New National Premier League – The Move That Had to Happen

All sport essentially belongs to the people who play it, coach it, officiate it, and watch it. So why is it that many who are privileged to work within the sporting world seek to gain personally from that involvement?

Why is it we frequently hear people say that the game owes them? The game, whichever sport is being referred to, owes nobody anything. If we look at what we get from being involved in sport, what we receive is already more than many people realise. The friendships that are made, the discipline learnt, the art of working as a team, taking instruction, being a gracious winner and learning how to cope with defeat. Sport gives us so much already, there should be no one looking to take anything more from it.

One extreme example of the power of sport was during Apartheid in South Africa when for five years the Political prisoners on Robben Island requested recreation time. Eventually when this request was finally granted they formed an organised football competition, run in total compliance to FIFA regulations. When asked why they could not just have an informal kick-about their answer was very profound. Remembering that these were political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, they opted to run the competition under FIFA regulations so that they could become used to running something with strict rules, as this would help prepare them to govern the country when they were released and Apartheid came to an end. Many of President Mandela’s government have admitted that they learned a great deal from this time; It would appear however that the current President does not share such sentiments, even though he was part of the same competition, and by all accounts a talented player.

Why do these administrators not have the same attitude as the All Blacks have and pass on? As explained in the book “Legacy” and attitude that each and every All Black’s duty is to leave the shirt in a better place than when they came into the team? Of course this comes down to culture and leadership.

Football has had rotten leadership ever since Sir Stanley Rous was blindsided by João Havelange and lost his FIFA Presidency in 1974. Ironically one of the reasons Havelange was able to obtain enough votes to oust Rous was because of the latter’s failure to expel South Africa from FIFA for its Apartheid regime, when their own Confederation had expelled them in 1958.

Across the world the poor practices at FIFA’s head office, and the examples of the leaders in that office taking from the game rather than giving, has spread to many of of FIFA’s 211 member associations.

Sadly it has been a case of the few dictating to the masses. As we have seen in recent times the masses have started to find a voice and sponsors of FIFA were pressured to withdraw their support or face a public backlash. Sadly as one sponsor withdrew on moral grounds another stepped in to take its place, with no second thoughts as to what their sponsorship meant in terms of condoning the behaviour and practices of the organisation.

As we have seen effecting change is sporting organisations such as FIFA is extremely hard. New FIFA Now is still asking questions of the new regime under new President Gianni Infantino, but very little change has transpired. Ironically FIFA has recently looked at the Football Federation of Australia and it looks as if change may well eventuate in the game in Australia even if it doesn’t in Switzerland. On the outside it may appear that the pressure has come from FIFA, but in truth it has been pressure from voices not being listened to by the FFA who have then contacted FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation under whose control the FFA fall, that has resulted in them taking a more active interest.

Change clearly needs to happen, and it looks as if it will definitely happen. The A-League clubs want their competition to be a stand alone competition, and FIFA and the AFC approve of such a move. The NPL clubs around the country are now pulling together as one and this will in fact have more impact than any other change in the game.

For too long the FFA has looked at raising money from clubs and player registrations, as well as coaching courses to prop up the elite side of the game. There has been no money filtering down to the amateur and semi professional clubs. There has been little or no money filtering down to grassroots. So just like grass starved of water, the grassroots side of the game is dying.

Let us not forget that to meet a promise made to the AFC the National Premier Leagues competition was created. It is far from being a National competition in any shape or form. It is nothing more than a smokescreen to keep the AFC happy, as it has been billed as ‘a second tier competition to the A-League.’

Once again the NPL clubs are the ones who are being screwed financially, as it was predicted that they would be. Key advertising positions have had to be given up to the FFA at grounds; On the halfway line and behind the goals are Competition banners promoting the league. The clubs have had to up-skill coaches throughout at their clubs at what is called ‘a subsidised cost,’ but which is still a substantial cost to many clubs as that money going out has to be brought back in. These clubs have also had to increase the number of Junior teams they have in order to be a part of the NPL. So again a further investment, but one that does not see them safeguarded against an A-League club coming and poaching a talented player to come and join their youth set up, which if the player makes it means that the A-League club gains from the development fees rather than the club that nurtured the player. On top of all the work put into the players, these clubs are paid a derisory one off payment of $7000 when a player is signed by an A-League club.

Yes the FFA found sponsorship for this second tier competition, but does any meaningful amount trickle down to the clubs playing in this competition? In some states despite the rising costs of participation in this competition there is little or no promotion of the competition or the games. Twitter and Facebook cannot be classed as promotion, these are used by marketing people more for awareness or to keep pushing a brand or a message.

So as many of the clubs fall further and further into debt what option is left to them than to break away as a whole?

The state bodies fail to listen in many cases, and if they do fail to address issues or adopt the recommendations put forward by the NPL clubs around the country. Why, May be the question on many people’s lips. The answer is simple. In fact the answers are nearly always easy to find if you go back to the source. Things cannot change within the NPL as the competition, unlike the old State Leagues has come from the FFA. Its rules of competition were created by the FFA. Sure some states were allowed to tweak them, but final approval had to be given by the FFA. The reason is again linked to the promise made by those who negotiated Australia becoming a part of the Asian Confederation, and the promise they made that the A-League would have a second tier by 2013.

It didn’t. Neither did Australia have a national cup competition. So before the start of the 2014 season the FFA Cup was created and so too was the NPL. Both competitions heavily flawed. The FFA Cup because it is not a true knock out competition, but one that manipulates the draw to ensure that a NPL club makes the semi-final. The NPL because it was the transfer of a competition structure that had failed in the Netherlands. By all intents and purposes it saw minimal adjustments to suit Australia and was simply adopted as they way forward and was incredibly still expected to succeed.

All of these issues show that Football is not in a good space. Other sports will say that this is, and has always been the case with football in Australia, but what they fail to realise is football is the biggest sport, and puts out the most international teams, male and female at multiple ages. It also has to run a National competition for men and women; the Youth League can no longer credibly be called a national competition.

So why is Football not in a good place? Firstly and foremost the game since its rebirth has yet to have someone from the game as its figurehead, all three CEOs have come from other sports. Overall that mistake is repeated further down the structure as the game continually hires the wrong people and those people fail to listen. Instead of listening and learning on the job, their fear of being found to be inadequate sees them adopt a more belligerent approach.

Sadly, too many people are involved for what they can get out of the game and not what they can put in. The structures in the game are also questionable. As ex FFA Board Member and Socceroos goalkeeper Jack Reilly has said recently in Melbourne the State Offices should be closed down and satellite offices of the FFA should be set up. There should not be this second tier of governance.

He is spot on. From a business perspective one has to question organisations that have 11 managers and for 17 other staff or 12 Managers for 11 other staff. These are the staffing levels in two of the State bodies according to their websites. This is extremely top heavy and costly.

Read any data on the typical range of staffing ratios and they will tell you that it is from 4-to-1 for direct reports to a CEO or senior manager, to 20-to-1 in an administrative area. For most areas the suggested ratio to run an effective business is approximately 10 workers per manager.

The thing that makes Football such a basket-case is while it is accepted that most of the State organisations have more managers than makes good business sense, the flip side is that the people who are supposed to represent the man or woman on the pitch, and influence the direction of the game, the Zone Reps and Standing Committee Chairs their representation is disproportionate in the other direction.

In Western Australia there are 15 people who have been elected to represent just over 40,000 registered players. (In the 2014 Football West Annual Report the figure for registered players was 40,615. In 2015 the annual report failed to record the number of players registered and instead issued a rather vague “more than 200,000 participants involved in one form or another.” The 2016 Annual Report has not been issued as yet as no AGM was held in the calendar year of 2016. Hopefully the accurate reporting of registered players will be back in the report, as an Annual report is supposed to report like for like each year, so its members can compare accurately the performance).

This means that the way forward for the game is held in the hands of 15 people each representing approximately 2666 people playing the game.

Is it any wonder that their voices are seldom heard?

Let us hope that those representing each state in the NPL negotiations can find a way to work together and can indeed set up a trust National Premier League. One that has the foundations to succeed. Foundations that see strong foundations laid that they can build on. A system whereby clubs respect each other and no longer simply poach players. A transfer system between clubs. Media coverage and a marketing plan to promote the league and pulling fans.

There are plenty of key issues to be put in place, issues that were raised by those who questioned the NPL. Issues that in the West the governing body said would be a work in progress. Sadly there has been little progress in four years, so no wonder the clubs are taking their own futures into their own hands. We wish them luck.

New National Premier League – The Move That Had to Happen
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One thought on “New National Premier League – The Move That Had to Happen

  • March 16, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    How easy is for someone to look at all the facts, from past to present , crunch the numbers and come up with solutions that can be implemented so football in Australia can catch up with the rest of the world ! We need more ex Socceroos to voice their opinion on how the game should be run and to actualy be involved at FFA in positions as high as posible and togheter with honest business people to sell better our beautiful game . FFA should look at other leagues around the world and figure wich one would suit Australia and try and run the game around similar lines ! And most important i believe FFA should work more with MEDIA in tring to sell the game . Looks like a lot of work needs to be done and we must have lots of patience until our game will reach the level it should be at !

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