PARRAMATTA chief executive Denis Fitzgerald admits he must take "a lot of responsibility" for the club’s 23-year premiership drought, a stunning admission on the day his future will be decided at the ballot box.
Eels fans will effectively decide the future direction of the club at the Parramatta Leagues Club elections today, with rebel ticket 3P – endorsed by former Eels Ray Price, Eric Grothe, Brett Kenny and Terry Leabeater – attempting to overthrow the long-serving Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who has been the CEO for the past 30 years, remains adamant he can ensure Parramatta’s future success, on and off the field. And he admits he made mistakes that contributed to the club’s premiership drought.
"I’ve got to take a lot of responsibility for the situation," Fitzgerald said. "There are a number of other clubs that haven’t won the competition in that time. Like all clubs, we’ve had our ups and downs.
"I’ve made mistakes in times gone by. During our great run in the ’80s we had a number of good juniors coming through … but we didn’t do enough to go out into the marketplace to get players.
"We thought we had enough juniors here and we wanted the fans to identify with the locals. We should have been more active in the market."
Fitzgerald and current directors Ron Hilditch and Geoff Gerard outlined the vision of the current board before the latter two fielded questions from Eels fans at a "Team PLC" function on Thursday night.
The trio acknowledged the need to recruit new talent and revealed that the Eels were in negotiations with several marquee players for next season. "We need to get some more players with the line-up we have now," Fitzgerald said.
"It’s not as strong as other clubs’ player strength, I would say.
"There’s a few key positions which need filling and [coach] Daniel Anderson is the guy to advise us on it. For 2010, we’re having some heavy discussions now about who might be a possibility."
The incumbents are expecting a backlash at the ballot box.
The Brett Finch walkout, poor performances on the field and revelations of a $9.1 million leagues club debt have helped the 3P cause.
While Fitzgerald has a water-tight contract as CEO, there’s no love lost between the former Australian league representative and the ex-players attempting to oust him. There also have been accusations of a "votes for vouchers" campaign, a claim vehemently denied by the incumbents.
And there has been niggle between the protagonists.
"It’s difficult to know who’s pulling the strings [at 3P]," Fitzgerald said. "The current board members speak for themselves, not people outside the situation."
The main focus, however, has been on the performance of the leagues club. Fitzgerald denied reports it was as on the brink of insolvency. "Our cash flow is very good," he said. "We do have $60 million in fixed assets of properties and buildings, which is very strong in anyone’s language.
"We had the loss of $9.1 million …St George Bank is fully supportive and confident we can pay any debts as they become due."
3P ramped up its election campaign on the night of the Dragons match, distributing pamphlets on their reasons for challenging the current board. Chief amongst them was Fitzgerald’s assertion that he could not guarantee that the Eels would be around in five years’ time.
"I can’t be guarantee I’ll be here in five months’ time," Fitzgerald quipped. "But I’m very confident the Eels will be here in five years’ time and I’m certainly confident that Parramatta Leagues Club will be as well."
Price stressed 3P’s campaign was not a personal vendetta against Fitzgerald. "The club is floundering and it needs change," he said. "This is not about Fitzy, he’s not standing for the board. After we get control of the Leagues Club and he doesn’t toe the line, then it’s about Fitzy."