Last week Football West announced the appointment of their new CEO, following the resignation of Peter Hugg, who had been in the role for six years. Mr Hugg left to become Head of Football at Football New South Wales. The new CEO who will take up the position is James Curtis and he will start on July 01.
There was much discussion in regards as to what direction the Board would take when searching for a replacement for Mr Hugg, would they opt for an another administrator or would they go with someone with a greater feel for the game than those who have gone before.
When Football West was formed following the Crawford Report the Football Federation of Australia appointed Michelle Phillips to be the first CEO. Ms Phillips had previously held positions as a business and commercial executive with a number of large international organisations such as Sport England, NTL, Coopers Lybrand, and the now defunct Arthur Anderson.
Ms Phillips role in those early days of the organisation was far from easy, as she tried to bring all facets of the game under the one roof. She had to do this while at the same time balancing a much smaller budget than the current one, and increasing player participation numbers. What is more the FFA were still very much finding their feet, so there was little assistance from the Game’s governing body.
Ms Phillips left after 18 months to move on to become CEO of Perth Glory when the FFA took over ownership of the A-League club. It was hard to judge her performance in that time, but she had certainly laid the foundations for the future.
In 2006 Garry Chandler took on the role. Mr Chandler came from Footlocker in Europe. On his watch the Football West constitution was developed and the areas for the Zone reps decided. Not surprisingly his efforts were hailed by the Chairman Kevin Campbell when both parties agreed not to renew his contract in 2009.
The Constitution sadly is now one of the major things holding the game back. The wording at times, by the current Chairman’s admission, is ambiguous. The clubs have no direct say in the decisions that are made and affect them directly. This power has been given to the Standing Committees and Zone Reps. This would work if those on the Standing Committees recored minutes of their meetings and made them available to all that they represent. Also if they liaised with the clubs that they are there to speak on behalf of, and raised issues and voted according to the clubs. Certainly no Standing Committee representative or Zone Rep should be accepting any free hospitality or similar from the Game’s governing body. This should be declared and on the record so that there cannot be any question of impropriety.
In June 2009 the Board obviously felt that Mr Chandler had done all that he could do and that was why his contract was not renewed. As a man he was a very shy individual and that did not help in such a role. Even in the Football West office a manager’s meeting was a very rare occurrence, which shows how he struggled in terms of communication.
Board member Luke Martin took on the role in a part time capacity until a new CEO was found. Amazingly the position was not advertised until November 2009. At that time Not the Footy Show questioned the type of person that would be given the job as The Job description stated “the position of Chief Executive Officer is a new position created to ensure a strong leadership for Football West, the integration of the Board’s varied responsibilities and activities, and the continuing development of strong ties with FFA.” At that time we questioned whether the Board were too involved in the day to day running of the game, rather than simply overseeing good corporate Governance.
It took until May 2010 until Peter Hugg was unveiled as the new CEO. When Mr Hugg was appointed it looked as if for the first time, the Football West Board had employed someone with areal feel for the game. After all Mr Hugg had held “roles with FIFA as a General Coordinator at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan/Korea, Tournament Director for the Olympic Football Tournament at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and High Performance Manager with Soccer Australia (now FFA) in 1996.”
Yet probably more telling with hindsight were the quotes attributed to him on his appointment. “The progress made over the last six or so years since the Crawford Report and under the Chairmanship of Mr Frank Lowy, the staff at the FFA and with each of the revised state federations, has been nothing short of outstanding” This quote alone revealed that he was a master politician, and that would prove to be the lasting memory of his time in the role.
The Board not surprisingly praised Mr Hugg when he resigned as he had managed to push through many issues that were important to the FFA, such as the National Premier Leagues structure. This was rushed through at the behest of the FFA and clubs are paying the price now, with higher costs, a poorer standard of football and the lowest crowds seen in years.
Like Mr Chandler before him, Mr Hugg was not a people person. He was not someone who would sit amongst a the crowd and chat to followers of the game and hear their points of view. He much preferred the VIP area at clubs such as Perth SC, Inglewood and Bayswater City and mixing with those with influence.
The one thing that Football West needed most of all in his time was a restructure. The organisation was top heavy in terms of management, as it had been under his predecessor. However that never eventuated, and at one time he in fact created more management roles, which resulted in higher costs.
A “Home of Football” had been on the agenda when Garry Chandler was CEO, but the idea gathered momentum during Mr Hugg’s reign and continues to be a priority to the board, even though they authorised a loan to buy much needed office space in 2014. If the Standing Committees had minutes of their meetings it would be interesting to read the consultation process on this decision, and where they stood on the continuation to search for a home of football and government funding after the purchase.
Mr Hugg will no doubt be disappointed that he will not have seen this vision through to completion, but if it does happen he can claim some credit in the process.
When Mr Hugg resigned, as stated on the podcast, the question was would the board opt for another administrator over someone with a football background. What did the game need most at this time? The annual report talks about growth in playing numbers, but there is a real dissatisfaction amongst those involved in playing, coaching and running a club. A football person may well have been able to get out there and listen to what are genuine and worrying concerns in tough economic times, and try and find solutions to ensure the survival of some clubs teetering on a financial precipice.
In the Press Release announcing the appointment of Mr Curtis, the Chairman of the Board, Liam Twigger was quoted as saying, “The securing of funding and finalising a location for the State Football Centre remains our number one priority over the next 12 months.”
Cynics then looked at Mr Curtis’s recent employment history which has according to the same release seen him spend the “past four years in the Western Australian State Government at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in various roles including, most recently, Executive Director Community Development. Mr Curtis is also a member of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Advisory Council.” Now the feeling is he was appointed to the role because he will have access to people in Government to make this “Home of Football” a reality.
The question is does football really need a home? At this point in time there are far more pressing issues that need addressing rather than millions of dollars being spent on a facility that will house the game’s administration. A venue that will then take revenue away from clubs, as if was originally mooted they are forced to play Friday night NPL games at the facility. The business model has said that schools will use the facility, but Not the Footy Show has spoken to teachers in schools in the Fremantle area and Joondalup area and they have said it would be very unlikely they would travel so far for a game.
Mr Curtis was the first owner in WA of a Grasshopper Soccer franchise. Which would tend to indicate an interest in the game. He is, we are advised, no longer a Director of Grasshopper Soccer which will have worked in his favour, as the FFA has a real dislike of these private academies taking money away from their organisations. Here is the testimonial for Grasshopper Soccer made by Mr Curtis in 2011 and which is still on the company’s website here
There will no doubt be a number of people beating a path to his door when he starts in July, all trying to raise their concerns about their club, or the game as a whole. It may be best if these people gave him time to settle into the role and then make an appointment to sit down and talk.
He should be given time to show the style of leadership he will bring to the role. It is hoped that he will be more visible and approachable than his predecessors, because the game needs a CEO who will listen and act to address genuine concerns.