Being a sports administrator is an unenviable task, of that there can be no doubt. Yet sometimes administrators do make a rod for their own backs.
Sadly in the case of Football, Football West are finding themselves under fire again following the announcement of the teams accepted into the expanded Junior NPL competition. Yet is it wholly their fault?
Ellenbrook United, Fremantle City, Mandurah City, Melville City, Quinns, Rockingham City and South West Phoenix were the clubs accepted into the expanded league and they will all field a Junior NPL team in each of five age groups from U12 to U16 alongside the existing 12 NPL clubs. Congratulations to all of them.
Why Football West are receiving flak is because one of those teams now accepted into the Junior NPL, Mandurah City, who won the State League Division One title will not be promoted to the NPL on the supposed grounds that they failed to field a side in the under 14 age group this year; although the club stated that no official reason has been given in writing.
Back in April Football West advised that only three clubs in this division met the criteria for promotion, UWA, Gosnells City and Canning City. Mandurah failed for the aforementioned reason.
The crazy thing is the reason that Mandurah City were unable to field a side in this age group was because the former coach moved to a NPL club and as everyone had warned would happen, took the players with him. Should Football West have stepped in? Or do players, or in this case the parents of players have the right to have their child play where they want, so there is little anyone can do?
What Football West should have done was commend Mandurah for the stance that they took. They advised that they could field a side at under 14 level, but they were not prepared this year to elevate players who were under 13 a year early, and see them get beaten week in week out. An action that could have seen them end up leaving the game forever. In fact the club fielded two U13 teams this year. Proof that they should not have an issue in 2016.
Could Football West have revisited the situation at the end of the season in regards to Mandurah deservedly winning promotion and meeting the desired criteria? Many feel that they could have. Yet many others feel that the competition rules were clear and no they should not have.
Yet were the rules really that clear before a whistle was blown to get the season underway?
In February clubs were we are informed told that Football West agreed there should be promotion to the NPL from the State League division One in 2015. Yet there followed ambiguous messages in April when clubs were then told that promotion would now be based on criteria being fulfilled, and then in June that there would be no promotion.
This raises the question as to how the competition rules can actually change after the season has kicked off? How could the clubs allow such a thing to happen?
If the possibility of promotion was indeed there, the question is did Mandurah give a guarantee that in 2016 they would field the full quota of teams at the various age-groups? If they did one wonders why they have not been promoted, unless the decision made in June was in fact final. In which case why is this even being discussed? Talking to a number of clubs they have stated that they did not feel that the June announcement was final. They believed that if the decision could be changed once the season had started, why couldn’t it change again before it ended or even when it had.
It does seem crazy that Mandurah now have had a Junior NPL side accepted, but then again when rules are not announced and stuck to by all, there are bound to be problems.
That aside, the truth is the Junior NPL should always have come in 3-5 years ahead of the senior NPL competition. This would have shown vision and forward planning on the part of the Football Federation of Australia.
Sadly having promised a second tier competition to the A-League to the Asian Football Confederation, when accepted into Asia, Frank Lowy and his board failed to make sure that such a competition was being planned. Instead they focussed on the A-League and the Socceroos, as well as a very costly World Cup bid; what resources were taken up with that bid which could have helped set up a junior NPL? Many close to the board believed that the AFC would not enforce Australia keep its promises, but they did. So in 2013 the FFA scurried around and put together the FFA Cup and the NPL competition to satisfy that promise, and to ensure that they did not lose one of the Asian Champions League spots for one of their A-League sides.
The question should be asked why was a junior NPL not being set up in the ten years that the FFA were running football from 2004-2014? If it had been then none of these issues would be arising now. The Junior NPL would have seen clubs and players develop and a natural progression into the set-up later senior NPL sides.
Football West have been handed a hot potato by the FFA, and not surprisingly have ended up with burnt fingers. Could their communication have been clearer? Most likely that is the case.
The big worry now though is can the senior NPL sustain itself until the junior NPL is established and thriving? One feels Football West are now going to have to source some major funding to ensure that this is the case. Now they no longer are running the Perth Glory Women’s team maybe those funds can be directed to giving the NPL a strong foundation on which to build.
As for Mandurah, the Juniors can live their NPL dream next year, the seniors will have to wait a little longer!