In regards to the conversation around Australian football right now, everything is on the table.
Despite the current times we are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s refreshing to hear constructive debate around the future of the game.
Football is a game of opinions, after all. Everyone throws in their two cents, even more so when there are no domestic games to watch or participate in, at a grassroots or professional level.
The range of voices we have heard from in recent weeks, including former Socceroos and Matildas, current administrators, as well as past and present coaches, has given the footballing public a sense of belief that the game will finally focus on football first.
The in-depth discussions and dissections of what a Josip Skoko believes is best for the game, or what a Peter Filopoulos thinks, in such a transparent manner, is something we need more of to be a healthy football nation.
Most of these figures have spoken openly on what they think the new FFA CEO James Johnson must attempt to address, ranging from topics such as player development, junior fees, promotion and relegation and governance structures.
The overall consensus? Despite the last couple of years of largely negative press, if we address the long-standing issues of the game, it will have a positive future.
One of those issues is the disregard that was shown to NSL clubs when the A-League was established, despite all the positives they continued to contribute to the game, including youth development, traditional football culture and much more.
Former Socceroo Gary Cole told this publication recently that he felt “the history of Australian football, for a long time, kicked off in 2004.”
It resonated with me a while after. How could you not agree with Cole, in this case?
I was quite young when the NSL folded; most of my life, all I have known is the A-League.
‘Old soccer’ as Cole called it, was barely referred to and when it was, it had a negative or embarrassing connotation attached to it, during the opening years of the A-League and arguably still does now.
Why was this the case? It’s inexcusable. You can’t tell me now that the game has properly recognised our previous national competition or the clubs involved and the heroes of that era.
Younger generations can’t celebrate legends like Cole who paved the way for the likes of the Tim Cahills and Harry Kewells of the world, if they are not told who they were, who they played for and what they achieved.
Clubs like Cole’s Heidelberg United are central to one of the other pressing debates discussed by those in the game, a national second division.
Ex-Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer put forward his plan during a ‘State of Football’ chat with Optus Sport on Sunday, in which he outlined a region-based conference system for a national second division setup.
“It minimises travel costs, but creates a second tier, semi-professional, with a view in the future to lift it up,” he said.
“In Germany for example, the third division is regional. The top two teams, depending on the region, (size of) participation, go into a play-off for eventual promotion.
“Why can’t we create a similar structure?”
Will everyone agree with Schwarzer’s idea for the second division? Absolutely not.
But that’s beside the point. The more these matters are spoken about and debated, the urgency increases for administrators to take all views into account and move forward with plans to implement.
There are those who think some former Socceroos, without any administrative experience, are not best placed to make calls on the future of complex governance decisions within the Australian football system.
That’s a fair enough criticism, but that doesn’t mean their involvement in the discussion of the game’s future, through different online platforms and now FFA’s Starting XI panel, hasn’t already been effective and will continue to be so.
Their influential voices form part of the narrative from all corners of the game who now support a national second division, with a point being reached where no other option will be accepted.
Call me an optimist, despite the game’s governance track record over its history, with James Johnson at the helm, football can finally be its unique self and stand on its own two feet.
There is renewed confidence that decisions will be made in the best interests of the sport, not simply trying to replicate what rival codes do.
In the end however, while discussion and debate around the game’s future is important, it’s the actions that count.