AAFC supports Football Australia’s addition of the National Second Division in Domestic Match Calendar

The placeholder for a National Second Division in the Domestic Match Calendar is a sign Football Australia anticipates the competition's start.

With the addition of a placeholder for a National Second Division in the newly announced Domestic Match Calendar, the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) believes the initiative is a sign Football Australia is anticipating the competition’s start in the near future, as well as implicit support for the concept.

President of the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), Nick Galatas, explains the move is a positive step towards a National Second Division being introduced.

“The second division has been in the process of development for some time, independently from the domestic match calendar. The domestic match calendar is a separate initiative which the A-League has undertaken, which we think is a good initiative for the game so that everyone knows when everything is on, there is alignment, and there is provision made for the various seasons, national teams and all competitions,” he said.

“The domestic match calendar is an independent project and not a part of the second division. It is a positive thing because while Football Australia has been developing the national second division, and AAFC is participating in its development, it is heartening and positive to see that Football Australia has made provision for it in the domestic match calendar, anticipating that it will start in the near future.”

South Melbourne FC President Nicholas Maikousis says that the opportunity to play in a National Second Division instead of the Victorian National Premier League (NPL) would be a huge moment for the club. 

“We think it’s critical to get another tier of clubs and raise benchmarks. Ultimately, apart from our club’s self-interests and our forecasts and projections for a national second division, it can be a game-changer for us,” he said.

“We also have some fundamental philosophical views on the unification of football in this country once and for all. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the FA, Chris Nikou, James Johnson, and the board to truly unify the old soccer and new football – and whatever jargon people use these days – because all of a sudden they will get old football paying attention to the A-League.”

The AAFC has already released its framework for how a second division would be run, structured and implemented. Galatas adds that the next step is to work with Football Australia to deliver a model that is suitable for football clubs Australia-wide.

“We are hopefully now at the next stage where we are stress-testing our model with Football Australia’s development, as they are working on the available models. We are going to work with them and see what they think and how our clubs can respond to anything put to them,” he said.

Several high-profile clubs have already laid out their intentions to pursue a position in the National Second Division. Gold Coast United chairman Danny Maher told Soccerscene this week that while the club was wanting a return to the A-League that was separate from the National Premier League team, the club itself would be interested in the viability of the second division.

“Gold Coast United, the NPL entity, may be interested in the second division and we are currently part of that group investigating the viability of a second division,” Maher said. 

Melbourne Knights President Pave Jusup told Soccerscene the club would be interested in joining the competition.

“We’ve got a lot of latent fans who are disappointed in the situation we find ourselves in. There are a lot of people who would put their hands up and into their pockets to help propel the club if given the opportunity. We’ve gone through a period of consolidation, but there’s a new generation of people who want to propel the club into the limelight as their parents and grandparents did,” Jusup said. 

Maikousis believes the second division is a huge opportunity for Australian football and would improve the players that are developed within the country.

“I think the national second division will not only unify the game, but also create bigger clubs again. It will also deal with the issue of developing Australian talent,” he said.

South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, and Gold Coast United are part of the 32 club National Second Division Partner Group run by the AAFC, and have made contributions towards the framework published in January 2021. The group of clubs “resourced and undertook detailed discussions involving numerous workshops, research and analysis” which ultimately lead to the publishing of the report. According to the AAFC website the competition is aiming to launch in 2022.

A National Second Division below the A-League was once a pipe-dream. However, with key stakeholders embracing the idea and working together, the idea could soon become a reality. With three key organisations – Football Australia, AAFC, and Australian Professional Leagues – all in strong support, the ultimate goal of promotion and relegation between the A-League and a National Second Division could be closer than many realise.

Assessing the path of A-League Women to become full-time

To ensure there is a deep-rooted legacy from the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the A-League Women becoming a full-time profession should be a matter of importance to develop the Australian game.

As the competition improves, the expectations on individual players increases, whereas the careers provided to them are not yet adequate for most players to financially support themselves merely through football.

Until the players are provided with full-time year-round employment structure, majority of the sportswomen are in the firing line juggling the physical and mental aspects of their commitments to football and part-time employment, of which three in five of those players work outside of football.

This topic of discussion was raised back in February during a two-day women’s football congress that was hosted by the players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).

Under the 2021-2026 A-Leagues Collective Bargaining Agreement, the base limit was $20,608 in 2022-23 season for a 29-week contract for the ALW, with most of the players earned at or close to the minimum that season.

However, the remuneration for the past season rose to $25,000, which for the very first time it was transformed to a full home-and-away schedule, the current athletes are under contract for a 22 round regular season for 35 weeks, along with four extra weeks for finals.

Former Matilda and PFA executive member Elise Kellond-Knight expressed her opinion on this matter.

“We need aspirational leaders. We don’t need a long-term, 10-year strategy to get to full-time professionalism. Like, this is 2024. We need it tomorrow. We needed it yesterday,” she said.

“It’s important that the girls understand where we’ve come from and how much hard work we’ve had to do. Things don’t get handed to female athletes you have to stand up, you have to ask for it, you have to fight for it.

“It’s really important that we embed that philosophy in the next generation to come.”

In contrast to the A-League Men, just 15 percent had some type of job outside of their football commitments, 93 percent of those individuals worked less than 10 hours on a weekly basis.

The survey comments portray an evocative of the not so sustainable football/work/life balance the individuals have to commit to:

“I don’t want to feel like I have to work between seasons (for example: most of us do not get paid in the off season). It is a lot to juggle, especially going away for national team camps and the immense amount of traveling. I feel this weight on my shoulders from my work obligations.”

“If my work and football commitments clash, I am expected by my coach to skip work (where I get paid more and am respected more), and I am expected by my boss to skip soccer, and neither care if you suffer financially or reputation wise for it.”

According to the survey, it was made aware that all but three clubs had failed to provide players the desired two-month in advance training calendar as well as the seven day notice period, which makes matters even more complicated for those coping with various jobs to plan in advance.

The PFA admit changes such as this won’t occur overnight, generally speaking, to implement full-time professional contracts is the righteous thing to do for women players, but as the PFA report put it “should also be seen as an investment, not a cost.”

The full-time pay is such a significant goal for women’s football in this country, but the clubs can ease their path to that goal and can do a whole lot more to make sure those changes are modified sooner rather than later.

Nick Galatas on addressing the link between National Second Tier with promotion and relegation

The National Second Tier (NST) competition is building towards its expected start date of March/April 2025, but its final structure has not been settled.

While eight teams were initially announced with representation from Victoria and New South Wales, we are still yet to find out who will make up the rest of the ‘national’ component.

We will at least have an update on this around June 2024, as the Request for Proposal (RFP), Assessment & Review and Completion Phases are all completed.

Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) Chairman Nick Galatas has been a vocal advocate and involved in establishing the NST from its inception, but despite the previously announced foundation clubs, there is still work to do to ensure the NST starts in the best possible shape.

At this stage, eight foundation clubs have been confirmed, but there is a push to increase the number to at least 12.

Despite 26 clubs advancing to the RFP phase, only 8 foundation clubs proved to be a major drop off from what appeared a healthy pool of teams to choose from.

“There were 26 clubs that looked to be in a great position to be selected to start in the new NST,” Galatas told Soccerscene.

“From those, it would be expected to get 12 for a kick-off in 2024 but didn’t pan out that way.”

A lack of structure around how promotion and relegation will work with the NPL does leave some uncertainty for the clubs left out of the NST. Many clubs remain eager to be part of the expected four additional teams to be added for the competition’s commencement early in 2025.

For Football Australia, consistency will need to be applied across the board about how clubs go up and down between the NST and NPL when promotion and relegation commences. Football Queensland has made rules that a Queensland coming into the NST will revert to the competition it was in before it joined the NST. That is inconsistent with the approach of other member federations.

For example, with Preston Lions FC competing in Victoria Premier League 1 in 2024 prior to the commencement of NST, if they get relegated is it one step below to NPL Victoria or the original league they are in now?

Galatas outlined how everyone must be on the same page to form a unified system.

“As a scenario, we can think ahead to, say, 2027 and it’s the third year of competition, which is may also have expanded by then and include Queensland teams,” he said.

“For example, if, say, Preston Lions from Victoria and Sunshine Coast Fire FC from Queensland are relegation candidates in that season, it’s untenable that those teams would face different predicaments if relegated with Preston to the NPL and Sunshine Coast to oblivion.

“Hypothetically if we talk about relegation, everyone agrees that a Victorian-based club would be relegated to NPL Victoria even if originally from a lower league.

“However, when you compare it to a Queensland club, getting relegated means that they go into oblivion, which doesn’t add up. It’s fundamental and accepted practice that a relegated team goes down one rung and it has the chance to come up again.

“Football Australia needs to discuss a relegation scenario with all of the member federations and ensure there is a consistent approach. It will run the competition and must ensure the member federations work together with it and the clubs to achieve this outcome.”

Galatas outlined what he hopes to see out of the upcoming application process, moving one step closer to an Australia-wide competition.

“Instead of the eight confirmed teams we see now, it should be 12 teams from hopefully at least four states or territories to achieve the best competition,” he said.

“I would have liked to have seen a 2024 start date with 12 teams and have all the big players ready to go, but instead we’ve had a delay. But so long as we use the additional time to start strongly, the extra year to wait is not important in the overall picture.

“Having Queensland plus at least one of South Australia, Tasmania and Canberra to include four states from the get-go is the ideal platform to build on.

“Then we can look at Western Australia and the remaining areas as we build – we are just starting. We can grow the competition without rushing into it too much from a logistical point of view.”

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