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Doug Hodgson: The ‘forgotten Aussie’ and the importance of a mature transfer system

Although they embody far more, at their very core, every football club is essentially a business entity. Countless variables makeup a club’s balance sheet including sponsorships, merchandising, broadcast deals and ticket sales, but one major income stream that Australia is yet to fully exploit is the one that draws the most public interest – player transfers.

The cash injection received from player transfers can do wonders for a club, regardless of their stature and size. In addition to allowing clubs to reinvest the funds into their facilities and development pathways, a mature transfer system also encourages coaches to develop their youth instead of relying on proven talent.

As one of Australia’s early international football exports, Doug Hodgson was one of a group of young guns who caught the eye of international scouts and paved the way for many others to follow. His story is one of frustration and overcoming challenges, but ultimately shows that young players need resilience to make it in what is one of the world’s most competitive industries.

“As a player you have a small window and opportunity, you have to take it with two hands and make sure you have the desire and passion to succeed,” Hodgson said.

In 1994, Hodgson moved from Heidelberg United to Sheffield United for an upfront fee of £30,000, a figure which rose to approximately £70,000 with add-ons based on appearances. He was also joined by fellow Aussie, current Adelaide United Head Coach Carl Veart (pictured in top photo) in a deal worth £250,000.

Doug Hodgson making headlines for scoring on his debut for Northampton Town.

But despite earning a dream move to England, Hodgson’s path to the top was far from easy.

Following a car accident as a teenager, Hodgson was told by doctors he may never play again. A few years and a lot of hard work later, as a 20-years old he won Heidelberg United’s Best and Fairest award, earning a loan move to Sunshine George Cross where he was managed by Hull City legend Kenny Wagstaff.

“Kenny organised a trial with Hull City and I worked and worked to be prepared for it. At the end of the trial I was offered a two-year contract worth £450 per week. The club offered Heidelberg £20,000 but there was a transfer break down as Heidelberg wanted £140,000,” Hodgson recalls.

“As you would imagine, there was anger, disappointment, and frustration. I thought, here is a club that paid nothing for me, and I had serviced them as best as I possibly could. I won the Best and Fairest only for them to slap a price tag on me that wasn’t realistic.”

“I understand business and maybe they thought that was a fair price, but as a young kid, there was a lot of bitterness as I knew these opportunities didn’t come up often.”

It would take another two years for Hodgson to get another chance at his dream move. While playing in Western Australia (although still under contract at Heidelberg), Sheffield United came down under for a post-season tour. After seeing him play, Blades manager Dave Bassett was so impressed with the young Aussie that he offered him to join his team for the remainder of the tour as a trial, resulting in a deal being struck.

Hodgson possessed the talent and mental steel to become a quality player in England, and although his career was heavily injury affected, he still managed to make almost 150 senior appearances, most of which with Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic.

One honour that eluded Hodgson, perhaps due to injuries, politics or just plain bad luck was earning a Socceroo’s cap. This has led to him being dubbed the ‘forgotten Aussie’ in some circles.

“At one stage, while playing for Sheffield United in England’s first division I played 14 games straight and I won player of the month. Similarly, at Oldham in the second division I was voted player of the month when I was 29 and probably playing the best football of my career,” Hodgson said.

“There was an Australian national team camp happening in London at the time. I’m not saying I should of played because that’s unfair on the other players, but I should have been given the opportunity to go to camp. Not being able to represent my country was the biggest disappointment in my career. I eventually walked away from the game in England with 12 months left on my contract due to injuries.”

Despite the injuries and frustrations he faced, Hodgson built strong relationships in England and maintains connections with many of his former teammates and coaches today.

This is an enormous factor in international transfers that is seldom mentioned. Players who venture overseas often get the opportunity to network and learn from the brightest football minds in the world, eventually bringing that knowledge back to Australia.

“I coached the U-15s at Northampton Town and the Sheffield United Reserves. Neil Warnock was grooming me to become the next manager of the club but mentally I found it hard to accept the way my career ended,” Hodgson said.

Since returning to Australia, Hodgson has brought back a raft of knowledge which he has used to teach the next generation. Some of his key accomplishments include coaching seniors and juniors at the NPL level, being involved with New South Wales’ youth program, and leading an U-14 youth team to the Victorian championship.

“I have contacts and will open a door for someone if I can if they are good enough. We need to remember though that different kids develop at different ages and its important to focus on education and make sure they are always moving forward,” Hodgson added.

Five of the 10 largest outbound transfers occurred during the NSL era.

On the flipside of the coin, for Heidelberg United, the windfall received from Hodgson’s sale meant covering debts and ensuring the club’s financial viability during a tumultuous time.

“In those days, most clubs were running on overdrafts and volunteer work. We had small sponsorships but really relied on the community to raise funds. There weren’t many player transfers, but we had some success with guys like Doug Hodgson, John Anastasiadis, and before that, Yakka Banovic who joined Derby County,” said former Heidelberg President Peter Tsaklis.

“We were paying about $60,000 per year just for registration into Australia’s top league and there weren’t any grants or assistance from the government at the time. The transfer fees were much needed but we barely able to use the funds to improve facilities at the club, as most of it just went towards running costs,” Tsaklis added.

This was the norm at the time, where if a club was lucky enough to receive a large transfer fee, the funds were often used to balance the books. Or, if they were in a stronger financial position, used to make sorely needed investments and upgrades that they otherwise would not have been affordable.

One example of this occurring was the sale of Socceroos legend Mark Viduka, who was famously transferred to Dinamo Zagreb from the Melbourne Knights. The fee helped the club fund its stadium redevelopments and officially named its grandstand in his honour, a grandstand which today still houses one of the NPL’s most passionate fanbases.

Although Viduka’s exact transfer fee is unlisted, incredibly, five of the top 10 largest transfer fees ever received by Australian clubs occurred during that era.

To add to this, despite the mammoth deals regularly taking place around the globe, the $1.7 million Leicester City paid for Zeljko Kalac in 1995 still remains the largest transfer fee received by an Australian club.

These statistics are not emphasised to criticise the current league or administration, but they do highlight what an enormous opportunity exists in Australian football.

Australia’s transfer system has fallen far behind the rest of Asia’s key players.

Much of the rest of Asia seems to have evolved in their abilities to produce and sell talent. According to data gathered by Optus Sports, Australia’s outbound player sales in 2019 totalled $2.698 million, a number dwarfed by our rivals Japan ($49.39 million) and South Korea ($37.45 million).

If the game’s administrators can over time build an ecosystem that incentivises player transfers, the prospect of adequate financial reimbursement could lead to more clubs focusing on developing players rather than looking for short-term results, ultimately leading to more opportunities for youth and clubs tapping into one of the most lucrative income streams of all.

Caroline Springs George Cross FC: A historic club reborn and revitalised

Relocating from a traditional home will usually mark the start of a new era for a football club. Modern facilities provide dramatic improvements for players, fans and other stakeholders to enjoy, and a new environment can often create an uplift of atmosphere.

For Caroline Springs George Cross FC, the mid-2019 move to the state-of-the-art City Vista Pavilion and Sports Field has done all of the above – but also far, far more.

The club has used the transition to revitalise its football program and open an industry-leading hospitality precinct, increasing opportunities for income diversification and the creation of an intimate sense of community.

“Prior to the move we utilised three different venues. It has been enlightening for the club to amalgamate all of our teams and for the first time in a while, the club has been united from a participation point of view. We are now all at one venue where teams and families interact and watch each other play and train. It also means we can have community and NPL Juniors all at the one club,” said Mark Sultana, Caroline Springs George Cross FC President.

Formerly Sunshine George Cross, the club has a rich 74-year history and a deep connection to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

“We are a very old, but very progressive football club. In 2019 we had a change of name to match our new home. We have created a really special culture and are highly united across all areas,” Sultana added.

From a business standpoint, the hospitality precinct, dubbed Georgies on Vista, has allowed the club to build a sustainable income stream which is not solely reliant on traditional methods like sponsorship.

“It’s a full hospitality precinct including a bar, function room and restaurant. It’s a fully functional business but we also use it to give back to our community. We offer specials for members and players, while kids eat free,” added Liza Djuric, General Manager of Caroline Springs George Cross FC.

“Parents have a comfortable space when they are waiting for their kids and it really unites people during training and on matchdays.”

The precinct features two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

As well as the hospitality facilities, the City Vista complex features cutting-edge amenities for players and coaches. The $13 million reserve boasts two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches, with space for 4000 fans.

Although project was heavily funded by the Melton City Council, the Georgies also made a significant contribution of approximately $1 million.

While securing funding was an enormous achievement, the relationship the club shares with its council is very much a two-way street. The club has approached its relations with the broader community much the same as it has with its members, promoting inclusion and engagement to great effect.

“It’s a testament to our venue that Western United FC chose us to base themselves out of. They use our facilities six days per week to train, but we also support the local community,” Sultana said.

“The school across the road uses our facilities for their P.E classes and we support other local schools by hiring out our grounds. The public can also use our grounds when we aren’t using them and there’s times over summer where the grounds are booked out for tournaments.”

The club has a 20-year lease on the complex, with an option to extend another 20 years beyond that.

With the deal undoubtedly a huge win for the club, Sultana and Djuric emphasise that it was a result of hard-work and dedication from many past and present administrators.

“A lot of people over a number of years have sacrificed a lot to have this facility granted to us. People like Eddie Gauci, who was integral to our conversations with council. He has sadly passed away, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Countless other people including committee members, coaches, presidents and volunteers sacrificed a lot for our club to be where it is today,” Sultana said.

Importantly, in addition to supporting its members and the surrounding areas, the reserve was also designed in a gender-neutral manner, something which is increasingly important in the modern football ecosystem.

This has allowed George Cross to heavily promote female participation in the area and offer genuine career development pathways for women who are eager to pursue coaching or administrative positions.

Georgies on Vista has created a sustainable revenue stream. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

“We have female-friendly change rooms and access and gender-neutral facilities. The club is committed to drawing female participation across the board. We have girls from all age groups and ensure our women’s teams train and play on our main pitch,” Djuric said.

“We are committed to this even across the board and committee. We have female coaches and self-nominated to the Change Maker Project, a Football Victoria and Vic Uni led program which is all about driving football clubs to achieve 50/50 participation.”

With a state-of-the-art facility now in place to complement the club’s passionate fanbase, the President believes Caroline Springs George Cross FC is in a prime position to compete in the highly anticipated National Second Division.

‘We have taken this club from being mainly comprised of part-timers into a professionally run organisation. When the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) put out the expression of interest for the working group, we took it upon ourselves to contribute,” Sultana said.

“We are an old NSL club with a strong brand and supporter base. We have one of the best facilities and believe we are in a good position to be issued a license when the time comes. The licenses need to be given on a criteria base and from a capability standpoint, we will have all of the components ticked-off.”

Football NSW schedules additional AFC/FFA B & goalkeeper coaching courses

Football NSW has announced a series of coaching courses to upskill the state’s professional and amateur coaches.

After revealing it will schedule two additional AFC/FFA B License Courses throughout 2021, the federation has today announced it will also host AFC/FFA Level 1 Goalkeeping License courses to commence in March 2021.

The goalkeeping license is designed for coaches who teach talented youth, or senior goalkeepers and focuses on their role within 11 v 11 football. The courses, which cost $1,930, will be hosted at Valentine Sports Park in Glenwood, NSW.

The course will also include the mandatory prerequisite, the C License Part 1 built into the first two days of the training, however coaches who have already completed this prerequisite do not need to attend these first two days and the price will be adjusted to $1,430.

The news to host AFC/FFA Level 1 Goalkeeping License sessions follows Football NSW’s announcement that it will add more AFC/FFA B License Courses due to an unprecedented demand.

In the ‘B’ License Course, coaches can expect to be upskilled on the 11 v 11 aspects of the game including football analysis and applying the FFA vision and philosophy to their training model.

These courses are scheduled to take place from June 2021 and will be split into two parts, each which requires six days of attendance. The ‘B’ License will also take place at Valentine Sports Park.

To register for the AFC/FFA Level 1 Goalkeeping License, please visit HERE.

To register for the AFC/FFA B License, please visit HERE.

The importance of esports in football

Interest in esports is ever growing, Influencer Marketing Hub reports that in 2020 there are almost half a billion esports followers – and Newzoo predicts that the audience for esports will grow to 646 million by 2023.

Football organisations also have a presence within esports. FC Barcelona, Manchester City and Bundesliga are among the many clubs and leagues who run or participate in esports competitions.

The Entertainment Software Association found that in 2018 there were over 164 million adults in the United States who played video games. With the large amounts of people playing video games it makes sense for football organisations to become involved in this industry.

James Gallagher-Powell of CSM Sport & Entertainment at the ESI (esports Insider) Digital Summer conference said that esports can help football clubs to attract a younger audience.

“In terms of this younger audience, I’m sure that many of you have seen the stats before, probably from a brand sponsor perspective. So why do brands think about sponsoring an esports property over traditional sports property,” Gallagher-Powell said.

“The average age for a Premier League fan is 42 and rising, and no doubt is higher than 42 within developed fan markets like in the UK. This ageing fan base begs two questions to football clubs: How do the clubs ensure their longevity and remain relevant to the next generation of sports fans? And how do they ensure that their club remains attractive to potential sponsors?

“esports can provide the perfect channel for this. It’s a way that clubs can attract a younger audience to their core operations, i.e football, and it can help clubs to safeguard their future popularity and therefore their future profitability.”

EA Sports’ FIFA games have become incredibly popular over the years. FIFA 20 launched on September 27, 2019 and by October 10, 2019 over ten million people had played the game across various gaming consoles.

Although despite this popularity of football games, CSM Sport & Entertainment’s Account Director Debs Scott-Bowden at the ESI Digital Summer conference said that these games were only a small part of the esports world.

“But whilst FIFA and PES are good entry points for clubs to go into esports, for the wider esports communities, these titles are largely considered niche. So for clubs looking to reach a wider audience, football games aren’t necessarily the best route to achieve this.”

Bundesliga has its own Virtual Bundesliga Club Championship. The championship will start on November 10 and will be the third season of the competition. The Virtual Bundesliga Club Championship will feature clubs from both Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.

The Chief Executive of DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga Digital Sports and DFL Executive Vice-President, Andreas Heyden told SportBusiness in November 2019 about the importance of the VBL.

“The growth of the Virtual Bundesliga since its inception shows how seriously we are taking the whole area of esports. We highly benefit from out club brands and players [being present] but also we have proven to have created ne of the highest degrees of authenticity of the Bundesliga in the virtual world of stadiums, clubs and players,” he said.

Bundesliga is taking its esports approach very seriously and has major plans for the Virtual Bundesliga and hopes it can grow.

“We want to grow the Virtual Bundesliga to become out third competition brand, alongside Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga in regards to media rights, participation of clubs and users in the open series.”

“There are not many leagues who are committed as we are to create an eFootball league, with the amount of focus we are giving and the investment we are providing.”

In Australia, Football Federation Australia has the E-League.

Matches are streamed live on twitch. The finals of the 2020 edition of the series unfortunately had to be postponed due to COVID-19. The finals were due to be held at an event in Melbourne on May 9.

At the end of 2017 when the E-League was announced then FFA Head of Commercial, Marketing and Digital, Luke Bould, spoke about the appeal of an esports league.

“FFA’s strategy is to build a competition that provides FIFA competitors with the ability to represent their favourite A-League clubs and create more fans for the A-League and Westfield W-League. This is also a great way to connect the League more globally and in particular, with an Asian audience who love football and FIFA, but may not yet know the A-League.”

During the A-League COVID-19 shutdown, a tournament was also organised which featured both gamers and A-League players.

It is great to see that FFA and the A-League does take esports seriously and is following the lead of other leagues such as the Bundesliga. The FFA should continue to do so and look into expanding its esports properties.

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