When Football West launched their branch of the National Premier Leagues, the CEO Peter Hugg said “The start of the NPL WA represents the end of a long period of planning but there will continue to be a need for hard work and a collective effort to ensure its success. We can’t expect the NPL to be a magic bullet for the sport but if we all embrace it, I have no doubt it will ensure our game continues to prosper.”
There were many people who felt that the NPL was doomed due a distinct lack of planning on behalf of the game’s governing body and that it was rushed through at all costs to meet an FFA deadline, a deadline that they had agreed with the Asian Football Confederation to introduce a competition “underpinning” the A-League.
Many of the clubs were extremely concerned about the lack of a financial model that was to underpin the League. There was no marketing plan to support the clubs as costs were certain to rise, as the clubs were being forced to ensure all coaches were qualified and that they employed technical directors.
There was no plan to back up these grandiose ideas. Yet pressure was applied in the right places and clubs clamoured to be a part of something many knew was a leap of faith into the unknown.
Pressure was applied to key clubs whose role it was to swing others across to apply for NPL membership.
Football West assured us that the selection process to determine which clubs were best suited to compete in this new improved competition was carried out with due diligence.
A year after season one it would appear that nothing could be further from the truth. The minutes of a meeting held amongst the NPL club presidents shows that all of the clubs are struggling under the increased financial burdens and the workload being imposed on them and their already overstretched volunteers.
If A-League Franchise owners struggled to cope with running a first team. a youth team and a women’s team, with full time staff, what made anyone think that part time club committees could run a semi professional team along with three times as many youth teams?
If the application process had been carried out suitably this should not be happening after one season, as the detailed business plans should have seen all of the clubs able to cope with the increased burden administratively and financially.
The truth was the clubs took their eyes off the ball. Rather than thinking of protecting the future of their clubs, none wanted to miss out on what was being promised as the way forward. A way forward where all had aired concerns about its vagueness. So little being set in stone. So the whole concept, which is essentially a good one, was not well thought out and was not being built on solid foundations.
Now the clubs are seeking unrealistic compensation for a decision they all went along with. The loss of revenue from advertising in key locations around their pitches. The costs of getting their coaches accredited as now as predicted now they have a qualification these coaches want paying. The Technical Director, a job which the CEO expected to be done for under $10k per year, is now being swamped in administrative paperwork and the incumbents are demanding more financial reward for the time he is having to give to the role.
The 12 NPL presidents have drawn up a letter which they wish to be taken to Football West by the State League Standing Committee Chairperson. However as they did not constitutionally create a new Standing Committee they are going to have to rely on all of the State League clubs voting and agreeing on this letter being tabled.
As many of these clubs acted in self-interest they may find such support hard to come by. Which will leave them staring down the barrel of massive financial losses. It is rumoured that one club has already approached their local council for some leeway on their leasing fees, as money is so tight.
Again they must look at themselves, and ask whether they were actually looking at the best way forward for the game, or simply the best way forward for their club. To not have created a Standing Committee of their own was foolhardy, and was yet another issue that was raised prior to them all signing up for the NPL, but which they all failed to ensure was put in place. Now this group of 12 clubs are dependant on on a group of 24 clubs to support them, clubs many of them have never given a damn about. Clubs from whom they have pinched up and coming players with no compensation. It will be interesting how they manage to convince them to support their pleas.
NPL or State League football in Western Australia will never move forward, never fulfil its potential until clubs put aside rivalries from the past and work together for the good of the game. Many of the clubs built along ethnic grounds years ago, can no longer rely on the members of their community to stump up $10k at an AGM to help keep the club alive. Those members are now passing away, and the next generation want to see a return on their investment. Very few are as altruistic, especially when they look at the lack of marketing, the lack of crowds at games and the standard of football being played on the park. A standard that has been driven to the lowest level ever by a flawed player roster involving points for players, and a salary cap adhered to by some, and ignored by others, and unpoliced by the games administrators. Why is it unpoliced? As administrators they created a rule surely the least they can do is enforce it.
Football West wanted to rule by dividing the clubs, it made it easier to push through change. Yet now the game needs everyone to sit down as a whole and plan a way forward that is the best for all, as if it continues down its current path it is scary to think how many clubs will be lost to the game, how many coaches and how many players.
It is time for everyone to put egos and self interest aside, sit around a table and admit mistakes have been made. That the clubs acted out of self interest, that Football West merely pandered to an edict from on high and did not lay adequate foundations for the competition to thrive.
Another season like last year and it could be too late. Reading the comments of the club presidents, some are definitely trying to save face amongst their counterparts and not revealing how desperate things are, but you cannot move away from the fact that all are hurting.
The clubs have tried to embrace the concept, but the ‘magic bullet’ Mr Hugg spoke of is one being used to play Russian Roulette. The question is which club will it kill first. A collective effort is needed and the game’s administrators need to start working with the clubs, finding sponsors and money, marketing and promoting the game in a way that brings people through the turnstiles. The clubs must share some of that responsibility, but it should not be left solely to them.