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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.”

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

New community club support initiatives to be rolled out by Football Queensland

Football Queensland (FQ) has announced they will introduce a new offering of club support initiatives over the next weeks and months.

Football Queensland (FQ) has announced they will introduce a new offering of club support initiatives over the next weeks and months.

The move will benefit clubs based in the Sunshine State, as Football Queensland continue to focus on ways to strengthen the community, grassroots and volunteers for a more sustainable future.

“Football Queensland is committed to providing increased support to our clubs and dedicated volunteers at all levels of the game and this extensive new set of club support resources will provide practical guidance and support on a range of administration matters,” FQ President Ben Richardson said.

This news follows on from FQ’s announcement last week regarding their upgraded Club Support Hub, which is a go-to destination for club administrators to access important resources, guides and assistance with club processes and procedures.

“Following the launch of Football Queensland’s upgraded Club Support Hub last week, the introduction of FQ’s new club support initiatives will begin with an exciting new volunteer program which will be launched across the state in the coming weeks,” FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci said.

“As the season progresses, FQ will release a range of tailored resources for clubs that include new resources designed to inform clubs about specific operational activities including finance planning and budgeting, running an AGM and understanding the roles and responsibilities of committee members among others.

“Volunteers are critical to club operations, especially at this time of the season, so we are looking forward to providing an additional level of support to Queensland clubs as we strive to make the job easier for all volunteers.

“The development of additional club resources aligns with FQ’s commitment to providing high levels of customer service through the implementation of new technology and processes, while supporting clubs to deliver high-quality participation experiences in line with our Strategic Plan.

“We are excited to continue providing our clubs and volunteers across Queensland with unprecedented levels of support through the ongoing development of our Club Support Hub and the release of high-quality resources to strengthen our clubs at every level of the game.”

You can find the Club Support Hub here.

Football Australia announces major partnership with Commonwealth Bank of Australia

Football Australia and Commonwealth Bank Australia have announced a major partnership, which will make the Commonwealth Bank the largest investor in women’s football in Australia.

The CBA will become the official naming rights partner of the Matildas and will also make it the official bank of the Matildas, Junior Matildas, Young Matildas and Socceroos.

The partnership is for an initial four-year term with Football Australia’s release stating that the agreement will, “inject millions of dollars into elite women’s football and grassroots initiatives around the country.”

Commencing from August 2021, the partnership between CBA and Football Australia will include but is not limited to:

  • Official Naming Rights Partner of the Matildas, Junior Matildas and Young Matildas
  • Official Bank of the Matildas, Junior Matildas and Young Matildas
  • Official Partner the Female Football Awards
  • Official Naming Rights Partner of Matildas Fan Days
  • Official Partner and Bank of the Socceroos
  • Official Partner of the MiniRoos

Football Australia CEO, James Johnson, said the partnership was a crucial milestone ahead of a busy upcoming international schedule.

“We’re delighted to partner with Commonwealth Bank and see this as an exciting synergy of two of Australia’s great contemporary brands,” he said.

“We believe firmly in anchoring the growth of our sport in women’s football, the strength of our diverse community, promoting inclusivity in Australian football and enhancing the reputation of our national teams, both the Matildas and Socceroos as we embark on an incredibly busy international schedule over the next four years.

“We are thrilled that these core themes of our new 15-year vision and strategic agenda, which are so deeply embedded within our XI Principles for the future of Australian football, are also extremely important to Commonwealth Bank.

“This partnership is a wonderful representation of our bold new vision for the sport coming to life and the new trajectory of Australian football.

“We are proud to welcome Commonwealth Bank, one of Australia’s most iconic companies, to the football family as we embark, together, on this exciting journey of transformation towards becoming the centre of women’s football in the Asia-Pacific.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the enormous support that Westfield has and continues to provide to women’s football in Australia.

“Westfield’s commitment, leadership and significant investment in the game over 13 years has helped to create the current generation of champions and for that we will always be grateful. We continue to work with Westfield and indeed are excited about the Westfield Matildas taking on the Netherlands tonight.”

Football Australia Head of Women’s Football, Women’s World Cup Legacy & Inclusion, Sarah Walsh highlighted the significance of the ‘female-focused’ nature of the agreement.

“Commonwealth Bank’s female-focused investment will provide greater awareness of, and access to, women’s football,” she said

“We want to ensure every boy and girl has a great experience in the game they love and remain focused on building a legacy for our sport by providing girls with a pathway and inspiring them to play elite football.

“Only three months ago, Commonwealth Bank was ranked as Australia’s strongest brand, and as both an ex-player and administrator in the game, it is a truly proud moment to have such a significant organisation dedicating so much resource to our game.”

Commonwealth Bank CEO, Matt Comyn, said, the CBA was delighted to be add women’s football to its portfolio of partnerships, saying that in conjunction with the CBA’s partnership with women’s cricket, the bank was leading the way in supporting positive sporting outcomes for Australian women.

“Women’s football and women’s cricket are showing young Australian women they can achieve great things on the world stage,” he said.

“We look forward to working with Football Australia to ensure every girl and boy playing in a community club with a goal to play at an elite level has the same access and support to achieve their dream.

“The Matildas have been one of the great success stories of Australian sport in recent years as the women’s game has grown in stature and importance at home and around the globe.

“Many players are now in some of the best leagues in the world which has helped put Australian football on the map.

“We are delighted to partner with Football Australia in not only supporting the Matildas in their quest for World Cup glory, but equally as important, supporting the future growth and development of the game across all levels.”

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

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