Former Bombers captain Jobe Watson will return to the AFL next year.
Former Bombers captain Jobe Watson will return to the AFL next year. JULIAN SMITH

Bombers on track for record membership

BUOYANT Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner says the club has learnt from its "nasty reality check” and must continue to work together to achieve future success.

Tanner revealed the Bombers are on the way towards record membership (60,819, set in 2015) with 45,000 already paid up for next year.

"A really powerful statement by our supporters about the year to come ... there is a great sense of optimism and excitement around the club,” Tanner told about 200 members at the annual general meeting.

"All of us together have built a great platform to launch our comeback as a football club from, there's a great deal of hard work ahead and there is a lot of unknowns ... but ultimately success is going to depend on how well we all apply ourselves to the task ahead.

"What we've done up until now has got us to this point, has given us an opportunity to pursue success again, it doesn't guarantee it.”

Essendon on Monday night officially tabled a loss of $9.8 million, the majority due to the net cost of legal and compensation claims following its failed appeal of drug bans to a Swiss court.

"Our recovery process from the dramas of the past few years is now well advanced but is not over. Our financial position is of course testament to that, but we have made great progress,” Tanner said.

The club had substantial but not complete insurance cover to offset compensation claims.

Essendon hopes to slash $2 million off its debt next year, largely dependent on good results on the field.

Tanner endorsed Jobe Watson's difficult decision to give up his 2012 Brownlow Medal.

"We all know the decision he chose to make - I think probably it was the right decision. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to make that decision,” he said.

He went on to thank stand-in captain Brendon Goddard for his "crucial” leadership in difficult circumstances.

Essendon coach John Worsfold said work was being done to set standards and culture for 2017 and beyond.

"This is a brand new playing list that want to create their own identity going forward,” he said.

"Our future is very much in the hands, our immediate future, of these great players that are back ready to perform for us but they want to be part of the generation that is coming through as well.”

Essendon will appoint its leadership group for 2017 by mid-January.