“It’s a funny old game,” is a phrase constantly used in football and especially by Jimmy Greaves.
Never was the term more appropriate in relation to the game than in Western Australia. However, not funny as in amusing, funny as in strange.
Almost everywhere around the world teams play football in a league competition, and the team that wins the league at the end of the season is either crowned champions or promoted to a higher division. The team that comes last is relegated.
In the past three months we have seen Joondalup United win the State League competition and on the pitch and earn the right to be promoted. Football West initially agreed that they would be promoted and advised the club of the fact.
Subiaco, who were due to be relegated, questioned whether Football West had jumped the gun, as the game’s governing body, who should know the rules had only asked Joondalup United to comply with three of the seven criteria required to become an NPL club. Proving that it is as hard to become a member of the NPL as join the mile high club!
After consulting two sets of lawyers – they also have a lawyer on the board – Football West were advised that they did not have a leg to stand on. So ironically on Armistice Day the war for a place in the NPL came to an end. Football West advised Joondalup United that they “Regret to inform you that Joondalup United did not satisfy the NPL Eligibility criteria and therefore cannot be promoted.”
Not surprisingly there was a public outcry. Subiaco copped an immense amount of flak and were being asked to do the honourable thing, and having won the battle concede the war and accept their relegation with dignity. That was never going to happen.
It came as no surprise then that both Joondalup United and Mandurah City, who came second in the State League, and who had been advised that they would play off against Subiaco over two legs if Joondalup failed to meet the NPL criteria, both decided to seek legal advice as to their position. Joondalup had actually met with the staff of Football West and discussed what information they needed and in what timeframe. So their alleged failure to meet the NPL Criteria was not actually their fault but Football West’s, as they have stated they could have supplied the information, had they been asked.
The most logical outcome to the whole affair, if one only looked at the NPL was that the league be expanded to 14 teams. However this would cause issues in the divisions below, as suddenly the State League division one would be two teams short, and if teams were promoted from division two then they would be two teams short. In addition, with the National Premier Leagues finals being locked in to accommodate all the teams from around the country the season has to finish by a set date, so the season could not be extended to accommodate another four rounds.
Then crucially, there was the fact that the NPL standing committee had voted on this issue and the vote had been 10 teams saying no to expansion of the league, and two voting in favour, namely Perth Glory and Subiaco.
Yet today we hear that Football West have ignored their wishes, and gone ahead with a 14 team league in 2017. If ever there was a time the NPL standing committee must wish that they had made sure that their standing committee was in the constitution it would be now, as legally they do not have a leg to stand on, as they are not a part of the decision process as outlined in the Constitution.
However, in order to try and act as a sweetener we hear that clubs will receive a financial benefit from allowing these extra teams into the NPL. The financial sweetener from Football West is believed to be $3000 to each of the 12 clubs for each of the four extra games. Whether the clubs will receive $12,000 cash is yet to be determined, but it is believed that they will receive $12,000 credit on their registration fees. Amazingly this money is the same as the prize money for winning the league!
If the clubs are to receive $3000 cash each, so $36,000 for the existing 12 clubs, where has this money suddenly come from, and one has to ask why has this money not been used to promote the NPL and try and pull in crowds?
More importantly have the various Standing committees been consulted and agreed to such an expenditure on one section of the Football West portfolio? Such a decision should be run past the Standing Committees if these monies are coming from the Football West coffers. It would be a different matter if the money was generated through sponsorship for that specific competition.
Also if the NPL clubs are receiving compensation then there should be compensation paid to the clubs in the lower divisions too? If a bye is created in either division then clubs lose the possibility to make money due to less games. Some would argue that they would also have the benefit of not having to pay players, however in reality if there is a bye and players are not getting paid, many will book a holiday and not be seen for a week. So they lose out more than just financially.
The news that at the end of 2017 two teams will be relegated from the NPL and only one will come up, and the same in 2018 so that by 2019 the NPL is back to 12 teams is little comfort to many. The disruption this will cause in the lower leagues and the possible issues at the end of next season if Football West do not lock everything in at the start of the season do not bear thinking about.
All clubs should ensure before a ball is kicked in 2017 that the clause in the competition rules for the state league and the NPL that reads “Football West may alter, add to, clarify or delete any of these rules at its discretion. Any changes to these rules will be communicated to clubs,” is removed. That way every club knows the rules at the start of the season and there can be no deviation from them by anyone, as all know they cannot be changed.
Despite the fact that it looks like a happy ending for Joondalup and Mandurah, the disruption that Football West’s ‘bargaining’ has and will cause cannot be good for the game as a whole. It is therefore crucial that some key things need to happen before the start of next season.
The first is that the NPL standing committee needs to be added to the constitution.
Then the NPL Standing Committee and the State League Standing committees need to sit around a table without Football West and nut out a way forward that benefits all playing on a Saturday. If it takes a weekend so be it, as it will be for the long term good of the game. They must then take the agreed plan to Football West and ensure that as the game’s administrators they implement the plan. The Standing Committees are there to steer the game in the direction the clubs want, not the board. It is vital that this is remembered.
Then an audit of every club in the NPL and in Division one needs to be carried out by independent assessors before the start of the season to ensure that all in the NPL currently are compliant, and no clubs owe exorbitant sums of money, and have paid the council the rent on their grounds etcetera. Also that every club in Division one is compliant should they win the league in order to be promoted. If they fall short on any issues they should be given until June 30th to become compliant. A failure to do so by then would rule them out of being promoted.
It is also time that the new CEO was seen and heard. It has been extremely distressing how little has been forthcoming from the man charged with taking the game forward. Mr Curtis was unveiled as the new CEO in May 2016, and started in the office on July 01, so he has had five months in the job and should by now be across all aspects. His leadership in 2017 will play a key part in where the game goes in the next few years. Admittedly he has an unenviable task cleaning up the mess that he has inherited, but his time in the role will be judged by his actions now, and not whether a “Home of Football” is created on his watch.
If these or similar steps are not taken, then sadly the game faces more unwanted situations similar to those we have witnessed in the past three months in the years to come. Let us hope that is not the case.
Let us hope that the debacle of promotion in 2016 is now behind us. Surely there cannot be more drama to come?
(Updated 5.30pm on 02 December)