lord Street. Things like this need to be re-introduced, so that fans feel that they are in fact getting value for money. It also makes the match day experience hassle free.
Fowler could be the icing on the cake for Perth Glory, but he could also be the straw that breaks the camels back. He is not a miracle worker, he is a man who plays football and in his heyday played it very, very well. He alone cannot carry all of the responsibility of increasing the clubs profile, increasing memberships and sponsorships and winning a Grand Final. The club needs to be sure that they have the right people, structures and packages in place to support Fowler so that he can be allowed to do what he does best, play football.
So if the crowds do not come don’t blame Fowler, if the coach rests him for a game, to ensure that the club gets the best out of him, understand why, if the corporate dollar doesn’t roll in, again is that Fowler’s fault? No it definitely is not. As Aristotle said ‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer,’ and one footballer doesn’t make a club.