The implementation of the National Premier Leagues(NPL), has so far not proved the success many had hope and in fact it has highlighted that the whole structure of football now has to be reviewed, a massive task and one that has to include the stakeholders.
Change can be a scary thing. Change for changes sake is rarely a success. The NPL was rushed through to satisfy the Football Federation of Australia’s (FFA) promises to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and as a result nationally, is greatly flawed. Some would say that work should be done on making this a uniform competition, played under uniform rules first before tinkering with other levels of the game. If you cannot get your flagship semi-professional competition right, what faith should the stakeholders have that you will manage to set up everything underpinning this competition properly.
The purchase of Melbourne Heart – now Melbourne City – by Manchester City throws up a new problem for the NPL. All former State League clubs that entered the NPL were being asked to relinquish any ties that they may have established with overseas professional clubs. All A-League clubs youth teams were to play in the NPL. So immediately Melbourne City play in the Victorian NPL they go against the conditions imposed on other clubs. This is just one example of many where the structure was not thought through properly.
Despite claims at this point in time the NPL will become a source of revenue for the FFA. It has been promoted as a league to “raise the professionalism of State League clubs and meet the strategic aims of (the) FFA in terms of player development.” Yet the actual implementation was far from professional and in fact has been described as “a work in progress” and ‘evolving.’
In fact the NPL may well spell the end of finals football across the country. Their relevance has become questionable as with timing issues the winner of the league – The Premiers – will play off in the NPL finals rather than the winners of the finals – The Champions. More proof of a lack of thought, as state competitions will no longer mirror the A-League. This we raised in November last year in our piece “Who Are The Champions. It has now been acknowledged as an issue.
The FFA cup will also diminish the tradition of the State League Cup. As the cup rounds will only serve as preliminary rounds of the FFA Cup. So once again to satisfy a promise made to the AFC, that the FFA would introduce such a competition, they are happy to discard an event that is a drawcard and throw away a competition that has been running for over 50 years. For a game that thrives on tradition this seems foolish. The reason being put forward for scrapping the Cup as a stand alone competition is the extra games a club will have to play if they reach the final. Yet with no financial benefit from playing in the FFA cup, as non-league clubs have in the FA Cup in England, surely a State title means a great deal more to a club than one game against an A-League side?
The biggest problem facing the NPL is the fact that it was allegedly created based on clubs meeting a criteria to be a part of the competition. Like the A-League it was looking like a closed shop, that once you are in your future is secured. This is not the way the AFC see the competition, they want to see promotion and relegation in the A-League. It must come into the NPL. Football has always been about being rewarded for success and staying in the top flight is dependent on performance, not the size of your changing rooms or the quality of your pitch.
One area that it appears that Football West appear to be heading in the right direction is on this very issue. Following meetings with the State League clubs it has been suggested that the top team is promoted and then possibly the second and third placed teams play off as does the second last placed team and the fourth placed team, the winners meet and the winer of that game is promoted. This was how the play offs started in England, in 1987 and 1988, and only Charlton Athletic who faced relegation stayed up. These were abandoned following Middlesborough’s defeat of Chelsea and the then First division side’s fans reaction to relegation.
Maybe Football West is being ambitious including the third and fourth based teams, but a play off between the second team and the second last team in the division above over two legs, with promotion going to the aggregate winner has a great deal of appeal. It would also give both teams the chance to make some money from the gate of both games; provided they don’t schedule them for a monday evening!
In a recent document published by Football West they state “Although NPL clubs will be resistant to the idea of relegation due to the effort and expense required to meet the eligibility criteria, in view of this and FIFA regulations, not allowing promotion and relegation as the primary means of access into the NPL is hard to defend.” Going to grounds this year those fans who have paid the additional entrance fee would be hard pressed to see what expenses the clubs have gone to to improve the standard or viewing experience, so that argument really carries very little weight. If we are referring to the imposed coaching and technical director requirements, then there should be no argument as these are being pushed upon clubs at all levels.
The big positive is that discussions are taking place and Football West is listening to suggestions and the thoughts of their stakeholders rather than simply trying to bulldoze through their own idea.