There is a real irony that the Football clubs in Western Australia are talking about a rebel league.
The irony being that there is not a single club, with the exception of Subiaco, that has lived up to the definition of being a rebel.
A rebel being “a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader.” Subiaco, as much as people don’t like it rose in opposition armed with the fact that due process had not been adhered to, challenged and won against the authorities.
How many other clubs have actually challenged the establishment? Some have, but then when the heat has been turned up, and threats of being sent down to the amateur leagues were aired, backed down. Some would say understandably so, as none of the committee wanted to be blamed for the demise of the club.
For a rebel league to even be set up there has to be one key element, trust. If you look at players who have joined rebel tours in sport, mainly going to South Africa during the Apartheid era, the players who were approached and opted to go stayed quiet until the team was announced. The reason was obvious. If one player had stuck his head above the parapet and said he was going he would have been bludgeoned by the media, but when all stood together as one they shared the flak as a team, rather than individuals.
Can anyone seriously see a) the clubs standing together as one united group, and b) trusting each other that no one will let the cat out of the bag before the appointed time?
Football in Western Australia, as in many other parts of the world is built on gossip. Many around the game thrive on that element and so to raise the street credibility, or their status on social media as someone in the know, so we can be sure that no one would break ranks to improve their own status and standing to the masses, even though they would have broken the trust of those setting up the league.
The trust between the various clubs has eroded over the past 15- 20 years. As soon as one coach approached a player directly rather than asking the club if he could speak to him, cracks started to appear. Then clubs then also started approaching coaches under contract at other clubs, again without the decency of asking the current coach’s employer if they may. Not only that but they started to try and find replacement coaches before they had even created a vacancy. That being possibly the lowest act of all.
So where is the required trust to set up such a league suddenly going to come from?
Even when it came to the NPL the majority of clubs appeared to be united. Yet even in that collective group there were always one or two looking to win favour with the game’s governing body. Individuals from clubs opting to surreptitiously record conversations and share them with the powers that be in the hope that such loyalty would be rewarded.
Sure there were strong players, but Football West cleverly picked off some of those key players. One Club President had stated in front of a meeting of clubs that there was no way that his club would sign up for the NPL. Days later a meeting during a match at Litis Stadium behind closed doors that same club president was persuaded to support the NPL. He had been strongly opposed minutes before entering that room. What was said only those present will ever know.
There was a point when the clubs said they would not be submitting to enter the NPL, but as the deadline approached all caved in. Their justification being that they did not want to miss out, if everyone else signed up. Clearly there was no trust.
Now, when many of the issues that they feared would end up costing them financially have been realised, there is talk of a rebel league.
Who would play in the rebel league? Which club will be the leader to shepherd and corral the others into the said league? As mentioned only Subiaco has had the courage to stand up to Football West, so how can any club be sure that the others will not cave in at some point before they are able to start the league? If Subiaco led the charge how many would follow with them?
If it looks like getting off the ground, which is unlikely, there will be, as there have been many times before, threats that the juniors will be ostracised in football if the leave and join a rebel club. This is complete and utter nonsense. If a child is any good and has what it takes to play at a higher level, is he or she really going to held back because they played in an “independent” league?
The one challenging issue would be finding referees. Yet there are ways around such a problem if the league actually became a reality.
If you look at the history of how the English Premier League was formed it was not the clubs who decided to break away from the Football League. It was only when London Weekend Television (LWT) approached the Big Five consisting of Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal that things started to happen. LWT felt it would be more lucrative to feature the top clubs on television than some of the lesser teams that made up the First division. With hindsight the question many have asked is would the clubs have broken away on their own?
One feels for a breakaway to happen here in Western Australia a catalyst needs to be found. Some body who can bring the clubs something that Football West currently cannot offer, something that will help them turn current losses into profits.
Looking back at the EPL’s emergence importantly the Big Five knew that their planned new league would have no credibility without the backing of The Football Association. A fact that is worth remembering if clubs wish to breakaway from the strictures of the NPL.
There is a slight difference here in that the Football Association was the game’s governing body, but the Football League ran the four divisions of professional English Football. The Big Five knew that the FA had a strained relationship with the Football League, and were able to use that to garner the support of the Football Association. What could be used as leverage in the West to gain approval?
In the end the losers in the whole English Premier League deal were the people whose idea it was, London Weekend Television. When the EPL was formed in 1992 Sky outbid them for the television rights, even though at the time many of the clubs were far from keen to move from free-to-air television to satellite subscriber based television. The deal proved a good one, with football turning sky from a loss making venture to a profitable one, and bringing the clubs more money than they had ever seen before.
Such a deal is never going to come to a quasi-semi-professional competition. However it does show that even if you plan to breakaway it may be beneficial to work with other parties than to try and go it alone.
Here in Western Australia the over-riding question is how can you form a rebel league with no rebels? If we look at the NPL clubs, the supposed pinnacle of the game in Western Australia outside of the A-League, nearly all have simply towed the line. Circumnavigating a salary cap that is not policed does not make you a rebel! In fact in some cases when one looks at the money paid to certain players and the lack of money spent on marketing, it is nothing more than financial suicide.
How many clubs have refused to create a stand, put out a junior team, not charge the high junior fees or broken away from the norm and had the courage to do things differently? All moan, but all ultimately keep on doing what they have always done, and what they are told to do. Not one refused to give away advertising signage space to the NPL, even though it does nothing to promote the league.
The clubs do not trust their own instincts, and neither do they trust their fellow clubs. That is a why a ‘rebel’ or ‘breakaway’ league will never work. The only chance of change is an independent league, set up by independent people with no links to the existing clubs. This way the people involved could cherry pick the clubs to be a part of the league, and if one club hesitated they could go and find another to take their place; just as those who recruited for rebel tours did.
So at present talk of a rebel league is a good distraction from the football at the various grounds, and good debating material at the bar, but without trust it will never happen.