Phil Brown has had a career in football administration that has spanned the Asian continent. Now the CEO of Capital Football, he spoke to Soccerscene about helping bring the Asian Cup to Australia, the changing demographics of football, and the opportunities football can create.
Q: How did you become involved in football?
Phil Brown: I started playing football when it used to be known as soccer when I was seven. I played for my local club Epping Football Club, known as Epping YMCA back in the day. I began volunteering on the committee there when I was still playing, with my dad when I was 15. I helped him set up the nets, set up the barbecue, and helped my mum in the canteen when I was still playing at the club. It was during that time, being involved with my family and local community, that I fell in love with the game. My first job was running a local futsal competition at the Epping YMCA centre. I got some coaching jobs with YMCA doing school programs, doing holiday clinics with Northern Spirit, running a development program for them out of Macquarie centre. I went to university and did a human movement degree, and out of that, I got my first paid professional role in the game with New South Wales football as an events manager. I did that for a while and got promoted to competitions manager. I then moved over to Malaysia, to take an events management role in the competitions department at the Asian Football confederation.
After a few years I came back and I was able to take my experience with football in Asia to help Football Australia, the Mariners, and the Jets, who were negotiating the early days of the Asian Champions League. Nobody was that familiar with it at the time, but I was able to bring my learnings across to help. After that, I got a job on the committee organising the Asian Cup in Australia and did that for four years when we got the rights for the Asian Cup in 2015. I then headed over to Qatar in 2011 to help run a venue – Qatar sports club – during Asian Cup 2011. I came back, stayed on the local organising committee for a while, before an opportunity came up at Football New South Wales as head of football, to put a football department together. I did that for four years before the opportunity arose to head over to the ACT to be CEO of Capital Football arose, where I’ve been for five years now.
Q: What Challenges has ACT football faced in recent times?
Phil Brown: It’s the same challenges that football has faced across the country for a number of years. Facilities are a big challenge for everyone, but facilities that we all use are predominantly built during the 50s and 60s, in a time when community sports – especially the round ball sport – was played by men. It’s completely different now and rightfully so, it’s a great thing. But the facilities don’t reflect the change in participation by women and girls. The facilities are dated and the grounds we play on don’t have great drainage or lighting, and it doesn’t enable us to maximise participation and accommodate everyone who wants to play. Especially when you think about when they want to play and when they’ll be able to. Traditionally, football has always been a Saturday afternoon activity, but as society changes and people’s free time changes, it would be good to have facilities that allow us to maximise their time after hours on good surfaces, with good floodlighting that allows them to play and train.
Refereeing is a key challenge. Getting enough people that are willing and interested to cover all the games we want will make the games much better. To recruit and retain enough referees to cover all the matches is a challenge. We need to have enough quality coaches that have taken courses to ensure that when kids do turn up to train they are not only taught something, but they also have a good time. At the end of the day, we all play football because it is a fun thing to do, so having a coach that understands that and makes sure players enjoy themselves and fall in love with the game is important.
Q: Football Tasmania CEO Matt Bulkeley recently said that state funding has been easier to engage with in recent times, has this been the same in the ACT?
Phil Brown: It’s a bit different with the structures here, we deal directly with the territory. In the other states, which have layers of councils that sit below the state government it can be a bit more challenging. We don’t have that same challenge here. There is a finite amount of money for governments to invest in facilities, infrastructure, and schools, and we understand that. We’ve been relatively lucky here that the government has been willing to reinvest some of the surpluses that were made through the Asian Cup 2015 – into community projects for football in 2016 – which was great. We are partnering with the government at the moment on the development of a home of football in the north of the ACT, which will make a great difference for access to playing surfaces in the ACT.
Q: Does Capital Football have ambitions to see a professional team in Canberra?
Phil Brown: Capital Football the company doesn’t have ambitions to manage an A-League team, however, we absolutely support seeing an A-League team in the ACT, sitting alongside the very successful W-League team in Canberra United that has been there since year one. It would be great for young boys in our part of the world to pursue their dreams to become professional footballers without having to move to Sydney or Melbourne to access an A-League opportunity, similar to what our young girls can do here. They can stay in school without moving away from their families, develop as players at the Canberra United academy, and then step up to the W-League. We’ve seen how successful that has been with young players like Karly Roestbakken, Grace Maher, Nicki Flannery, Laura Hughes, and Hayley Taylor-Young, who have come through the academy at a young age while still being at school, and still be able to become professional footballers through Canberra United in the W-League and then onto the national team.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for the rest of the year for football in the ACT?
Phil Brown: The biggest challenge for the rest of the year is getting through this season without being impacted by COVID. It’s already had a huge impact on all community sport last year, and we were relatively lucky in comparison to other jurisdictions in that we got to play half a season. We’ve been relatively lucky again this year that our games haven’t been impacted. You look at what is happening in Sydney at the moment, and the impact that has had on community football, and that is a big challenge for us. It impacted our Kanga Cup, 300 plus teams from around Australia, and in previous years from overseas but COVID has impacted that as well – that is meant to be on for the first week of July but we’ve pushed back into September. The ongoing impact of COVID on community sport and travel between states then risks that competition going ahead, that would be a huge impact on us.
We are proud of the power chair football, through the support of the local community – particularly rotary and muscular dystrophy – that we have been able to purchase some strike force power chairs and build a program up from scratch, with two teams who play regularly, and potentially enter a state team in the national championship. Being able to engage and grow those opportunities is inroads for everyone in football – while we were talking about challenges, it’s important to talk about opportunities, and this is one of those.