There are fears one of Tasmania’s former powerhouse football teams is dangerously close to not being able to field a team, with sporting greats likening the situation to a canary in a coalmine for other clubs.

The Glenorchy Magpies, famous for being the former home of all-time Australian rules greats Peter Hudson and Roy Cazaly, have struggled to attract players to the club for more than 12 months, but ahead of this year’s Tasmanian State League season, the situation has worsened.

At least one recent training session saw just 12 dedicated players on the track, prompting fears for the future of the club, which boasts 17 premierships and has been a traditional powerhouse of Tasmanian football.

But Tim Woodham, who will contest the presidency of the club at its upcoming annual general meeting, believes the tide will turn in the coming weeks.

“I don’t want to go into recession, because I believe you don’t come back but we do need to find some players and quickly,” he said.

“We haven’t got any quick fixes at the minute, and it might take a little while to turn around but one day Glenorchy will be back as a powerful club again.”

A black and white photo of a man in a stripy jumper kicking a football.
The club has some famous exports, such as all-time great Peter Hudson.(Supplied:

Interim president Scott Donaghy told ABC Radio Hobart on Tuesday that while numbers were low, the Magpies situation had been overblown and that he was expecting a steady return of players to the club in the coming weeks.

A young man stands on a run track and smiles.
Sprint star Jack Hale has been signed by the club as a high-performance coach.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“We’ve told AFL Tas that we’ll be putting a team on the park. As far as we’re concerned, we will be putting a team on the park, and hopefully a second team,” he said.

Things are already starting to turn, with about 30 players attending a pre-season running session at Risdon Brook Dam this morning.

The club has also signed sprint star Jack Hale as a high-performance coach.

But answers are being sought as to how the famous club has declined so rapidly.

Glenorchy a ‘warning sign’ for other clubs

Glenorchy, which went winless at senior level last year, and was forced to forfeit two second-tier development league games, is a canary in the coal mine, according to former greats.

“There’s some warning signs for me. If it’s happening at Glenorchy, it’s going to happen to someone else,” said Hawthorn premiership player Rodney Eade, who was recruited from Glenorchy in 1975.

“It’d send a warning across the bow if a club like that was to go into recess, where the rest of the clubs are at as well, and what might happen.”

Eade believes a range of factors, both internal and external have contributed to Glenorchy’s predicament.

“Obviously Glenorchy has to take some blame, there’s a bit of debt there I’m told, so they’ve obviously done some things incorrectly,” he said.

“It probably indicates things they’ve done wrong development wise and why players don’t want to play there, but also probably the parlous state of footy in Tasmania.”

“Were they going to schools? were they promoting? Were they making it a place for players who want to be involved?”

Football team players run along a road.
About 30 players attended a pre-season running session this morning.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Players opting for lower-level, more social clubs

News of the Magpies precarious position is particularly unsettling to rusted-on Tasmanian football followers, who for decades have known Glenorchy to sit atop the state’s football pyramid.

There were warning signs last year, following a mass exodus of senior players from the club in 2019 and 2020 and an inability to replace them.

Off-field turmoil exacerbated the situation, but there are broader reasons for the Magpies’ struggles too, according to those at the club, namely a distaste for State League football amongst young men in the area who are largely opting to play the game at a lower, more social level.

Players pose with the cup
The Magpies’s 2016 TSL grand final win was the team’s first premiership since 1999.(ABC News: Scott Rollinson)

“Societies change, and younger people’s views change, and they can’t get a game or they’re on the fringe, they go play somewhere else for more money at a lower level. And that’s not just happening at Glenorchy, that’s other clubs too,” Eade said.

While neighbouring clubs like St Virgils and Dominic Old Scholars, which play in the Old Scholars Football Association are reporting healthy numbers, Glenorchy’s junior club is feeling the effects of the changing demographic of the northern suburbs.

In the past five years, there has been a 6 per cent rise in people who were born overseas in the area.

“We have a lot of Africans and immigrants in the community. We need to get them interested in the football club. Not only playing but getting their families in and welcoming them into the football club. It’s a changing world,” Woodham said.

AFL Tasmania boss Damian Gill said the governing body is “continuing to support” Glenorchy and is hopeful the club can field at least one team, either in the senior or development league this year.

“We’ve got to keep trying. We’ve got to keep trying to find players to play for Glenorchy in 2023. There’s a lot to like about Glenorchy,” he said.

“My message remains what it was last year. If you are a Glenorchy person or have any attachment to the club, now is the time to get involved.”

Rodney Eade does not believe an AFL team in Tasmania will be a silver bullet but does believe the establishment of a club will provide opportunity for a great reset of the local football landscape.

“I think we need to follow the model of Western and South Australia and have our own Tassie footy commission. We need to make best for what is best for Tasmanian footy, and not just an AFL team,” he said.

“I’ve got a feeling the last 15 or 20 years, there maybe hasn’t been enough funding from the AFL towards Tasmanian football like there has been in New South Wales and Queensland and the chickens have come home to roost.”