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30 clubs vying to be part of National Second Division in 2022
The Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) have created a partner group involving 30 NPL clubs across Australia, with the aim of beginning a national second division by 2022.
The list of clubs includes former NSL powerhouses such as South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, Adelaide City and Sydney Olympic.
AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas believes the partner group is an important step in the process towards a connected football pyramid.
“The Championship is about creating stronger clubs and expanding the football footprint throughout our country for the benefit of our entire sport,” he said.
“The oldest club in the partner group was established in the 19th century and another two early in the 20th century, while the youngest club was established in this century. That says so much about the longevity and popularity of our sport in this country.
“Of surprise to many, perhaps, are that the three oldest clubs are from Newcastle, Hobart and Brisbane.”
The AAFC will now sort through the issues of the proposed competition, with a final report needing approval from those at FFA HQ.
Galatas claims promotion and relegation is necessary throughout the tiers of football in Australia, however A-League clubs may not be relegated immediately, once the second tier begins.
“AAFC’s view is that we cannot be properly considered as a ‘football nation’ without it and having it in place is our ultimate objective,” he said.
“While promotion and relegation with the A-League will hopefully occur (a) little later, we aim for it to start immediately with the NPL below.
“We also recognise a need to get the code back on track and financially viable and that is what we believe the Championship will help in achieving. Connecting clubs from bottom-to-top and top-to-bottom will help unite the game which will help it achieve its potential.”
The 30 clubs involved in the partner group can be viewed here.
As CEO of historic Australian footballing side Sydney Olympic, John Boulous has experienced first-hand the passion and dedication that is engrained in these traditional clubs.
Having spent time at the then-named Football Federation Australia and Football Federation Tasmania, Boulous’ intimate exposure to football across the professional and semi-professional tiers has been vast.
Boulous sat down with Soccerscene to speak about leading Sydney Olympic through successive lockdowns, the importance of connecting the professional and semi-professional tiers in Australian football, and Olympic’s upcoming Round of 32 FFA Cup clash against A-League Men’s powerhouse Sydney FC.
With promises of souvlaki at the ground on gameday enough to attract any ardent football fan or person in general, Boulous is looking forward to experiencing the festival atmosphere that Olympic’s clash against Sydney FC will undoubtedly bring.
Just to start off, are you able to provide some insight into your own footballing background and what’s led you to where you are now as the CEO of such an iconic side in Sydney Olympic?
John Boulous: I’ve been in sport since I started my working life. I worked my way through cricket and from there I went to Football Australia, which is where I was for five years from 2005 to 2010. I then left for a position as CEO at Football Federation Tasmania with my family for over three years.
From there, after a stint in Rugby League, I met Damon Hanlin, who had just become a Director at Sydney Olympic and the opportunity came up to undertake the CEO role at Sydney Olympic. Obviously, as a club at NPL level, it was a really good opportunity to get back involved and work with someone like Damon who was committed to taking the club forward.
Obviously, Sydney Olympic are a historically successful and well-supported footballing side, what’s it been like leading the club over the last few seasons?
John Boulous: What you always hear about working in these types of traditional, iconic clubs that were NSL powerhouses and are now in the NPL environment is that they had to find their identity as clubs in that transition period.
Your identity potentially changes slightly in that you want to have a strong and thriving pathway for young players to come through. But you’ve got to realise that they’re going to come to your club and potentially move on.
When you’re at Football Australia you hear of these clubs, but you don’t actually realise the passion, and the involvement, and the excitement that’s in the fans of these clubs until you actually get here. And we’ve got a very strong following and lots of numbers in terms of supporters, and the crowds don’t really reflect that until you get a big game.
The best example of that was when we played APIA Leichardt in the NPL Grand Final in 2018. All of a sudden people saw that Olympic is strong, and there are people that support them. They may not turn up for the games week-in week-out, but they support and they follow, and I think that’s important.
What has it been like for you steering Sydney Olympic through successive extensive lockdowns in NSW?
John Boulous: There was constant change, but we’re not the only industry that’s been affected. There’s lots of people that are struggling. Football is something that gives everyone a bit of hope; it gives everyone a sense of enjoyment and a weekend activity to spend with your family. And I think people miss that.
Now you’re seeing the excitement building with kids being back to training and an FFA Cup game to come – you can feel a bit of a buzz. Because people are just looking to get back into the football environment. And if our club can play some part in that then I think it’s a really good thing to get the community back.
What do you believe makes Australian football unique in comparison with football around the world? Do you believe its found its identity yet?
John Boulous: I think it’s finding its identity. The one thing that stands out when you see footage of the NSL days is the passion in the crowds. And that’s been built up in clubs over 50 to 60 years and that passion doesn’t just happen overnight.
You see A-League teams are now starting to get it. Their fans are starting to identify with the club, you’ve got generations that are born as supporters. At Olympic and other clubs like ours, you’ve got grandfathers and sons that grew up following Olympic. Here you’ve got kids that are starting to follow A-Leagues clubs and in turn their kids will do the same.
It takes a while to build that momentum up, but I think it’s there. I think Australia is very unique because you’ve got three or four dominant sporting codes that are vying for interest and support. Not a lot of countries where football is their leading sport have those sorts of issues to deal with.
As well as that, the best players are encouraged to go overseas as well. So, our leagues tend to be up-and-coming players and players that are coming back. And that’s okay too, that’s where our game’s at. In saying that, there are lots of young players that are looking for professional opportunities and if our game can facilitate more of those players getting an opportunity, then I think we’re doing the right thing.
As someone with an intimate understanding of the day-to-day challenges of running an NPL club, what do you believe are the next steps to ensure the growth of the NPL across Australia?
John Boulous: I think the next steps are certainly some kind of National Second Division with a greater national presence or footprint than what we currently have. There are clubs that play and participate within NPL competitions and that’s where they want to be, and that’s a very good place to be. There’s also clubs that still have a burning desire and supporters that want to see them play higher.
Certainly, in the short-term, there is definitely an opportunity for a second tier in whatever format that turns out to be. There are clubs that are interested and there’s lots of clubs with good pathways, structures and infrastructure in place to be able to take that step. It won’t be for everyone but it will be for the ones that aspire to do it. And I think that’s logically the next step.
The growth of the FFA Cup is important. Anything that links A-League with semi-professional football is essential. I think the link between the semi-professional level and the community is good and strong because people know where the pathways exist. But I believe that anything that continues to unite the game from the professional to the semi-professional level is a good step.
Australian football is experiencing a significant shift at the moment towards ensuring alignment across the whole game. Where do you see Sydney Olympic fitting into these prospective plans for a National Second Division?
John Boulous: We’re definitely interested. But you need to see what model exists and if its viable first. We have the interest and desire firstly which is important, but there’s many things that come with it.
I think what’s important for us – with having such a strong tradition and background with football in Australia – is we should be aspiring to be in whatever that era of football is.
Each season we’ve seen National Premier League sides from across Australia competing against and pushing A-League teams outside of their comfort zones. Why do you feel the FFA Cup competition is so important for Australian football?
John Boulous: We are a big club, with a strong following and tradition in Australian football, and are still recognised nationally. In matches like this, Australians like to see underdogs – they like to see both the experienced and younger kids in our squad get that opportunity.
I think what’s important as a club is we need to give them that opportunity. You need to play against the best players in Australia. If you do that well, all of a sudden you’re on the radar.
You can’t take that desire away from players. They need to have that burn to be able to know if they can get to that next level. And these opportunities give you the perfect platform to do that.
The FFA Cup game against Sydney FC presents a brilliant opportunity for both clubs to come together for a truly special night of football. What’s the build-up been like leading up to the match?
John Boulous: We hope to be able to get a strong crowd here at Belmore. And it will be Olympic supporters and Sydney FC supporters, but we hope that it will be football supporters. Because people have been starved of opportunities to go and watch football matches, and now, they have the opportunity.
We’ve got a ground that can hold a really strong and big crowd in today’s climate. And I think that’s important to get people here and back into football. People here want to see it.
The A-League will be back in full swing and our boys will be training for four to five weeks and that’s okay too. Because they’ve got desire and they’re keen to have this match.
We’re always asked by Football Australia if we want to play this match and our answer from the very start was yes. Regardless of where teams are at in their preparation and their season, our players are very keen to play not just against the best players, but for their club and our supporters.
Tickets for Sydney Olympic’s clash with Sydney FC can be accessed HERE.
Football Queensland (FQ) have announced the launch of their brand-new FQ Academy, which is set to be unveiled across the state next year.
The purpose of the FQ Academy is to help provide a clearer development pathway from community football to Australia’s national teams and professional leagues for Queensland footballers aged seven to 17.
FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci outlined the player-focused FQ Academy will expand and unify FQ’s range of advanced development and pathway programs under a single banner.
“The FQ Academy consolidates the nine individual programs currently delivered by Football Queensland across eight centres around the state and binds them together behind a common purpose and shared vision for the game,” Cavallucci said.
“All of the junior players involved in FQ’s Regional TSP and SAP programs will now form part of the top tier of the FQ Academy.
“Players who need more development time will also have the opportunity to take part in the new ‘Development’ tier, which broadens opportunities for players and extends talent identification throughout Queensland.
“Both the Academy and Development tiers will include weekly training sessions, holiday clinics, small-sided tournaments, position specific training programs and opportunities to take part in various FQ State Carnivals.”
The FQ Academy will be bolstered by further investment in regional football with the appointments of new Club Development Ambassadors in Wide Bay and Whitsunday Coast.
“We are in the final stages of recruiting additional Club Development Ambassadors who will live and work in the Wide Bay and Whitsunday Coast regions to deliver coach education and drive player development in new FQ Academy centres, further demonstrating FQ’s commitment to regional player development,” Cavallucci said.
“In the Wide Bay, Central Coast, Whitsunday Coast, Northern, and Far North & Gulf regions, Football Queensland will continue to expand and deliver new programs in the FQ Academy.
“Following a 12-month review into SAP across SEQ, clubs within the existing SAP Leagues will transition to new FQ Academy Leagues and participation will be through selected club academies currently rated by FQ’s comprehensive Club Assessment process.
“We now have a more consistent and visible pathway for aspirational footballers which is quality-controlled and accredited by Football Australia and consistent with the advanced Junior NPL structure already in place in SEQ.
“This aligns all Queenslanders with the national development and Talent ID system, linking junior players with the Matildas and Socceroos.”