The 2016 National Premier Leagues season in Western Australia will see clubs only allowed to field two visa players in their senior side.
This rule would make sense if the current Visa Players were truly “Visa Players.”
The current crop of what Football West classify as a visa player are simply “a player who is not a citizen of Australia and does not have a permanent resident visa.”
The question many people are asking is whether such individuals should be classed as a Visa player?
The reason being that this ruling has upset many of the true Visa players of yesteryear, who were footballers of pedigree who actually came here to help enhance and grow the game in Australia. They are now be classified as being on the same level as some of the current footballers classified Visa Players, and that is not right. These players were a class above and their contribution far greater.
The players who came across to Perth and Australia in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were all players who had played to a high standard in their homelands. Nearly all of them had been professional footballers, or at least semi-professionals, playing in top level competitions. The large proportion of the recent arrivals have clearly not played at such a level barring a few exceptions.
The players of yesteryear were brought to Australia with the aim of raising the standard of football. It is fair to say that they achieved this as crowds were at their highest during this time. The standard of football was far superior to that on offer today and as a result the crowds turned up to watch.
The current standard of the competition is sadly extremely poor. Players are being paid more than their performances warrant, and more than clubs can afford. The attendances are at an all time low. When you can actually count the number of fans at a game you know that club, and the game, is in trouble; this writer did that at one game this season and the figure was in the 70’s.
If the NPL is to succeed the Visa Player category should apply only to players who are truly here on a sporting visa. They have been brought to the club to play football.
Australian Immigration allows sporting visas and the conditions are clear. The Australian sports visa allows a temporary stay of amateur or professional sports people to engage in competition with Australian residents and to improve general sporting standards in Australia through high calibre competition and training. Sponsorship and/or a letter of invitation may be required depending on the activity and the length of stay in Australia. The player may not change employer competition or training programme without prior permission.
Football in Western Australia actually needs more of these type of Visa Players, experienced players who can raise the standard of football, who pull people through the turnstiles and from whom young players can learn.
Saying that in the past six seasons, four of the seven – one year the award was shared – winners of the McInerney Ford Gold medal for Fairest and Best in the last six years have been, what are classed Visa players. Marc Anthony (2010) ex Celtic and Berwick Rangers, Steve Burton (2011) who played for amongst others Boston United, Doncaster Rovers, Scarborough, and Crawley Town, Gavin Knight(2013) was a trainee at Scunthorpe United and played in the Conference League for Barrow, Clark Keltie (2014) played in the English football league for Darlington, Rochdale and Lincoln City as well as the Icelandic League and League of Ireland. So all stood out having fitted the pedigree of the Visa Players of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
Rather than cutting the likes of these players the league needs more. These are genuine Visa Players rather than a player from overseas who is on a working holiday and decides he wants a game of football, and happens to be good enough to win a spot in an NPL team. To be labelling every foreigner a “Visa Player” is doing those who came with the aim of playing football and helped grow the game a huge disservice. It is something that needs to be reviewed and the term needs to be redefined to ensure that the it reflects true players of quality, and not walk-up players on holiday.