The importance of the professional football coach in Australia

Bobby Walker was the first professional football coach appointed in Australia when he took the helm at the Gladesville-Ryde club in 1939. Walker had played professionally in Scotland for Motherwell FC and Falkirk FC.

He was the first of many from the British Isles to venture to the footballing outpost that was Australia for much of the 20th century. The contributions that he and many others made played an important role in the growth and development of the game.

Sadly, the notion of fully professional coaches mentoring young players in their formative years has been more of a dream than a reality in Australian football. Enthusiastic parents often took on official duties at a grass roots level and the number of officially qualified coaches in schools has traditionally been low.

The reality for players blessed with talent not deemed worthy of representative level play; those perhaps destined to bloom and flourish as a player a little later in life, is that the influence of a professional to guide and nourish their football development is rarely a reality.

In recent times, parents keen to encourage and fast track their child’s development have sought other avenues. As a result, the unregulated and often absurdly expensive academy system has become a necessary evil for parents of talented and enthusiastic young footballers.

It is a somewhat surprising reality that it took nearly 80 years from the time of Walker’s appointment for a fully professional coaches association to appear. It is long overdue. There is a current and urgent need to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of young people playing football in Australia are given qualified and professional instruction.

Conjointly, immediate action is required to reform/rewrite the National Curriculum which has proven nothing but a failure.

With an intention to represent, advocate, develop and support professional coaches, Football Coaches Association (FCA) will play a key role in addressing such issues.

The association’s work extends beyond the obvious need to continually improve coaching standards in Australia. It is also focused on providing opportunities for professional and community based coaches to contribute to Australia’s football narrative.

As an extension of both a raising of the bar in terms of professional standards and providing a supportive, community based and inclusive environment for all coaches involved in the game, FCA also aims to enhance the reputation of Australian football and its coaches on the world stage.

As we speak, former Socceroo manager Ange Postecoglou stands within a handful of wins and just a few weeks of becoming Australia’s most successful coaching export. Should Yokohama F.Marinos manage to seal the deal over the final month of the J-League season, his achievement would be considerable and well deserved.

Postecoglou forms part of a group of Australian coaches who have dominated the top flight of domestic football since the inception of the A-League. Alongside Socceroo and Olyroo boss Graham Arnold, current Perth manager Tony Popovic and former Victory coach Kevin Muscat, Postecoglou completes an impressive quartet.

As a collective, the four men possess six A-League championships, countless grand final appearances and a staggering seven premierships. Their sustained success confirms the importance and value of a proven coach. In spite of playing personnel changes, injury concerns or absences due to international duty, their message always remained consistent, firm and effective.

Now, Western United’s Mark Rudan and Sydney FC’s Steve Corica loom as the new generation of Australian coaches, yet with only Popovic employed on the domestic scene, the stocks do look a little thin elsewhere.

It is potentially where Australian football is slightly off the mark when it comes to player development. Rather than mad capped international searches to find the right visa player or marquee man, A-League and NPL clubs would be better served investing more heavily in the person they ultimately choose to mentor their playing squad.

Acquiring the services of an elite international coach would do far more for young Australian players seeking to learn and develop their footballing nous.

Playing professionally alongside an experienced ex-La Liga or Bundesliga journeyman will no doubt count for something. However, young players like Riley McGree, Elvis Kamsoba and Al Hassan Toure will benefit far more from time spent under a truly world class manager than mingling with an ageing veteran merely visiting our shores.

Postecoglou, Arnold and Popovic have all had a taste of coaching abroad and our best minds will now always attract Asian Confederation interest. What remains on their departure will always be young and developing coaches, coaching young and developing players.

Redressing that cycle is vital and something within which the FCA can play a key role; both in improving standards and enunciating the importance of the coach at all levels of football.

Football streaming versus the national second division – where to next?

Online streaming continues to be a popular choice for football fans around the country, but have we been better off since these services have changed the landscape?

The EPL is exclusively on Optus Sport to stream for $15 a month whilst other Major European leagues, as well as the A-League, W-League and FFA Cup, is on Kayo Sports for $25 a month.

Telstra also offers a service for streaming Socceroos and Matildas games on the My Football Live App, as well as giving fans of the A-League, W-League and FFA Cup another alternative streaming option.

At a local NPL level, significant progress has also been made in this area.

A recent initiative was introduced this past season by NPL Victoria and other NPL associations around the country, with all senior NPL games live streamed on Facebook and YouTube. This in turn has increased the visibility of the local game and given fans the chance to stream games on familiar online platforms.

Football Victoria recently posted record audience numbers on their YouTube and Facebook streams for their Grand Final Triple Header broadcast on September 15. Some of these figures were up 32% on last year’s spectacle, highlighting the appetite for the local streaming coverage.

While the implementation has been successful, there are infinite possibilities for growth through these digital platforms.

I’m sure those who are in charge of the creation of the proposed national second division will be looking at various options to find viable streaming options which will grow the game.

Could that body invest heavily in producing a streaming service that will charge a subscription fee to fans?

Or is it more suitable to keep costs lower, give out the service for free and expand digital advertising across the board, with the associated revenue making it a viable solution?

It certainly is an interesting debate, without knowing the finer details.

Maybe NPL clubs such as South Melbourne or Heidelberg United can put the onus on themselves to find a partner to stream their games (or do it themselves), when the second division is up and running.

They may try to strike a deal similar to that of Los Angeles Football Club in the MLS. LAFC secured an agreement with YouTube TV in 2018, as not only a sponsor of the team but a streaming partner. 30 of LAFC’s 34 games are streamed on the paid subscription service in 2019, available to those in the Los Angeles area. Pre-existing media deals that have been secured by the MLS are not affected by LAFC’s deal with YouTube TV. The streaming partner does not produce the coverage of the game by itself, instead partnering with the MLS and LAFC. Content produced for the service includes pre and post-game shows and other LAFC related content.

Traditional NPL clubs could package archival footage in a similar type of setup, giving fans of the team more value for their dollar. Advertising revenue could then be generated for themselves or split with the streaming partner.

These are all possible alternatives, as it becomes increasingly hard for traditional media companies (such as FOX Sports) to shell out money for sports broadcasting rights.

If FOX Sports’ current attitude towards the A-League is any indicator, the chances of them investing in a national second division are not very high.

Sports such as Basketball have taken the hint and are seeking out other viable options.

Last week the NBL announced they are in a partnership with Facebook to live stream 52 NBL games into America. This was a significant announcement for the NBL as Facebook will pay a fee to stream the games, something that they have struggled to garner domestically from traditional media outlets.

The NBL will broadcast a number of games on ESPN and SBS VICELAND this season in Australia, sharing the advertising revenue with both of these partners.

Games will also be available to stream on SBS ON DEMAND, as well as the NBL TV streaming service which is a model the national second division will be considering.

The NBL TV model gives fans access to all games live streamed for $5 a month, with full game replays and NBL Classics on demand.

It’s time for those in charge of the national second division to find the right balance for football. The streaming waters have been tested this season with NPL associations around Australia, but the decision makers will have to do their due diligence and find the right model for the future of the game.

Football must stand against Iran’s discrimination and abuse of women


9/11 will live forever as an historic date. It now has further significance and a similar level of regret attached to it, following the death of a female football fan in Iran.

It is the date FIFA announced that a delegation would be sent to the Iranian capital to meet with local officials. They would oversee the processes behind Iran’s decision to allow women to attend the World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia in October.

The decision is not to be confused with any progressive thinking that may finally have seen the West Asian nation join the majority of the world in the present. The permission granted to women to attend the qualifier is nothing more than a clear reaction to international sentiment and pressure after the tragic events of September 2nd and the death of Iranian woman Sahar Khodayari.

Vast sums of money and significant time will be wasted on what is unfortunately a necessary visit to one of the AFC’s most notable and successful members; to effectively deal with what is a most fundamental human rights violation.

The delegation will arrive shortly and carries with it the message of the united football world. One protesting Iran’s consistent refusal to admit half its population into its stadiums to enjoy the beautiful game.

According to Iranian authorities, 29-year-old Khodayari was a criminal. Her crime was a desire to watch football. As such, she broke the law, disguised herself as a male as best she could and attempted to gain admittance to Tehran’s Azadi Stadium in March.

Her hope was to watch Esteghlal, a club with a predominately blue strip; her club. Wearing a blue wig and a long trench coat, Khodayari bravely attempted to blend in with thousands of men outside the stadium, desperate to be discreet and innocuous.

Sadly, her bid to defy what has been a mandated ban on female attendance at football matches for over 40 years failed. She was arrested and detained.

There is no doubt that the incident would have drawn little or no attention around the globe had it not been for what followed. Most likely just a court appearance and a dishing out of what the local authorities saw as an appropriate punishment for a woman wanting to watch a game of football.

Khodayari was informed in the lead up to her court date that the likely punishment was to be six months in prison. Comprehending the sheer idiocy of such a punishment is difficult for those living in free and open societies around the globe.

Through either fear, terror or protest, Sahar Khodayari set herself alight on the courthouse steps outside the building where she was to receive her punishment. She died days later, was buried somewhere around the 6th or 7th of September before authorities announced her death on the 9th.

Tributes flooded in for the woman who would become known as the ‘Blue Girl’ and Iranian citizens held a candlelit vigil on September 12 in memory of the football fan.

Amnesty International labelled the events as displaying Iran’s “appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country.”

It is a contempt that appears finally under pressure, yet one that required an innocent women’s courage and sacrifice to bring the full extent of the horrific truths of Iranian injustice and discrimination to the surface.

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s 2006 documentary Offside raised awareness of the issue and captured the story of a group of women detained whilst attempting to enter a qualifying match. Sadly, it appears political and social will has only now arrived.

No doubt, Iranian authorities will allow some women into the match against Cambodia, hoping that external pressure will be quelled and any serious repercussions from Khodayari’s death avoided.

Australia’s newly formed body Women in Football has asked FFA Chairman Chris Nikou to make a compelling statement; calling for a boycott of Iranian football should FIFA take little or no action before its October deadline.

As of yet, Australian football has not indicated that it would be prepared to take such a step, despite others calling for change.

Jesper Moller, president of the Danish Football Association called for sanctions against Iran should it continue to ban women from matches. He said, “The rules are clear. Discrimination cannot be tolerated.”

Despite Moller’s comments holding a fundamental human and political truth, a clear shift in Iran’s policies will require consistent international pressure and a firm hand.

Considering their utter disregard for the human dignity of women, an altered view around who and who cannot attend football matches will not be formed lightly.

It is up to all of us to remember Sahar Khodayari and demand change.

Can A-League fans stand up and stay safe at the same time?

In all likelihood, the fresh and new Bankwest Stadium in Sydney will host its final game of rugby league for 2019 this weekend.

What will follow stands to be a landmark moment in Australian sport. The sky-scraping posts will come down, NRL corporate signage removed and the stadium will be transformed into the home of the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Having been lucky enough to visit the Mariners’ home venue on the Central Coast of New South Wales and Coopers Stadium in the city of churches, like many others, I can probably claim to have experienced the most pleasant football facilities in the land for fans.

Appropriateness of size and proximity to the action are common criticisms when Australian football matches are played in cavernous venues in front of moderate crowds. Both Central Coast Stadium and Coopers provide the match day feel so often missing at larger venues.

With Australian football being the beggar rather than the chooser for so long, purpose built, fan friendly venues have been something of a pipe dream. For Australia’s most populated city, that dream now becomes a reality, and the Wanderers are just 30 days away from christening their new home.

As impressive as the stadium looks on television, seeing it first hand is an experience all in itself. However, as modern and state of the art as the facilities are, it is the safe standing section at the northern end that will attract most interest from football fans around the country.

Overzealous security, an ingrained anti-football bias and a small number of fools have torpedoed active support in Australian football during recent times. Anecdotal stories of fans being asked to remain seated and requested to tone down their barracking are common.

Wanderers’ active support group the RBB felt the full force of the heavy hand of fear and as the club traversed the state looking for a pitch on which to host matches, became somewhat dismantled.

Bankwest Stadium now looms as a potential repatriation for them and a watershed moment for football stadiums in Australia. Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas and others championed the cause, lobbying for the inclusion of a safe standing area at Western Sydney’s new home ground, that would allow fans to support in football’s traditional style.

The safe standing rails were installed in June, undertook some small scale testing, before being successfully trialled when Leeds United took on the Wanderers the following month.

Things went well. However, the acid test will be the A-League competition, when the 1,260 standing spaces available will need to be occupied by Western Sydney Wanderers fans with a full comprehension of their role in the potential change in venue design and use in the future.

Wanderers’ manager Markus Babbel was blown away by the class of the facility, citing the standing section and viewing experience as being “absolute European top style, exactly what a soccer team needs.”

Such emotive reviews have been common place yet it will be a joyous safe standing section that provides a safe and raucous environment at the Wanderers’ home matches this season, that will truly catch the eye of the Australian sporting public.

Impressive television images of 25,000 plus enjoying the Wanderers homecoming and safe mayhem in the standing section will be the best advertisement for the league and the Australian game.

Seeing other venues experimenting with the concept would be the greatest testament to the work of Tsatsimas and those who passionately lobbied for something they hope will help differentiate football support from that of other codes and thus enhance the sense of ownership and belonging so desired by fans.

Australian football stadium design and the match day experience of supporters could be changed forever when the Western Sydney Wanderers face the Central Coast Mariners on the 12th of October in Round 1 of the A-League.

Fans managing to stand up and stay safe at the same time would be a great first step.

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