St Kilda president Andrew Bassat says excuses are over: ‘It’s time for us to win a flag’

The time for excuses is over for the long-suffering Saints, with president Andrew Bassat saying it’s imperative for St Kilda to finally win their second premiership.

St Kilda president Andrew Bassat sits in the club’s new Danny Frawley Centre grandstand at Moorabbin. Picture: Ian Currie
St Kilda president Andrew Bassat sits in the club’s new Danny Frawley Centre grandstand at Moorabbin. Picture: Ian Currie

St Kilda president Andrew Bassat says it’s time for the Saints to end AFL footy’s longest premiership drought, guaranteeing long-suffering fans the club will be “unrelenting” in its quest to make that happen.

While Bassat would not put a timeline on that elusive second flag, he believes off-field gains in the past few years – and a return to Moorabbin – meant there are no longer any excuses.

“It’s time for us to win a flag; it’s that simple,” Bassat said.

“What (chief executive) Matt Finnis and the previous board (including predecessor Peter Summers) have done is enable us to remove the excuses.

“We can now afford to pay the soft cap; we can now pay the hard cap; we can be a destination club; we had the focus of getting back to Moorabbin and building the stadium.

“Our priority one, two and three is to be good on the field, and to win our second flag.

“I am not going to put a time frame on that. But what I can promise our members is that we are going to be absolutely unrelenting on getting better.”

St Kilda coach Brett Ratten (C) with CEO Matt Finnis and president Andrew Bassat. Picture: Michael Klein.
St Kilda coach Brett Ratten (C) with CEO Matt Finnis and president Andrew Bassat. Picture: Michael Klein.

In an exclusive interview withNews Corpahead of the club’s annual general meeting on Thursday, Bassat said:

– The club expected to play finals next year with lessons learnt from a disappointing 10th-placed finish this year.

– Brett Ratten has the qualities to become the club’s second premiership coach

– A determination to pay off the club’s $9.5 million debt – and a $50 million investment in Moorabbin including the Danny Frawley Centre – will make the club less reliant on the AFL with a more powerful voice at the negotiating table.

– He has no desire to get into a slanging match with former Saints coach Grant Thomas who recently called for a board and administrative overhaul at the club.

– St Kilda’s playing list was far better than it was three years ago and was ready to make an impact.

Bassat believes their list is ready to make an impact. Picture: Michael Klein
Bassat believes their list is ready to make an impact. Picture: Michael Klein

A lifelong Saints fan, born six months before the club’s only premiership in 1966, Bassat said the club was being driven by a desire to reward the 55,0000-plus members with a flag for their ongoing loyalty and support.

“People would write me letters with $100 cheques (inside) and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t donate more, but I just lost my job’,” he said of the uncertain months early in the pandemic.

“The support from St Kilda fans through thick and thin has been extraordinary, so those guys deserve a bloody flag.

“I was absolutely committed before I got the role, but my commitment level has shot through the roof as I have spoken to those members.

“There is a higher purpose here where we really want to deliver success for those longstanding and, frankly, long-suffering members.”

He said Melbourne’s 2021 success – which now leaves St Kilda with the longest active VFL-AFL premiership drought – had provided a template, with stability and a few tweaks to the program making a difference.

“Melbourne came 17th two years ago,” he said. “If you kneejerk and panic and make short term decisions in the face of the pressure you received when you have a bad season, you make mistakes.

“You analyse and look at where you can get better. But you don’t panic and you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

“We were sensible about what needed to change but also sensible with what was working and what we needed to keep.”

St Kilda president Andrew Bassat won’t buy into kneejerk reactions. Picture: Ian Currie
St Kilda president Andrew Bassat won’t buy into kneejerk reactions. Picture: Ian Currie

WHAT WENT WRONG IN 2021?

St Kilda went into 2021 off the back of a gritty elimination final win over the Bulldogs in 2020.

But injuries and inconsistent form saw only five wins coming from the first 13 matches, crushing any finals hopes.

Bassat said a mid-season reassessment – in part driven by the players – helped a second-half turnaround.

“We never want to be the club that says it is all about injuries or that it is all about what was clearly the toughest draw of any club (in 2021),” he said.

“We continue to say there were a lot of things we should have done better, particularly in the first half of the year.

“The injuries and the draw were, at best, partial excuses. But to ignore the fact that we had 160 games lost to injury from our best 22 and Melbourne had 25 games lost to injury, and to say that had no impact is ridiculous.

“Half of our midfield missed half the year or more. I don’t want to put too much reliance on injuries, but you can’t ignore it either.”

He said the Saints “absolutely” plan to play finals in 2022.

“We think we can be a good football side and I think you saw that at the back end of the year when we beat Richmond, Brisbane and Sydney,” he said.

“If we play like that for the whole year, we plan to play finals, for sure.”

A slow start came back to haunt the Saints in 2021. Picture: Michael Klein
A slow start came back to haunt the Saints in 2021. Picture: Michael Klein

MID-YEAR REASSESSMENT

Bassat said some honest self-reflection from players and footy staff brought about a few changes to the program for 2022.

“(It was) assessing everything that had gone wrong in the first half of the season, with help of the coaches and others in the football program,” he said.

“They came up with five or six headings that were really not good enough. They made the changes … and we saw the results in the second half of the season.

“We absolutely don’t want that to be something we do again mid-season next year. We need to be consistent from Round 1, and consistent around our pre-season training.

“We needed to be better in terms of communication. We talked about the team-first aspects and we talked about professionalism in some of the standards.

“I won’t go into too much detail (about the headings). (But we) talked about what was needed from a premiership-winning side and what happened at a club that was run of the mill. We recognised in some areas we were run of the mill, rather than flag standards.”

He added: “The pleasing thing is the players have had a very loud voice in this.”

RATTS

Brett Ratten enters the final year of his existing contract next season, but Bassat said the Saints are confident he is the man to unlock the club’s premiership drought.

“I won’t talk about the contract situation, but we have got a good, open dialogue with Brett,” he said. “I fully expect Brett to be our long-term coach and I fully expect – no pressure at all – Brett to become our second premiership coach, and hopefully not before too long.

“Brett has got really strong relationships with the playing group and really strong relationships within the club.”

The addition of Damien Carroll (head of development and learning), Corey Enright (backline) and Nick Walsh (head of high performance) has added fresh voices, new IP and energy.

“Damien is well regarded by everyone, and it (development) was a bit of a hole in our structure,” the Saints’ president said.

“Nick Walsh has come in and it is a tougher program this year. I spoke to a few of the players and they said ‘He is making us work hard’.

“We think it will hold us in good stead when we are in the fourth quarter of a game and being tested.

“Corey was a terrific player, he is well regarded as a coach but also comes from a successful program.”

St Kilda is confident that Brett Ratten in the man to end their premiership drought. Picture: Michael Klein.
St Kilda is confident that Brett Ratten in the man to end their premiership drought. Picture: Michael Klein.

PLAYING LIST

Bassat insisted the list profile is better and more balanced than it was three years ago.

“It is about a 47 per cent turnover,” he said of the changes in that time frame.

“If you look at anyone’s list ratings, we were right down the bottom three years ago, with not a particularly good age bracket.

“No one was threatening to be an All-Australian, and you are not going to be a top four side, let alone win flags, if you have that sort of profile.

“The (recruiting) guys have taken some risks.

“We feel the list is in a much better state, but it is still a work in progress. We have eight or nine players who could potentially be among the best players in the competition.

“We just need those guys (to do it) week in and week out and if we can have three or four of them step forward next year, you will see a much better St Kilda Football Club.”

He defended the decision to recruit a number of experienced players a few years ago, saying it was a move aimed at keeping the Saints competitive rather than dropping to the bottom for a sustained period.

Bassat has insisted the list profile is better and more balanced than it was three years ago. Picture: Getty Images
Bassat has insisted the list profile is better and more balanced than it was three years ago. Picture: Getty Images

“We needed to bring in some senior people from clubs that had been successful, to help create a list that could take us forward, and help create role models to take us forward.

“Some look better than others as a result of some players being injured and others have come through very well. We have transformed the list and that’s great credit to (head of list management) James Gallagher and (chief operating officer) Simon Lethlean.

“We didn’t want to do what some clubs have done and that’s stay down at the bottom for a few years and take high draft picks.

“Clubs like Carlton and Melbourne have had a lot of high draft picks. But we felt like we didn’t want to go backwards before going forwards.”

He said the Saints always planned to go to the draft in 2021 with a view to bringing in some new faces he feels can play senior football sooner rather than later.

GENERATION NEXT

The president is confident a number of players can elevate themselves and assist Jack Steele, who needs help.

“You have seen Max King in the last six or eight weeks show his potential, and if he can play regularly like that, he is projected to be one of the most exciting forwards not only in this generation, but in any generation,” he said.

“Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield have shown great potential. You saw Jack Sinclair step forward last year.

“Rowan Marshall can be one of the best ruckmen in the competition. He had a really bad injury run last year, even when he was playing, he was badly affected.

“You have got Cooper Sharman who only played a few games last year and Ben Paton was injured last year.

“If you look at our best 22, there are a lot of players you could argue are going to be better in 2022 than they were in 2021.”

Bassat has no plans to get into a public slanging match with Grant Thomas. Picture: saints.com.au
Bassat has no plans to get into a public slanging match with Grant Thomas. Picture: saints.com.au

THOMAS’ CRITICISM

Former Saints coach Grant Thomas recently launched a stinging criticism of the board and key administrators Finnis and Lethlean.

Bassat met with Thomas to hear his criticisms, but says he has no plans to get into a public slanging match.

Thomas pushed for Larry Benge to join the board, but in the end he didn’t seek election.

Former Saint Jason Blake has instead joined the board.

“We invited Larry to make a nomination if he wanted to challenge, but he chose not to,” Bassat said.

“He has strong views of the club, but we thought the need we had was better filled by Jason Blake than by any other candidate.

“Jason is a terrific clubman, he is very committed to the club but has also had some real success in business.”

Bassat said Finnis’ contribution to the club had been significant in helping to reshape the club’s off-field narrative, including a return to Moorabbin.

“Most of this was before my time, so I am not trying to take credit for it,” he said. “We were stuck at Seaford with a really poor list with, to be frank, a poor culture.”

SAINTS’ SOUL

When he was growing up, Bassat spent plenty of time watching games at Moorabbin – from the ‘Animal Enclosure’ – with his brother Paul.

His family lived a couple of kilometres away from Linton Street.

“We used to get dropped at the ground and we would go into the ‘Animal Enclosure’,” he said. “It was pretty feral in there, but we loved it.

“As St Kilda supporters, we always felt really looked after there.”

The club’s Moorabbin return in recent seasons has been akin to getting its soul back.

The redevelopment of the RSEA Park at Moorabbin is nearing completion, work has begun on the ground surface, and the Danny Frawley Centre will open in February, giving the community and past players a connection point. “Seaford never became our home, even though it was a nice venue,” said Bassat, co-founder and CEO of Seek. “Getting back to Moorabbin, where we won our flag (in 1966), has been really important.”

St Kilda president Andrew Bassat in the club’s new Danny Frawley Centre grandstand at Moorabbin. Picture: Ian Currie
St Kilda president Andrew Bassat in the club’s new Danny Frawley Centre grandstand at Moorabbin. Picture: Ian Currie

DEBT

St Kilda paid a further $4.3 million off its once-crippling debt this year.

But Bassat believes ongoing support of its 55,000-plus members, sponsors and donors as well as a predicted turnaround in the on-field fortunes can eat into the $9.5 million debt.

Bassat maintains that would elevate the club’s overall influence in the AFL world.

“If we have some on field success … you will see us repaying that debt more rapidly. You will see us relying much less on AFL distribution and therefore having a bigger voice.

“I am not being critical of the AFL. I think it is the best run competition in the land and I know they have difficult challenges to balance.

“But it is a lot harder to have a voice and to talk about whatever might be the inequities in the system when you are getting the biggest distributions.

“I do think that if we reduce our reliance on the AFL, our voice will grow.

“We absolutely want to pay (the debt) off, (but) I am just not going to put a time frame on it, especially with Covid and the uncertainty in the revenue base.”

“To be frank, if we succeed like we hope to on the field in the next few years, revenue goes up and profit goes up. If we have that, we’ll pay off the debt more quickly.”

Tim Elbra
Tim ElbraDeputy editor

Tim Elbra is the deputy editor of CODE. He started out as a reporter at The Daily Telegraph in 2003 and has also worked for mX, NRL.com, Fox Sports, AthletesVoice and Nine's Wide World of Sports. Tim was one of those kids who played every sport he possibly could while growing up and you’ll find him writing about a broad range of sports on this site. He’s never met a sport he doesn’t like and outside of footy, cricket and tennis, has a passion for snowboarding, bodyboarding, scuba diving and hiking. He’s still waiting, impatiently, for the Parramatta Eels to win another premiership.

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