” Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into” is a line made famous by Laurel and Hardy. Whenever Oliver Hardy uttered those words, Stan Laurel would burst into tears. Laurel and Hardy were a comedy double act.
Sadly the same words were uttered by many in Football in Western Australia on Friday evening, and over the weekend, in reference to the game’s administrators Football West. Whether tears were shed we do not know.
The reason the catch phrase or stronger was on so many lips was because on Friday evening it was revealed that Joondalup United, who had won the right to play in the National Premier Leagues of WA in 2017, after finishing top of the league and having that status confirmed by Football West, were advised that they would not be promoted after all.
This news coming after they had budgeted for the new season in the top flight of Western Australian football, and already started holding trials for their junior sides. For their under 18 trials last season only nine boys turned up, as a NPL side they had 78 turn up. They selected their squad and parents paid deposits to show that their children were committed to the club. Not surprisingly the club is in shock.
Incredibly, following the penultimate game of the season on Monday 12th September Joondalup United were only asked to prove three things by Football West, which had to be delivered by the end of the week. Proof that they had junior teams from under 12 to under 16’s, proof of a Ground share agreement from the club and the relevant council, and an up to date constitution. All were supplied on Friday 16th, and only then was the club told that they needed to supply original documents for the ground share. Despite the lateness of this request the club managed to deliver originals on Saturday morning.
On last Friday afternoon the club was advised that because they had not submitted a report containing an assessment of the training programs across all youth teams,- not required in Division One – as well as an up to date financial report they would not be promoted. Had they been asked the club could have provided such a report in five minutes as both the Vice President and the Treasurer are Charted Accountants! The trouble is they were never asked. They were however told in a meeting with Football West prior to the complaint from Subiaco that has led to their demise, that these documents would not be required until the end of the following season.
Subiaco, who after their rapid rise thanks to the NPL process have never been everyone’s favourite club, played the first season of the NPL at the Athletics stadium, but in season two their ground was suddenly suitable for NPL football despite not having an enclosed pitch. Now their legal action has resulted in, despite coming last in the NPL this season, the club not being relegated.
Many are saying that club should not have taken legal action, however the role of the committee at the club is to safeguard the interests of the club at all times, and although their actions may appear selfish they have done just that. As painful as it is to many, it comes as no surprise that eventually someone has stood up to Football West and made sure that they abide by their own rules.
In fact one of the unspoken reasons why they took such action, was as the first team was to be relegated from the NPL they faced the very serious threat of losing a high percentage of their juniors. Why? The reason is as was predicted, as the same thing happened in the Netherlands when this model was adopted and failed, because it has been promoted that all juniors who want to have a chance of making a career in football must play NPL. Sure some of the junior sides are not aligned with the senior NPL clubs, but many parents who are not closely involved with the game do not understand that.
It is understandable that much of the vitriol is aimed at Subiaco but in truth it would appear that most of the blame for this lies heavily at the feet of Football West. The administrators of the game, and those charged with safeguarding its future.
Before we start looking at the problems, it is only fair to state that the current CEO, James Curtis, was not in the role when many of the decisions were made at the start of the season. What is pertinent to remember is the former CEO Mr Hugg’s comment at a meeting at Stirling Lions clubrooms on 17th May 2013, on the issue of promotion and relegation he stated “That will be the next CEO’s problem.”
First and foremost once Football West accepted the proposal from the State League standing committee to have promotion and relegation, and the possibility of a play-off game should the top team not meet the required criteria, why was this not officially incorporated into the competition rules so that it could not be challenged? Surely that is something that should have happened as soon as it was agreed upon, and the clubs deserve an explanation as to why the administration did not do this.
Secondly, why did Football West not understand the importance of Compliance Law 13 in their own rules of competition, and not request Joondalup to answer all of the necessary questions? Surely with the league coming to a conclusion, at least a month out those in the running for promotion should have been briefed as to what would be required? Apparently, Compliance Law 13 will be re-written for next season, but this is after the horse has bolted and cost football and individual clubs and players.
There are very few who will deny that ever since the NPL was tabled, the process in Western Australia has been heavily flawed. At the time, when clubs were considering whether to nominate for the NPL or not, Football West advised that two Board Members, Henry Atturo and Sherif Andrawes were acting as advisors to clubs. Obviously the then CEO, Peter Hugg, was also talking to clubs and trying to put out fires of dissent.
At the aforementioned meeting, Mr Hugg stated that when it came down to interviewing the clubs, the same two Board Members who had advised some of the clubs on their applications, Sherif Andrawes and Henry Atturo, along with Football Operations Manager Keith Wood and an independent person would make the decision as to which clubs were to be admitted into the NPL.
Having checked with those who presented submissions to be in the NPL, they have advised that the Evaluation Committee consisted of Mr Sherif Andrawes, Mr Henry Atturo (Football West Directors) and Mr Peter Hugg (Chief Executive). The General Manager, Competitions and Operations, Keith Wood was on hand to, in his own words in an email, “provide administrative support and advice and also to organise your presentation to be recorded.” There was not a sign of any independence in this process.
Questions should have been asked then as to whether the Board were becoming too involved in the operational issues at Football West. Bunbury Forum Force who were rejected a place in the NPL tried to do just that, but were silenced. Some people were brave enough to speak up, others feared the consequences to their club if they did. According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors – who actually run courses on the responsibilities of Board members – “While part of a board’s role is to oversee the operations and finances of the organisation, it is usually also externally focused and concerned with the larger context and “settings” of the organisation. Management, on the other hand, tends to focus more on operational detail.”
The “Settings” they refer to are along the lines of the following: “Determining, reviewing and maintaining the vision, purpose and values of the organisation, Approval of short and long-term strategies, Approval of annual budgets, Approval of expenditure over pre-specified limits and Appointment, performance evaluation and (if the circumstances necessitate) termination of the employment contract of the CEO.”
So should the Board have been involved in the selection process at all? Should Board members have been advising clubs?
Once the decision was made to incorporate promotion and relegation, the responsibility to ensure that this was included legally in the competition rules would appear to fall at the feet of staff at Football West. The responsibility to put everything in place would be the General manager, Competitions and Operations and the CEO, but the Board should have checked that it had been done.
Is the current situation a surprise? It shouldn’t be to any clubs as point three in “Article 1 – General” of the Football West Competition rules states, “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.” If you search the NPL rules under section one of “Article 1 – General” it states, “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.” The very same phrase, so why did they not do so on this occasion?
As was raised at that meeting in May 2013, why would any individual let alone any club agree to such a clause? Would you allow such a clause with any business you dealt with? So why would anyone allow the rules to be changed on the whim of the administrators when you are investing close to $80,000 a year as a club, sometimes more just to keep your club afloat?
Let us also not forget the name of this competition, National Premier Leagues. There is an “S” on the end, and the rules are supposed to have been the same across the nation, after all it is supposed to be “a second tier competition to the A-League.” As this was how it was promoted to the Asian Football Confederation, who want to see promotion and relegation in the A-League. It would be very interesting to hear their reaction, knowing that the rules are in fact not uniform across the country. In truth were they ever going to be? (Why Play Ball?)
One other problem Football West now faces heading into the 2017 season is that they are going to have to be just as hard on all NPL clubs who fail to comply with the NPL criteria. Be it coaches not having the required qualifications, to holding two public forums per season, etcetera. It is guaranteed that each club will now be watching the others in case they face relegation, and then they can challenge the legitimacy of another club, not based on football, but on administration. So instead of the clubs pulling together as one, an atmosphere of each-for-their-own will now arise.
The anti-Football West feeling on social media is running high, and understandably so. Subiaco too are copping some not unexpected flak on the lengths they have gone to, in order to remain in the NPL. There have been suggestions that clubs should boycott games against Subiaco in 2017, but to do so, under the competition rules would see Subiaco crowned Champions, as the forfeit would see them not only win 3-0, but also be given three points.
There has been talk of wanting changes made in the way Football West is managed, and this is a reasonable call. After all, not counting the two regional administration officers, Football West has 12 of their 22 staff in Managerial roles. In almost any business such a top-heavy ratio would be unwieldy and unproductive.
Yet how can clubs demand the change that the game quite clearly needs far more than a Home of Football? There is no mechanism in the current Constitution for those with the voting rights, – the Zone Reps and Standing Committees- to call an Extra-Ordinary General Meeting.
Not only that, even if there was under section 7.1 Constitution and By-Laws, the constitution states in section 7.2: (b) The Members must not otherwise amend this Constitution and the Directors must not otherwise adopt, revoke or amend any By-laws, without the consent of FFA.
It would appear any chance of change is blocked.
So how can the Members and the stake holders ensure that nothing like this every happens again? How can they show the administrators what they clearly feel, that they have no faith in the way the game is being run? It would appear that the only options are along the same path Subiaco took, a legal path.
Where stakeholders may have a loophole is on the issue of the Board and the Constitution, and whether it is being adhered to, remembering that the Constitution is a legal document. In July 2012 Sherif Andrawes was appointed to the board, outside of a vote from Members at an AGM, so not elected. In 2014 Anna Liscia was appointed to the Board, rather than elected; although it is hard to find in which month she was appointed, and that could be a key issue. Both are listed on the Football West website as “Appointed Directors.” The Constitution states under section “10 Directors” and in section “10.16 Appointed Directors” the following:
“(c) An Appointed Director hold office for a term of two years or such shorter term as may be determined by the Directors, and subject to approval by the Nominations Committee under article 10.21, is eligible for re-appointment.”
So legally, one should not still be serving on the board, and possibly both. Certainly if they are past the two years they should not be a part of any decision making.
A complaint to the FFA re the promotion/relegation debacle will fall on deaf ears, as it is believed they advised Football West not to challenge the issue through the courts as it would be too costly; it would have been with Football West consulting two lawyers.
The question many are asking is what rules are now set in stone and which ones would fall over if challenged legally? Hence the reason that a review must be carried out before the Night series gets under way in the new year.
If the clubs wanted to make a statement and ensure that they were heard the best way would be to go down the same path that the German clubs did. They paid all of their registration fees into a holding account and sent the relevant paperwork to the governing body showing that payment had been made by each club. They refused to hand over the money until the administrators listened. Change has to happen and everyone has to agree that the most important deciding factor is who wins on the pitch.
One thing is clear, that the highest level of the game in Western Australia is in a mess. It is enough to make you want to cry. Hopefully like in every episode of Laurel and Hardy there will be a happy ending, but one feels that the end to this episode is still a fair way in the future.