Tonight the new Chairman of the FFA Steven Lowy and his Chief executive David Gallop will meet with A-league fans, and it could be the most important meeting the FFA have ever held. It may also open the new Chairman’s eyes as to just how strong his father’s dictatorship of the game was, and he will have to decide if that is really the path to carry the game into the future or if a more inclusive approach will be more beneficial.
The FFA under Frank Lowy and John O”Neill as Chief Executive made what appears now a flawed decision when they opted to build a national League competition – the A-League – based on a Franchise model. Selling the club to one owner was always going to be a risky decision. The idea of owning a football club appeals to many wealthy business men, but when the reality kicks in they realise that it is not quite as glamorous as they first imagined; of course if you can use that ownership as leverage in your business dealings and write-off the losses then it still has some merit being involved.
It was the short term co-owner of Perth Glory John Spence who coined the phrase that the A-League was “a billionaire’s club for millionaires.” His throwaway line was in fact pretty close to the mark. How many of the current A-League clubs after ten years could stand on their own two feet without hand outs from the FFA?
The biggest flaw in the A-League model was that the fans were not given a voice. Sure there are official supporters clubs, but they have no say in real terms as to how the club is run or decisions that effect them.
To be a member of an A -League club is not like being the member of many other clubs. It does not give you any voting rights. How many clubs members have a say in voting in the members of the board at the clubs in which they have invested their hard earned money? How many A-League clubs actually have a fans representative on the board?
While the big clubs in Europe survive in the main because of billionaire investors such as Roman Abramovich or the Glazers, many others are listed on the stock exchange, yet all these investors have a say in how the club is run even if there is a major shareholder.
In the lower divisions, in many countries, it has been fan groups who have saved traditional clubs from extinction. These fans have clubbed together and found ways to save their clubs and keep them going. As a result many now have a say in the day-to-day decisions or the long term decisions made.
The A-League clubs have not truly engaged the fans in most states. The fans have seen owners, coaches, and players come and go, and they have been the one constant, as they always are. Is it not therefore common sense that they should be given a voice?
The FFA Have held various Fan Forums around Australia but have they really listened to what the fans really have to say? Have these not simply been the FFA paying lip service to the fans or ticking a funding requirement box to say that they have consulted with the game’s stakeholders on a regular basis? If the Fan Forum held in Perth was anything to go by then this was very much the case. The FFA’s Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications who chaired the meeting was downright rude to attendees and also made sure that any ‘troublesome’ issues were soon passed over. (Should Patterson Apologise?) Damien de Bohun, Head of Hyundai A-League refused to listen to fans concerns about the timing of games over in the West, and any possibility of them being changed. Fans were concerned about the times of games in Perth’s Summer and the welfare of players, as well as friday night games kicking off early in the West to meet television slots in the East. Times that made it hard for fans to get to games after work.
To be fair to de Bohun it is believed that in the FFA hierarchy what he wants is almost bottom of the list with all the focus going on the Socceroos. The A-League was, until recent weeks, moving along smoothly enough.
If these Forums were really meant to achieve something the FFA would have taken the names of all who attended and would have responded on any points that needed following up on and come back to everyone with the outcome. The truth was there was never any intention to follow up, neither was there any intention to truly engage the fans.
Tonight the FFA will have to listen. If they don’t the fans will continue their stand off. The A-League owners will feel the financial pain and they too will start to put the squeeze on the game’s governing body.
David Gallop came into the role as Chief Executive of the FFA on 21 August 2012, he was heralded as the Messiah, the CEO the game had to have. Three years have now passed and one has to ask what has he achieved in that time? Yes the Socceroos won the Asian Cup, but was that down to him or the coaching acumen of Ange Postecoglou? Where has the game gone in three years? How many people would say that the NPL has helped the game? Has it brought in more money to the second tier clubs or has it in fact cost them more? Is the FFA Cup really the success the FFA promote it as being? If it was why was the final not close to being a sell-out? Has the A-League really improved? Is the Football Pathway really producing more talented players or simply bringing in more revenue?
David Gallop will no doubt survive tonight’s meeting, but as was highlighted in his press conference just over a week ago he needs to start listening to people in the game and not the sycophants that surround him, and start showing some leadership. If he doesn’t he may well find that his reputation and his job are on the line.
Anthony Di Petro, Chairman of what is probably the best run club in the A-League, Melbourne Victory, has said in recent days that the FFA has been “in caretaker mode.” He is spot on. First of all the Board were biding their time until the elections and ensuring a smooth transition from father to son, Frank to Steven Lowy, and it would appear that Gallop was too, until he had cemented his relationship with his new Chairman.
Quite simply this is not good enough. As many have said, the game is not in crisis, but rest assured that without strong leadership, and a leadership that is truly engaged at all levels, a crisis could well be not too far away, as there are other icebergs lurking in the dark waters ahead.