Time to Stand Up, and Together

At the start of this week it was revealed that the Victorian clubs in their National Premier Leagues competition are adding heat to the argument that the A-league needs expansion, and that the current model needs to move away from a single owner model to membership based ownership. Also as quoted “that it is a closed shop from which traditional clubs are excluded.”

First of all what is meant by ‘traditional clubs?’ One would presume they mean clubs that were part of the old National Soccer League which was the first genuine national sporting competition in the country. They may also be referring to the clubs that have been branded ‘ethnic clubs.’

First of all it is vital that these ‘traditional clubs’ shake off the ‘ethnic’ tag. It is one that is bandied around far too frequently and far too easily. It is good to see a word such as “Traditional” being used, and hopefully those who follow the game will start to use this word rather than ‘ethnic.’

Without many of these “traditional clubs,” which were set up by migrants to Australia, football in this country would not be where it is today. These clubs were communities and did a great deal to grown the game, and although their roots may well be from far off lands very few today are entrenched in that culture and their doors are open to all. What has always been a joy is going to these grounds and seeing the links to their past, even if it is simply the food served in the canteen. These clubs have given Australia so much, and we should be grateful for it.

What was most telling in the article by Melbourne-based football writer Michael Lynch was that a ‘spokesperson’ was quoted as saying, “Once we have formulated our approach here, we will be talking to clubs who feel the same way in NSW, Queensland and South Australia to establish a national body of like-minded clubs.” There was no mention of clubs on the West coast of the country.

Some have asked why this would be so, but the reasons are fairly clear.

First of all despite Bayswater City making it to the 2015 National Premier Leagues Grand final where they lost to Blacktown City, and Perth SC making it to the 2016 semi finals football in Western Australia is not regarded with the respect of old.

First of all even before the NPL competition started in 2013 the cream of Western Australia headed to Victoria or New South Wales to play in their top flight rather than stay in Western Australia. The reasons were multiple. Some wanted to put themselves in the spotlight of the A-league clubs on the East coast with limited opportunities presenting themselves in Perth, some wanted to test their ability, while others simply chased the money.

When the FFA launched its planned National Premier Leagues, the NPL was pitched to be a national competition underpinning the A-League. The FFA stated that each member federation was tasked with coming up with their own state-specific model, but it would require the approval of FFA and the participating clubs. New South Wales, South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania and Queensland, tweaked and massaged their model which kept the FFA happy and gave the existing state league clubs little room to negotiate.

In Victoria, the process was far from as smooth. There was infighting and calls for the Football Federation Victoria board to be removed. There were rumours of a rebel competition being set up and a court injunction was brought against FFV by a group of Victorian state league clubs.

At the same time across the country clubs in Western Australia were also railing against the proposed move to the new competition. These were the only two states in the country that had not signed up to the NPL and the issues were similar. Yet did WA stand alongside Victoria at this point in time?

What happened was the FFA lodged a document with the Asian Football Confederation stating that every state had signed up to the NPL before Victorian and Western Australian clubs had. The Asian Football Confederation who had been applying pressure for a second division to the A-League with promotion and relegation and an Asian Champions League place was on the line.

In Western Australia the CEO of the FFA David Gallop told the board at the time to get the NPL through no matter what. The expression used in reference to the dissenting clubs was we have been told ‘stare them down.’ One by one those who were concerned in relation to the financial implications the NPL would have on their clubs were turned.

The main concern in Western Australia was the same as in Victoria. The NPL coming from the FFA, but being pushed by the state bodies was pushing the clubs to implement higher standards of professionalism on and off the field. The clubs all agreed to this in principle, but all were concerned about how they were to find the required capital to meet these requirements. In WA it appeared there was no plan to address this. It was according to the CEO of the day to be ‘a work in progress.’

Whereas the WA clubs postured and threatened the Victorian clubs spoke with actions. They mounted a legal challenge, and were granted an injunction by the Melbourne Magistrates Court to prevent FFV from going ahead with their NPL model in 2014.

Eventually the FFA against its will was drawn into the negotiations with FFV and the clubs to come up with a mutually beneficial model. On 6th December 2013 finally an agreement was reached, after the clubs had initially rejected the FFA model and a subsequent compromise. The legal proceedings were dropped and Victoria participated in the NPL in March 2014.

Yet three years down the track have some of the concerns raised been addressed? It would appear that they have not, and the concerns in Victoria were well founded. As the ‘spokesperson’ also said in the article the FFA “have acknowledged that as private businesses the FFA is focused on providing the A-League teams with the opportunities to maximise revenues and make money. We feel too much emphasis is on that and not enough on grassroots football, building the infrastructure of the game beyond the top level and developing young players and giving them the opportunity to play at the highest level with more clubs.”

With the AIS Centre of Excellence due to close, it has been expected that the A-league clubs will pick up the slack and become the place where the next generation of top players are developed. Yet the NPL clubs who are already seeing players that they have developed being poached by the A-League clubs, know that this is a trend that is more likely to continue than many of the A-League clubs develop more than a couple of players.

“The A-League model is based on the leisure market and entertainment industry, not on traditional football culture, and the results are becoming clear with the Socceroos and the quality of Australian players generally.” The spokesman is quoted as saying, and is absolutely correct.

As stated in the article the Victorian clubs ultimate aim is to try again to force a restructure of the game. What they would like ‘is a genuine national second division in which ambitious clubs could compete and win promotion to the top tier – and face relegation if they failed.’

“It should be all about a fairer distribution of resources and opportunity on the field. Clubs should be able to compete and get to the top if they play better, are coached better and invest wisely.” The Spokesperson is quoted as saying. “Where is the incentive for well run NPL teams, either here in Victoria or in Sydney or Brisbane or wherever, to invest heavily in their infrastructure, produce players or grow the game. At present we can receive $7000 if an A-League team signs one of our players – that’s nothing compared to the investment that might have been put into a boy who has been with a club since he was maybe 10 or 11.”

Clubs in Western Australia feel very much the same, they are struggling to make ends meet and many have not received the ongoing development fees entitled to them under FIFA regulations, so the fact that they were not mentioned as being approached to join the protest should be a concern. Hopefully the Chairman of the NPL in WA has spoken to all of the clubs since the news broke of the Victorian stance and asked for their views, and also whether they wish to be on board in such a push. He would have no doubt already touched base with his Victorian counterpart.

Regrettably Western Australia is very much regarded as ‘the wild west,’ and it would appear that was why their support was not deemed of strategic importance. Once again those elected have the chance to implement change for the long term greater good of the game. Hopefully this time around they will show the spine for the battle ahead. If they don’t one fears for the future of some of the ‘traditional’ clubs here in Western Australia.

Time to Stand Up, and Together
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