Hawthorn and Melbourne members to vote on future
BERNIE SLATTERY in Melbourne
Australian Football League history will be made tonight when members at Melbourne and Hawthorn vote at separate meetings to decide whether or not to merge. The merger issue - backed by the AFL commissioners - has split the two clubs, with former players Brian Dixon and Don Scott heading opposition groups at Melbourne and Hawthorn respectively. Both clubs have been split to the extent that at Hawthorn, skipper Jason Dunstall and young stars Shane Crawford and Nick Holland have backed the merger, while veteran duo Chris Langford and Andy Collins have publicly sided with the anti-merger group, Operation Payback, led by former Hawk ruckman Don Scott. It is a similar story at Melbourne with two former teammates, Ian Ridley (chairman of the club's board) and Dixon (deputy chairman of the anti-merger group the Demon Alternative) the public faces of the two opposing sides.
Hawthorn's anti-merger forces have been buoyed by pledges of more than A$300,000 to keep the club in the black. Melbourne's anti-merge forces have mining multi-millionaire Joe Gudnick committing A$250,000 a year to keep the Demons solvent.
Surveys among Melbourne's 10,500 members and Hawthorn's 9,160 members last week indicate voting will be very close, with slightly more than half the combined memberships expected to support the merger. Their opponents' surveys claim the same margin will halt the amalgamation. AFL chief executive Ross Oakley has suggested the commission would give each of the clubs A$225,000 towards financing the merger. The AFL will provide a A$6 million package to the clubs should they merge.