Is the A-League’s return to winter another unnecessary tinkering of Australian football?

Just over 30 years ago, a decision was made to shift the top tier of Australian domestic football from winter to the summer months. Five days ago, a decision appears to have been made to switch it back.

Thus is the beautiful game down under.

Such an about turn is systematic of football in Australia, with the game rarely given any chance to settle, find its niche and become a consistent and predictable presence in the Australian sporting landscape.

For whatever reason, those who have arisen to power in the Australian game have historically held the belief that they knew what was best for it. As that power was passed from one to another, each recipient implemented the changes they felt would be advantageous for the game.

In reality, the consistent changes and alterations made to Australian football has weakened it. Egos and agendas have directed the game, many without the best interests of it at heart.

No doubt, FFA boss James Johnson has his own vision for the game and the business acumen, football knowledge and street cred required to do a stellar job in his new role. His preference to move to winter football to cope with the drastically altered schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was not particularly well cloaked. Nor it appears, did he intend it to be.

Citing a need for the game to move forward under the one umbrella, Johnson clearly sees value in having NPL and junior competitions taking place concurrently with the A and W Leagues.

However, it might serve people well to recall the reasons why the game did first move into the summer months for the 1989/90 NSL season and the frustrations that brought that decision to pass.

As far back as the mid-1960’s there had been ideas centred around creating a national football competition in Australia. True to form, initial concerns were raised by the state federations.

It appears that the mere suggestion of a uniformed national competition raised their ire, with a concern emerging that status and influence within their own state borders may be lessened. Not much has changed I guess.

It took some time, 1977 in fact, for a consensus to be reached and the first incarnation of the National Soccer League to take shape, with 14 clubs selected to participate.

In essence, that should have been it. With a league in place, all that was required was to begin formulating a second division and a fair and just interstate play-off system to determine those clubs to be promoted in replace of those relegated at the completion of each season. From there, natural attrition would take place and clubs’ financial positions and decision making structures would determine who survived and who did not.

Instead, Australian football went down the path of constant tinkering and adjustment, things that have done little more than weaken the appeal of the competition to potential new fans and make it something of a farce to many in the broader sports loving Australian public.

An early experiment with northern and southern conferences was embarked upon; no doubt an attempt to cap costs for clubs struggling with the financial demands of travel and accommodation. That was to die a brisk death, as was the move to a ‘first past the post’ championship winning team, something the domestic game had not seen due to an assumed Australian preference for semi, preliminary and grand finals. It took just a season for those finals matches to be re-instated.

Hell bent on searching for a football elixir that frankly does not exist, the plan to enjoy some ‘clean air’ and move football to the summer months was hatched. The fundamental reasoning by the powers at be were threefold. The weather was warmer, pitches of a better quality and without rugby league and AFL competition, the hope was that football may find its niche.

It may have given time, yet the powers at be were not finished fiddling with and fossicking around the game.

The migrant heritages of NSL clubs was the next aspect to come under siege. Authorities encouraged fans to embrace the new agenda in order to become more attractive to mainstream Australian society. Many fans become incensed at the jettisoning of the history and culture that had helped form and strengthen their clubs in the first place.

Not long after, the emergence of teams named Collingwood Warriors and Carlton reeked of a cheap attempt to infiltrate the AFL market and as the clubs’ identities became less and less assured, the league slipped further and further into decline.

That lack of identity, fans and money had the competition on its knees by 2004 and effectively, dead.

When the A-League launched for the 2005/06 season, there was much fanfare. Played in summer and refreshed with newly branded clubs designed to appeal to a broader section of the Australian community than ever before, there were clear ups and downs.

Some franchises capitulated, yet a core group survived the first 15 years, despite the financial constraints of a salary cap and the challenges of running a professional sports team in Australia.

By 2019, after years of cries for it to happen, the league was set to expand. New teams in both Melbourne and Sydney would result in an eventual 12 team competition by 2021. An average of 10,000 people attended matches and around 126,000 had become official members of the clubs. FFA data also showed that the number of Australians showing allegiance to a team had never been higher.

Yet in 2020, it now appears the game is once again on the move. It could well be the right one, yet with another major shake-up destined to send Australia’s top league a few steps back before hopefully lurching forward in the future, one might ask when football might be left alone long enough to grow, without administrative force-feeding.

The longer it takes for the elite competition to truly find a foothold and flourish, the more attractive tinkering and tweaking appears to be. Sadly, each effort sends the game backwards for a short time and the process begins all over again.

Both the NSL and now the A-League have struggled to find a set of unique identifiers that helped define them clearly to Australian sports fans. Shifting goal posts gave them little chance to do so.

Having new fans attach themselves to a league becomes increasingly difficult when the subject of their interest is constantly moving.

Staff Writer
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Uncertainty looms around National Second Tier’s future

The highly anticipated National Second Tier (NST) in its proposed format is set to be postponed by Football Australia, with the body looking to find alternative ways to include these NPL clubs into a similar structure that would be more financially viable.

Vince Rugari of the Sydney Morning Herald broke the news on Tuesday claiming the highly ambitious second tier was likely going to be put on hold after the original plan was to have 10 to 14 foundation clubs forming a separate league, without promotion or relegation to start.

There was a very high financial threshold that the eight foundation clubs needed to reach in order to be granted a licence and unfortunately with rumours of some in the eight sceptical of its viability, other NPL clubs with a proposal in the original plan have backed away from the idea for the time being.

For what is meant to be a ‘national competition’, having clubs from NSW and Victoria only is quite restricted but the search for a financially strong club outside of the two states, willing to take that massive financial risk, is a task that is too difficult in the country’s current state of football affairs.

There has been a lack of a clear message from Football Australia across the past 12 months. The eight foundation clubs were left on standby about important information like the correct format, whether it was going to expand to 10 or 12 teams that Football Australia promised multiple times, or when the league would actually kick off in winter of 2025 or beyond that considering the shaky A-League finances being the main subject of discussion surrounding the initial success of the NSD.

After the A-Leagues controversial call to reduce initial funding of top tier clubs to $530k a year from its usual $2m a year, a properly run second division seems like a task too far down its priority list despite the positive feedback it has received from fans and clubs about implementing a ‘transformative’ system mirroring European football.

An idea being floated around as a possible solution to the unviability of a separate league is to add existing A-League teams to the ‘Champions League-style’ second division, which would essentially be a more exclusive version of the existing Australia Cup.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson told The Asian Game exclusively that “we will have a (national) second tier it will exist,” but the home and away format played during the winter is a long shot and the foundation clubs are left in limbo wondering what their immediate futures are considering the heavy financial investment they will have to make if it goes ahead.

This whole saga has been a case of Football Australia pushing away the problems that quickly arose from this ambitious idea and being too reactive when it comes to finding a solution that would be fair for the foundation clubs financially.

The NSD must wait and not force itself into a fragile Australian football landscape that has many more issues it must worry about in the top flight before building a second division that could financially damage some of the most historic clubs in Victoria and NSW.

In a world where Australian football needs authority and structure, the collapse of the original idea of the NSD proves there is a long way to go and communication towards the clubs and fans involved has to improve.

Football Australia bolsters leadership with key new appointments

Football Australia has confirmed the appointments of Briana Harvey as General Manager of the Women’s National Teams and David Mason for the role of General Manager of the Men’s National Teams.

These strategic appointments are part of Football Australia’s ongoing efforts to strengthen and enhance the leadership and management of its national teams, ensuring both the women’s and men’s programs benefit from experienced and dedicated leadership.

Harvey has an extensive background in sports management, having held key roles at prominent organizations such as Hockey Victoria, the Australian Football League, Hawthorn Football Club, and, most recently, at the GWS GIANTS Football Club. Her diverse experience across these major sporting bodies highlights her expertise and leadership capabilities in the field.

Mason’s deep involvement with Australian football stretches back to 1998. Throughout his career, he has held numerous management positions in media and communications, football operations, and club administration at Northern Spirit, Parramatta Power, Sydney FC, and Football Australia.

His extensive experience across these diverse roles has equipped him with a comprehensive understanding of the sport’s landscape, making him a valuable asset in his new role.

For the last seven years, Mason has served as CEO of Manly Warringah Football Association and Manly United FC, one of Australia’s largest football associations. Returning to Football Australia, Mason brings with him a vast reservoir of knowledge in local, regional, and global football.

His experience is complemented by a deep familiarity with Australia’s National Football Teams, positioning him to make significant contributions in his new role.

Beginning on August 12, both Harvey and Mason will take charge of the strategic, operational, and administrative aspects of Football Australia’s Men’s and Women’s National Teams. Their responsibilities will include planning and managing budgets, as well as coordinating overall annual match schedules.

In their roles, they will ensure that all logistical and operational needs are met, driving the success and efficiency of the national teams’ programs.

Their leadership will be pivotal in shaping the future of Australian football on both the national and international stages.

Head of National Teams Gary Moretti expressed his excitement of the designation via press release.

“We are delighted to have secured the services of both Briana and David who as individuals and collectively bring a wealth of industry knowledge to Football Australia,” he said.

“Briana has a strong corporate pedigree with extensive experience within elite level sport. Her background and passion for women’s sport will be an invaluable asset to our National Teams both now and in the future.

“David is a football person and has contributed to the sport at all levels for almost three decades. In addition to his strong football acumen, David brings significant business and operational experience from his highly successful tenure as a CEO within the football industry.

“Along with Andrew McKenzie (General Manager – High Performance), the appointments of Briana and David will strengthen the management and future prospects of our National Teams as we look to create an elite performance and operational environment featuring a world’s best-practice focus.”

CEO of Football Australia James Johnson added how their experience and wealth of knowledge will ensure operation excellence via press release.

“The appointments of Briana and David are strategic moves that align with our vision to enhance the performance and success of our National Teams. Their combined experience and leadership will play a crucial role in ensuring operational excellence, so we remain competitive on the global stage and continue to inspire the next generation of football talent in Australia.”

Football Australia – National Teams Senior Management

Head of National Teams: Gary Moretti
General Manager – Women’s National Teams: Briana Harvey (commencing 12 August)
General Manager – Men’s National Teams: David Mason (commencing 12 August)
General Manager – High Performance: Andrew McKenzie (commenced 10 July)
General Manager – Football Analysis, Data and Insights (to be appointed)

The creation of four new leadership positions within the National Teams underscores Football Australia’s commitment and investment in its Senior and Youth National Teams, as outlined in the XI Principles for the future of Australian Football. Every position plays a critical role in advancing, overseeing, and ensuring the sustained success of all High Performance and National Team programs and initiatives.

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