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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.”

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.

Premier League close to unveiling distribution deal with Championship clubs

The Premier League is reportedly close to agreeing a new system for distributing money to lower leagues and a major reform of parachute payments, according to The Times.

The plan, which is called ‘A New Deal For Football’, has reportedly received broad support from the 20 Premier League teams, with the proposals coming after pressure from the UK government and the fan-led review of soccer by Tracey Crouch, which was published last November.

According to The Times, the new system will allocate cash to clubs in the second-tier Championship on a sliding scale of funding based on where they finish in the table, similar to the merit payments in the Premier League.

There will also reportedly be a new system of cost control to prevent lavish spending.

Parachute payments, a sum of money given to teams relegated from the top flight to compensate for loss of revenue, are set to be heavily reduced from the UK£44 million ($76 million AUD) given to clubs for the first season after they go down.

The thinking behind this is that it would help reduce the ‘cliff edge’ between the Premier League and the Championship.

The details of the new deal are yet to be finalised but The Times adds that there was a general consensus on the principals.

Other proposals are said to be around infrastructure grants for clubs in the English Football League (EFL), which consists of the second, third and fourth tiers of English soccer. These would see the Premier League provide ringfenced funding for capital projects such as improvements to stadiums and training grounds.

These measures would look to stop the extra money just being spent on player transfers and salaries, and fuelling inflation in the domestic game. Premier League clubs are purportedly worried that too many Championship clubs are spending above their means.

The overhaul in the Premier League’s relationship with EFL comes as Alison Brittain has been named as the new chair of the top flight.

The appointment means the two most senior positions in English soccer will both be women after Debbie Hewitt was confirmed as the first chairwoman of the Football Association (FA).

“I have been a football fan since I was a child and so am absolutely delighted to be appointed chair of the Premier League,” Brittain said in a statement.

“The game is of enormous national importance, is loved by so many people around the world and can have a tremendous positive impact on communities.

“It will be a real privilege to be able to help to develop plans for the future and work with all the key stakeholders in the game to ensure its long-term sustainability and success.”

Perth Glory confirm Anthony Radich as incoming CEO

Anthony Radich

Perth Glory has announced the arrival of Anthony Radich as the club’s new Chief Executive Officer.

A West Australian native, Radich has over 25 years’ experience in senior executive marketing, commercial and administrative roles and a long-time affiliation with Glory.

A former club volunteer and long-time member, he went on to serve as Glory’s Head of Commercial, General Manager and Chief Operations Officer and also negotiated and managed sponsorships with the club when working with both Quick Service Restaurant Holdings (Chicken Treat) and Healthway (LiveLighter).

His most recent stint at Glory as Chief Operating Officer saw the club secure 10,000 members for the first time and be ranked first in the league for overall Membership satisfaction in independent research conducted by Gemba and commissioned by Football Australia.

During this time, the club was also ranked first for game day experience, Membership value, Membership renewal, communication to Members, sense of club involvement and club administration.

Most recently, he spent the last five years as GM Commercial of the Perth Wildcats, eclipsing all commercial records and taking that club to its highest peak commercially.

Anthony, who will look to transition into the role prior to outgoing CEO Tony Pignata’s official departure from the club on September 30, is relishing the prospect of driving the club forward at what is a pivotal time in its history.

“I am incredibly excited and very humbled to be given the opportunity to lead this great football club,” he said in a statement via Perth Glory.

“It is a club that I hold very close to my heart and have loved since day one of its existence and throughout my life.

“I want to sincerely thank [Glory Owner and Chairman] Tony and Lucy Sage for offering me this wonderful opportunity.

“It has been a very tumultuous last couple of seasons for the club, with both the Men’s and Women’s sides undoubtedly among the Australian professional teams most harshly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My predecessor, Tony Pignata, deserves much credit for the way he helped the club meet the unprecedented challenges it faced during this time.

“As someone who loves the club and the sport, it hurt me deeply to see the toll that these challenges took on everyone associated with Glory and I am determined to ensure that I and my team can now make a significant difference commercially and operationally.

“I am certainly not ignorant of the enormity of the task and challenges that lie ahead of us all at the club.

“We need to rebuild its very foundations both on and off-field. That is the harsh reality of the situation we face, but it also presents a wonderful opportunity.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn and administratively we are faced with almost a start-from-scratch proposition.

“I also want us to be a more accessible, communicative, open and transparent club, to better engage with our Members, corporate partners and the WA football community and to listen to their feedback and concerns in order for us to better understand and learn from what has transpired over the last two seasons.

“They all deserve to feel pride in their club, feel a sense of ownership of it and their engagements with it need to be enjoyable and rewarding ones.

“The onus is very much on us to earn their trust and improve their experience through our actions and delivering on our commitments.”

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