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.

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.”

The story of Kamal Ibrahim: An inspiration to young migrants

The founder of One Ball, Kamal Ibrahim, understands that football is a beacon of light for him and the people that experience adversity and hardship in their countries.

Along with his family, Ibrahim migrated from Ethiopia in 2003 for a new life in Australia at the age of 12 to flee the civil war.

By not understanding a word of English along with the difficulties of settling into the cultural ways of life in Australia, that’s when he turned his passion for football as a form of expressing himself and communicating with his new community.

His football career began for his local team, Port Melbourne Soccer Club, the noble act from the NPL club to pay for his membership, providing him with his uniform and most significantly making him feel welcome instantly the moment that he had arrived was an admirable act of generosity.

Looking back on his playing career, Ibrahim talked about the life skills football gave him, not only on the pitch but also off it.

“Through football I learnt skills that helped me on and off the field. I looked forward to my games each week, my team was my ‘family’, I had a sense of acceptance and a way of communicating without having to speak, I learnt how to work as a team, improve myself as an individual, I was supported in a fun and safe environment.

“Football has given me opportunities that I never expected. Football gave me the opportunity to represent Australia and Victoria on a national level and I was given the opportunity to travel the world. It gave me that sense of encouragement to do more with my life and that with hard work anything can be achieved.”

He has gone on to make appearances for Melbourne Heart (now known as Melbourne City) in 2010-2012 and representing the youth team of Australia, but his career was at an all-time high when playing for Port Melbourne Sharks, which is where he won the 2015 NPL’s best and fairest award.

Now Ibrahim has decided to show his admiration for the sport, by starting a program designed for children and adolescences between the ages of 5-17 year olds.

The program is open to all people, especially those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) nationalities from all over Melbourne to play football in a social and friendly environment, no matter their religion, culture or gender.

The mission of this program is to encourage children to be fit and active, as well as supporting their physical and psychological health and well-being, One Ball also aims to guide and empower young individuals to develop personal qualities such as cooperation, self-control, respect and integrity by playing football with others along with the mentoring they receive from their coaches.

Ibrahim explains why he started One Ball.

“I started One Ball trying to not only help the best players, but the overall community. Kids who have never played soccer before, kids who have the passion but they can’t play for a soccer club because they will be told they aren’t good forward or who aren’t good enough to play for an NPL club or a community club, so One Ball was established for that reason,” he said.

“As human beings when we realise belong in the community, we feel a part of the society, then we can achieve things. Every kid who comes to our program gets a uniform just like they are part of their soccer club, they feel like they can belong at that club.”

The PFA’s Footballers Trust supports One Ball and other similar organisations, giving an opportunity for players to give back to their communities in a positive and impactful way.

It was established by former footballer Mark Milligan prior to the 2019 Asian Cup, ever since then it has grown remarkably to the extent where they have partnered with over 10 various player-driven charity initiatives.

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