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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.

Sekulovski hits the ground running in Preston Sponsorship Management role

Naum Sekulovski might be in the twilight of his playing career, but he won’t be finishing up with football or his beloved Preston Lions anytime soon.

The former Perth Glory star has taken on the role of Sponsorship Manager for the 2021 season.

Preston has always been a club that has enjoyed enormous support from its community and its playing members.

The chants of “Ma-ke-don-ia” on game day bring goosebumps to all in attendance at BT Connor Reserve.

Even whilst playing at the relative depths of State League 1 for this former National Soccer League heavyweight, Preston has been able to rely on the incredible support of its fans who vote with their feet year in, year out.

However, it is the ability of the club to mobilise the support of the business network within its community that is truly impressive.

In recent years, the Preston Lions committee has enjoyed enormous success in mobilising the support of the business community within its ranks, signing on an extraordinary amount of sponsors a trend that has well and truly continued into 2021.

“At the top end of this year, back end of 2020, [Preston Lions President] Zak [Gruevski] approached me about taking on the role of Sponsorship Manager,” Sekulovski said.

“I’m coming to the twilight of my career as a player, so I’ve always wanted to understand how I can get more involved behind the scenes.

“I’m always going to have that football attachment and I’m interested in the business side of running a football club, so I jumped on board.”

Outside of football, Sekulovski works in pharmaceutical sales, meaning he felt he had a skillset that would allow him to hit the ground running in the role.

A cursory glance at the club’s social media feed over the last few months would demonstrate that Preston’s support goes far beyond boots on terraces and that Sekulovski has certainly gotten off to a fast start.

Since taking on the role, the Preston mainstay said he has been blown away by the business support afforded to the Lions.

“It’s been a really big eye-opener for me and one that I’ve really tried to translate over to the players and the people at a junior level,” he said.

“To be honest, the level of support has been a bit overwhelming.

“At last count, we’ve ticked over 100 sponsors for the year. We’re in a really, privileged position, but we’re here because of the hard work of all the people that have been on the committee over the last few years.”

Preston has kicked off its own “Preston in Business” program of business events for sponsors and is providing corporate hospitality on gameday, which started with a historic night of football at BT Connor Reserve when the club took on Melbourne City in it’s season opening match of the NPL3 Vic season, attracting a bumper crowd on the night.

The club saw another massive turnout last Friday night for their NPL3 Vic clash with Melbourne Victory, showing the Round 1 turnout was no flash in the pan.

“To have that many businesses and invited guests attend our first President’s Club function for 2021, it just made sense to have a program like “Preston In Business” that we could use to help those sponsors engage with and leverage off one another.

“We’ve got so many diverse businesses in our group.”

Following 2019’s State League 1-winning season, not even the loss of the 2020 year could slow Preston down.

“I think success breeds success,” Sekulovski said.

“And it’s not just about the men’s program. We are striving to get to the heights of Victorian football at all levels and we are firmly in the frame of mind that when a national second division presents itself, we want to be a part of that discussion.

“We’re a united front across our men’s, women’s and junior programs and everything is coming together.”

Facilities have also been a major agenda item for the club and redevelopment of BT Connor Reserve, which has been aided by the City of Darebin Council, as well as the generous donation of money and services from the Preston business community has been crucial to the club’s drive forward.

“I think we’re really only just scratching the surface of what’s possible in terms of our partnership with Council and Government,” he said.

“The administration of the club has been working so hard over the last six or seven years and it’s thanks to a passionate group of volunteers which makes the progress we’ve made extraordinary.

“To see that pay off with the night we had against Melbourne City and our new partnership with them, it was incredible.

“I grew up watching Preston. That Friday night I left the sponsorship stand to go and see some of the game with the rank and file and sitting there with so many people in the industrial back streets of Reservoir at our first official night game was something special.”

Preston remains on the lookout for businesses looking to support their charge forward.

Anyone interested in supporting the club or joining as a sponsor/partner should contact Sekulovski or Preston via their Facebook page or club website.

Image Credit: Preston Lions Football Club

FA CEO James Johnson opens up on difficulties in the game and opportunities for the future

Speaking at Football Victoria’s Community in Business event on Friday, Football Australia CEO James Johnson reflected on his first 14 months in the top job of the sport, detailing the difficulties the organisation faced in 2020 and the opportunities it has in the coming years.

“I’d like to share with you what I walked into in January 2020,” Johnson told the audience in Melbourne.

“I walked into Football Australia and what I understood from the off was that the organisation had really lost a sense of unity. I believe the organisation had lost its connection with the community.”

Johnson criticised the focus of the governing body’s financial model, believing it was not looking after the best interests of the game overall.

“The business model was heavily centred on the A-League,” he said.

“That was what decision making evolved around, while other parts of the game, in my opinion, were neglected. The business model was disconnected, fractured and was inefficient. It was inefficient because of the duplication of administration. It wasn’t set up to foster growth for a thriving football ecosystem.

“The model denied the most significant part of our game, our identity, our community, our people, our stories, our diverse and multicultural base and our great national teams.

“In place of this identity, we’ve allowed a narrative to proliferate over the past 10-15 years that is divided, politicised, old soccer against new football, but this is not what our game is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson

The former Brisbane Strikers player admits that the game is far from perfect in this country and needs to address a range of issues.

“We have some really serious challenges ahead of us,” he said.

“We don’t own enough facilities for our growing base, we have too many players, we are turning children and families away from our code because we don’t have enough infrastructure around the country. This is a real issue.

“The performance gap that we released in 2020 tells us that the age group that plays the most minutes in our elite men’s competition (the A-League) is the age of 32. We are not giving enough opportunities for our players under 23. We also have challenges with our football pyramid, we must reconnect our pyramid so we can unleash this potential of an ecosystem.”

Since Johnson was appointed as CEO early last year, the governing body has shifted their business model allowing them to deliver strategic priorities and focus on initiatives such as: the implementation of the domestic match calendar, the proposed introduction of a domestic transfer system, a half slot to the ACL for the FFA Cup winner and more. Johnson believes factors such as these are vital to reconnecting Australian football’s national pyramid.

In his speech at the Community in Business event, the former senior executive at the AFC, FIFA and the City Football Group also strongly emphasised the importance of recognising the game’s history properly, something the game has continued to neglect in previous years.

“We have a rich history and it must be celebrated,” he said.

“There are moments in our game, that not only shaped the game, but they shaped the way that our country is. In 1974, we sent our first men’s team to the World Cup led by Rale, in 1993 Maradona came here, in 1997 Iran broke our hearts, in 2005 a famous penalty got us to our first World Cup in many decades and in 2020 we won the rights to host the Women’s World Cup.

“Our game is full of these moments and I think if you all think about those moments, people will remember where they were when they occurred. We forget that our clubs in this country predated federation. We forget that football was the first sport in Australia to have a national competition in the 70’s. We forget the first cup competition in this country was in the 60’s, the Australia Cup.

“We forget that women played football in this country as early as 1909. Nearly 42 years ago, our very first Matildas stepped out onto Seymour Shaw Park for the first Matildas match. Now, we are only a few years away from the biggest sporting event for women in the world coming to our shores.

“We forget that 99 years ago our Socceroos played their first match against New Zealand. We are one year away from 100 years.

“We forget the role that football played in the lives of indigenous children, like John Moriarty, Jade North and Kyah Simon.

“We forget that our national competitions have always been the hallmark of our game. The NSL for many, many years. Our history provides us with platforms to move forward to and to launch a bold, exciting future for our sport.”

Johnson addresses the audience at Football Victoria’s CIB event

Johnson sees the Women’s World Cup in 2023 on home soil as the perfect avenue to establish a strong future for the game.

“We are focused on creating that link between our national teams, in particular the Matildas and our community,” he said.

“Our base of 2 million participants is great, but only 22% per cent of our base are women and girls. There is a direct link between the importance and relevance of national teams and the base of community. With our national teams starting up again, you will see over the next 3 years (particularly with the Women’s World Cup) that our base will grow further and it will grow well.

Our ‘Legacy 23’ framework is an ambitious plan to maximise the opportunities that the legacy of the Women’s World Cup (WWC) will provide us. Legacy is not something that starts after the WWC, it started last month. We’ve got to try as best as possible to ensure the WWC has a long-lasting legacy, similar to what happened with the Sydney Olympics in 2000.”

The FA CEO concluded by calling on every single stakeholder to be open to change, including the governing body itself, and push forward to make the sport the best it can be.

“If we are to reach the potential of our game, each and every one of us, every stakeholder, Football Australia, Member Federations, clubs, leagues, our community need to be open to change,” he said.

“Change and innovation are the commodities that we must deal with in 2021. I’m under no illusions that Football Australia must continue to earn the trust and confidence back from our stakeholders and community. To do this, we need deeds not just words.

“Let’s seize this opportunity and put our best foot forward.”

Football Victoria’s fifth year of Community in Business looks to reinvigorate business partnerships in the state

In what has been a tough 12 months for businesses across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Football Victoria (FV) will look to recharge the business community through their annual FV Community in Business (CIB) program.

The state governing body for football will host the first of its four CIB events this year on Friday, with Football Australia CEO James Johnson to give the keynote address.

Football Victoria will also be celebrating the five-year anniversary of CIB in 2021, a program which was the brainchild of current FV Head of Commercial Anthony Grima and prominent business identity Professor Greg Stamboulidis.

FV’s Community in Business network was established after extensive research was conducted in 2014 on sponsorship data. At the time around 2,000 businesses invested commercially into grassroots community football in Victoria, with significant financial contributions made to over 350 clubs in the state.

Grima further explained to Soccerscene the origins of Football Victoria’s Community in Business program.

“It was created to provide a platform for businesses, football clubs and their sponsors, media and all levels of government to unite in their shared passion for the world game,” he said.

“It really was born out of one of those ‘write on the napkin’ type moments over a coffee in Ivanhoe. The idea just grew legs from that very moment. It seemed right and we knew the grassroots game needed it.

“We knew that this shared passion would lead to the development of meaningful relationships between the vast range of stakeholders in football and provide them with affordable and effective opportunities to connect with one another for mutual benefits and returns; and at the same time achieve important outcomes for football in Victoria.”

The membership-based program had its launch event in late November 2015, on the back of the Socceroos Asian Cup success earlier in that year.

We were thankful to have the then Socceroos Head Coach Ange Postecoglou and Socceroos legend Josip Skoko, amongst others, to launch the new community initiative,” Grima said.

“Approximately 100 guests of the Victorian football community were invited to help us launch the new initiative. The event was hosted by George Donikian, who we are also very grateful to, being our inaugural MC and first Honorary Member.

Since then, the Community in Business brand has continued to grow exponentially, with over 100 businesses in any given year signing up as members to fund the program.

A major drawcard of these events are the special guests who attend the multiple functions across the year.

“Our feature guests continue to reflect the ethos of supporting every level of the game,” Grima said.

“We make sure that we are always celebrating Victoria’s football achievements, by unifying the achievements of football past, present and future in this country and the diversity of our great game.”

Guests from over the years include Harry Kewell, Graham Arnold, Craig Johnston, Archie Thompson, John Aloisi, Lisa De Vanna, Melissa Barbieri, Tony Vidmar, Paul Wade, Craig Foster, Les Murray and many more.

Other notable events over the course gave members the opportunity to meet former Manchester United and Liverpool players such as Wes Brown, Louis Saha, David James, Emile Heskey and Steve McManaman.

Occasions such as this couldn’t be possible without the assistance of event organisers, who the federation works alongside.

“A big thanks must go to the team at MSE Events,” Grima said.

“The events are very thoughtfully considered and planned, as much as possible, around special events where the celebration doesn’t end at the luncheons.

“For example, when Brazil and Argentina were in town, we gave all our members free tickets to these matches.”

Grima believes that without the support from clubs, businesses and the football community as a whole, the program wouldn’t be where it Is today.

“I am personally proud of how far the program has come,” he said.

“It is called Community in Business because it is a network that is owned and valued by the community. We are all in the business of making this community great. Together we can achieve more for our game, unified as friends in football.

“Community in Business continues to demonstrate how business and community can work together to achieve extraordinary outcomes for our game.”

More information on Football Victoria’s Community in Business program can be found here.

 

 

 

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