Which club is the biggest in the AFL? It’s a question that will bring automatic scoffs and turned-up noses from most fans in Melbourne as they rattle off a list of their club’s greatest achievements.
A couple of former captains with 533 games of AFL experience between them in Tim Watson and Garry Lyon believe that Essendon may be the biggest club in the competition.
It’s an enormous statement considering what the club has faced over the previous six seasons.
“I am staggered with what Essendon has been able to achieve,” Lyon told SEN Breakfast.
“I think this club is potentially the biggest in the competition because of what they’ve been able to do on the back of horrendous circumstances.”
In 2016, the Bombers revealed a $9.8 million loss.
That year was the season that Essendon faced numerous consequences for the supplements saga that plagued the club and fans alike.
From then, the club reported a $5 million profit – almost a $15 million turnaround.
“I don’t know if any CEO in the history of sport in this country has ever been faced with a more difficult situation than what he faced as a young CEO who had no experience at the time,” Watson said.
“The fact that the supporters have copped so much over that time, they stuck fat, even though a lot of them would have disagreed with what happened, while others would have had blind loyalty to the football club.”
When the 2017 membership numbers were released, Essendon were shown to be sitting fourth, below Richmond, Hawthorn and Collingwood at the top.
What is amazing is their variation from the year before, as they had a 17.87% increase in membership, the third biggest increase in the competition behind then-premiers the Western Bulldogs, and still newbies the GWS Giants.
The fact we can even mention the Bombers in a conversation about being the biggest club in the league is a huge testament to the resilience of the organisation, and the loyal support of their fans.
Do you agree with Watson and Lyon?
Even if you don’t, you have to marvel at the turnaround of a club that faced turmoil never seen before in the history of the competition.