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Blacktown City CEO Bob Turner: “The council is exceptional in wanting to build pride”

BCFC

Ahead of the National Premier Leagues NSW season, Blacktown City CEO Bob Turner chatted with Soccerscene about the NPL 1 side’s 2022 Season Launch and the recent developments being instigated to push the club towards greater growth and expansion into becoming a central sporting hub for the Blacktown region.

The Blacktown City 2022 Season Launch was hosted by Stephanie Brantz and marked a significant milestone moment for the club. The sheer magnitude of the launch well and truly represents a pivotal moment in Blacktown City’s recent history, which is due in no small part to the initiatives being introduced by Turner and the team at the club.

Unveiled at the event were the announcements of Blacktown City’s first ever Senior Women’s team, construction of new $1 million changerooms under the main grandstand thanks to the NSW Government, and full operational control of the side’s home Stadium – Blacktown City Sports Centre.

In addition, Blacktown City unveiled that they had become a Diamond Member of the Greater Blacktown Business Chamber, and utilised the evening to launch their recent induction and to host Chamber members in a restructured Business After 5 format.

BCFC Bob Turner

Have Blacktown City regularly conducted season launches of this size? Or was this the first time where you’ve actively tried to bring the community together from all over Blacktown?

Bob Turner: They used to hold the launch at Lily’s Function Centre with Vince Camera when he was in control at the club. But we haven’t had one for a number of years, and we just felt with so many good things happening that it would be better to have a real season launch and make a big deal of it.

Blacktown Council came to the party and let us have their Bowman Hall which can accommodate up to 400-500 and is adjacent to the Council Chambers. But more importantly, because of social distancing it helped us to keep spread and thankfully the Mayor, and the Deputy Mayor, a couple of Councillors, and of course Stephanie Brantz – were all there. It just added to the whole credibility of the launch and it was also good to see both the men’s side and the women’s side together on the stage at one time. Which is a huge plus for the club moving forward.

Blacktown City have recently been inducted as a Diamond Member of the Greater Blacktown Business Chamber. What was the process of organising that and how did it feel being able to launch it?

Bob Turner: It’s fortunate that I’m Vice President of the Chamber, so that helps! One of the biggest things I’ve found in my year involved at the club is how do we make a bigger impact for the city of Blacktown. Both for the club, but importantly for the city. Because I think that the city of Blacktown is very sports conscious. It’s a very misunderstood city in my opinion over the last 10 years of being involved in it. It doesn’t have a main sports team that the city takes pride in and I think Blacktown City – by virtue of not just our name but also our history, credibility, stadium and the competition we play in – all are significant factors in being able to build Blacktown City into something elite.

Our goal is no different to when I first joined the Sydney Kings back in 1989. I could see the potential of what the Kings could do for the sport of basketball and also for the city. It was just a matter of time before we made the right inroads to get people to understand that it’s a good product and things took off. So, in my view, after a year of involvement we’ve made huge strides forward in so many different areas and winning on the field is a bonus. It’s everything else – it’s the business of building Blacktown City.

There’s a Women’s World Cup coming up in Australia and New Zealand, and along with that comes all of the excitement and momentum building around women’s football. What was it like for you to launch the first-ever senior women’s team for Blacktown City with such a promising future ahead?

Bob Turner: Last February we announced that I had become involved in the club and one of the first questions that I asked was ‘do we have any women’s players’? We had some junior teams but not anything significant. I said that with the World Cup coming in 2023 the game is going to explode as a result of that, and we need to jump now into that space. Our Head of Football Mark Crittendon had always wanted to build a women’s program, so collectively the new board and Mark decided that we’re going to have a go at this.

We appointed a Head of Women’s Football, David ‘Dok’ O’Keefe, and his background is one of building clubs. His task is very simple: within three years we want to be in NPL 1 and we want the Blacktown women’s team to be as credible as the men. It’s the same culture that Mark has established in the men’s team – where players want to play for the club and they know they’re going to get better by being a member of Blacktown City. In time, we can build the women’s program at the same level.

One of the key ingredients of that is the upgrades to the changerooms which are a bit ancient. We applied for a grant with the State Government to build new changerooms for our women’s program primarily, and we were successful in that grant application. So, now we’re busy preparing to build new changerooms under our main grandstand which was 20-odd years ago they wanted to do. The main benefactor of that will be our women’s program, and it will help us to recruit better young female talent, especially if they know that the coaching, culture, facilities and competition are all right.

Blacktown Women's

What was it like to finally solidify your home ground – Blacktown City Sports Centre – as being controlled by the club?

Bob Turner: Vince Camera from Lily Homes took over the club when it ran into financial trouble around 12 years ago. And he turned the licensed club into a function centre. He took over the stadium, installed the AstroTurf pitch, put in netting for 5-a-sides, improved the corporate suite area and the café, and did so many very positive things. But after 10-11 years he lost his momentum for it and came to us to see if we wanted to takeover the ground.

We started to negotiate that opportunity and in October of last year we took it over. Not only does that give us full control of what we can do to improve the stadium and the changerooms, but also greater revenue streams are now available to us as with running our own competition and hiring our ground out to other clubs, academies and people who want to train. So, now rather than just relying on gameday tickets and sponsorship, we have revenue streams that can help build a solid financial base for the club and make improvements. My end goal is to make our stadium a 4,000-5,000 seat niche venue and a good destination point for people to come and watch good football.

The theme you’ve introduced for Blacktown City this year is ‘Bring it home Blacktown’. Obviously, you’re wanting to amplify the region itself and to give Blacktown the respect it deserves, but what does this theme represent for you?

Bob Turner: Back in 2011, NSW Baseball and the Sydney Blue Sox asked if I would get involved because they needed to restructure. They made the comment at the time that Major League Baseball actually owned the league and I thought that was pretty impressive. If I had never done that, I would’ve been like the vast majority of Sydney residents in that I would never understand Blacktown. But because I went out to the ballpark that is based in Blacktown, got involved in the Chamber and ran a not-for-profit business for a few years in Blacktown, I could really see the opportunity in the misunderstanding of what the city represents. I would often ask people to come out to watch the Blue Sox play and once they found out it was in Blacktown they’d not want to go, like there was some huge problem.

But that reinforced to me that if you live in Blacktown, you like Blacktown. If you don’t live in Blacktown, you’re not going to get it, for a long time at least. The council is exceptional in wanting to build pride in the 400,000 residents in the area and that population will grow to 550,000 over the next 10 to 15 years. If we can capture that through some emphasis on who we are, Blacktown City wins, the city of Blacktown wins and the sport of football wins. That’s really what it’s all about. To me it’s as much a play to help out the city.

Bob Turner Cup

Recently the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) announced the final report for the National Second Division. Is there a reason why Blacktown City were not part of the final plans put forward?

Bob Turner: No, other than we might not have been communicated to I would think. It’s definitely in our wheelhouse. Blacktown City used to be in the NSL and was a very solid club when that competition was growing. We definitely want to be involved in anything that’s improving the game. My one concern – having been in professional sport all my life – is how to pay for it all? And that’s something that everybody has to consider. Because on paper it all looks good, but remember you have to finance and fund paying players, building competitions, and flying around the country especially in Australia with a jam-packed sports calendar.

Nowadays there’s 50-odd sporting teams in Sydney alone and TV money is not going to answer the call because it’s not that big a country. If you rely only on games and sponsors, or somebody who has deep pockets, eventually those pockets get thin and you get tired of losing money. The future of any competition relies on how you pay the bills and that has to be a number one consideration.

James Johnson on how the Club Licensing System is critical to progress of Second Division

On Thursday, Football Australia released their reformed Club Licensing System Regulations that will increase standards at clubs across the top three tiers of Australian football – as a key part of broader structural reform they are engineering to take the game forward.

Reforming the Club Licensing System was an agreed responsibility Football Australia took on during its unbundling of the A-Leagues to the Australian Professional Leagues in December 2020, and is something Football Australia CEO James Johnson sees as critical to unlocking standstill issues facing the game, such as the proposed National Second Division (NSD) and Domestic Transfer System (DTS).

“We have challenges in the sport, namely around player development at the moment, and right at the very heart of the Club Licensing System are standards and requirements that really need to be reviewed on an annual basis. So we’ll continue to lift the standards in club football with a particular focus on youth development,” Johnson, who oversaw the Global Club Licensing Program while at FIFA, told Soccerscene

“That’s going to align very well with some of our other initiatives, like a Domestic Transfer System that has player development at its very core. It’s something we need to fix now; it’s something I don’t think is an opinion, it’s a fact.

“These measures – Club Licensing, a transfer system, the second tier competition – are all designed to improve the level of our players, the benefit of which we will see in the years to come.”

Club Licensing has historically been managed by the Asian Football Confederation as a means of ensuring minimum standards for clubs to compete in Asian club competitions. By taking it into their own hands, Football Australia can now raise and specify standards for clubs at not just the professional level, but the levels below it.

The regulations include certain criteria that must be met to compete and continue to compete in certain competitions, broken into five categories: Sporting, infrastructure, personnel and administrative, legal, and financial – with variations in each to reflect multiple levels of the pyramid. 

“First and foremost, this new Club Licensing System will be a set of criteria that needs to be fulfilled in order for all clubs to participate in Asian club competition, but also for all clubs in the A-Leagues to continue their ability to participate in that competition,” Johnson said. 

“The second part, the more strategic football development angle, is that it is designed to become a strategic plan for club development and enhanced governance of clubs throughout the country. It really sits right at the heart of key decisions clubs would take, and how they operate on a day-to-day basis.”

The new system is designed to cater for clubs at the professional (A-Leagues), semi-professional (NSD) and state-league (NPL) levels, providing an overarching set of standards to promote uniformity between clubs and divisions. Theoretically, it could also prepare clubs for movement between divisions if promotion and relegation were to come into effect.

Johnson sees that uniformity as vital to the game moving forward, given the three tiers will be administered by three different organisations: The A-Leagues by the Australian Professional Leagues, the mooted NSD by Football Australia, and the NPL competitions by their respective Member Federations. 

“You have to set different standards for different levels of football. As we roll out the second tier competition in the coming years, Football Australia would licence clubs to participate in that competition because it would be the competition administrator,” he said.

“The next step would be to go down the pyramid. There’d be a continual evolution of the Club Licensing System where we’d set a strategic framework that the competition administrators, the Member Federations, would ultimately work under, in order to create their own criteria for participation and access to the state level competitions.

“That framework that the Member Federations would operate under would give each region across the country a good level of specificity to develop their own criteria to access their own region.”

Concerning the level of football not currently in place – the proposed  second tier – Johnson stated the Federation had the backing of the AAFC, the representative body of the clubs looking to step from the NPL into the second tier of competition, over the new Club Licensing System.

“The AAFC are very much aligned with the direction Football Australia are wanting to go. Their interest in licensing is concerning the NSD, and I don’t think there would be any issues there provided we set the criteria as the right levels,” Johnson said.

“What we’ll get once the system is implemented is the ability to analyse clubs all around the country. We’ll be able to benchmark how clubs in Victoria are performing on and off the pitch, against teams in Brisbane or Hobart or Perth.

“One of the big values of a CLS is it’s a measuring stick that helps us understand which areas clubs around the country are strong in, and which areas they need more focus on. Ultimately, that’s how we grow club football.”

Tasked with overseeing the licensing reform is Natalie Lutz, who Football Australia hired as their Club Licensing Manager in January. Lutz has considerable experience in the field, having previously overseen the rollout of club licensing across the CONCACAF Federation. 

“Natalie knows what she’s doing, she’s very experienced, she was responsible for the roll out of a Club Licensing System in 40-odd countries in the Americas. We have her in the business now, which is why this project is evolving,” Johnson said.

This week’s football funding news ahead of election

With the final debate conducted and early voting now open, the Australian Federal election is just a weekend away.

Across the week, the major parties once again announced investment and funding promises into football across the country.

Both Liberal and Labor parties supported funding for lighting upgrades at Allan and Don Lawrence Field in Thornton, New South Wales. A 45-minute drive out of Newcastle, the home of the Thornton Junior Football Club has been promised investment no matter who is elected.

Current Labor Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson and Liberal candidate for Paterson Brooke Vitnell would both see $150,000 invested as part of the #EQUALISER campaign.

After a lobbying process, the upgrades will add to the campaign’s goal to produce more female friendly facilities across the state to increase participation numbers in female football.

Labor

In Tasmania, Football Tasmania has welcomed Federal Labor’s commitment last week to a facility upgrade at Tynwald Park if elected to govern.

The Tynwald Park component forms part of a broader $5 million commitment to partner with the Derwent Valley Council to deliver the New Norfolk Sports Package.

The upgrades would include improvements to changing room facilities for the New Norfolk Panthers.

It is another boost to football in Tasmania, which has been promised a swathe of funding from both major parties if elected in various regions of the state.

Football Tasmania

Liberal

Also in Tasmania, the Liberal Party announced on Thursday that they will commit $480,000 towards upgrading Cardigan Street, home of the Somerset Sharks.

The announcement was made by Member for Braddon Gavin Pearce and will see the clubrooms and building extended if the Coalition forms government after the election.

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