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.

Allambie Beacon Hill United FC’s Steven Gravemade gives account of the Local Sport Grant process and its benefits

Two historic clubs from the Manly Warringah Football Association – Manly Allambie Football Club and Beacon Hill Football Club – have amalgamated to create Allambie Beacon Hill United FC (ABHUFC) in the 2024 season.

Since the decision last year to merge together, the Club has been busy streamlining and preparing its operations in its inaugural campaign.

As part of their expansion, the ABHUFC have recently been approved by the Local Sport Grant Program form the NSW government.

They have successfully received two grants, helping to get a new coffee machine for the clubhouse and new flags for the numbering of fields costing just above $7,000.

With the new fields and more club members, these purchases have become important cogs in the building of this new Club’s culture.

Soccerscene spoke to ABHUFC’s grant advisor Steven Gravemade who saw a great opportunity arise through the grant.

How did you find out about the grant?

Steven Gravemade: I usually find them posted on social media adverts and many committee members forwarded stuff they find from social media.

We always need to keep our eyes open for any grant offers.

What was the process to get the grant?

Steven Gravemade: You need to start with the right documentation especially invoices and quotes for the products, such as the expected cost, and what they are needed for, club info.

Then you need to complete a lengthy online form with the details of the grant on the app called SmartyGrants.

This grants app then forwards the information to whichever grant program is requested. Us being the Local Sport Grant Program.

The Senior Men facing Narrabeen.

Was it a hard process to go through or straight forward?

Steven Gravemade: It was not lengthy and not hard. You need to know what you are doing in the sense of creating a quote for the grant and following a similar well-created format. You do have to work methodically through the form.

There was positive correspondence for 3-7 weeks before it hit the accounts. This means we can go out and purchase the products now and keep the invoice.

The final stage of the grant is putting back into the app system the purchase, and this should finalise the whole process.

It is dependent on the grants, these were smaller grants than others. Though we did two separate grants which added time but overall, a similar experience and therefore a fluid task.

There is obvious difficulty added when you are applying for grants that involve infrastructure zoning as it takes many months and is very taxing,

You’ll have to go through other systems as well including the local council and this naturally makes it a longer process.

Whereas with this grant it can be done just by the club without the association or council involved. Just through the app.

“Now he’s done it a couple of times for both infrastructure and smaller grants. I think we’ve become pretty efficient.

Do they think the funding was a good amount and adequate for the Club?

Steven Gravemade: In this particular case, it was exactly what we requested,

The form also asks if you are willing to contribute which can help gauge the grant, but for us, it was more than adequate and perfectly suited to what we had wanted.

How do you think this will benefit the club overall?

Steven Gravemade: These grants are a big help and help save valuable fundraising, that can go elsewhere.

For example, it was a big bonus in helping us with the processes that needed other funding such as our completely new purple kits, training equipment, updating facilities and club image.

It’s a massive help to the club and to the budget. Every little bit helps.

ABHUFC’s Women’s First Grade team against Manly Vale.

For the bigger picture and first-hand experience, do you see this program as a positive plan for grassroots football?

Steven Gravemade: Yes, we feel supported through grants like this as a club. You obviously need to work hard to get it.  Though the process was fluid and for our club, any grant is appreciated.

On this topic, do you think enough clubs/associations are aware of these grants?

Steven Gravemade: They do pop up, where mailing systems are also around and the main way to know of these grants and how to get them, a lot of clubs I presume are on them.

However, you still need someone proactive in the clubs to get the ball rolling such as a grants officer.

This one came up before the start of the season so maybe many weren’t looking then”.

We found out and applied for this one before the start of the season.

Also, if you look at all the grants there are a lot given out to all sports clubs, and they only show the grants that got accepted.

You can only guess how many actually applied for a grant and maybe could not be accepted.

However, I think a lot also don’t apply in the end. Overall, for me, I think these grants are beneficial.

ABHUFC’s mixed grading day in February.

 

The Local Sports grant was a massive project from the NSW government to help fuel the growth of the many codes within NSW.

The positive effect this has is massive on the infrastructure for the game and the quality and experience of grassroots sports.

The grants also show that the NSW government is invested in the growth of community football and wants to actively encourage and financially support the ambitions of these grassroots clubs.

Australia awarded hosting rights for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026

Football Australia have announced that the country has been awarded the hosting rights for the 2026 edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup.

This decision followed official ratification by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Committee at their meeting on 15 May 2024 – held in Bangkok, Thailand – on the eve of the 34th AFC Congress after lengthy discussions. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan had expressed interested in hosting but withdrew from the process.

This will be the second time the country has staged the Women’s Asian Cup, having previously hosted the competition in 2006.

This tournament will feature 12 of the qualified AFC nations, placed into three groups of four with matches played in the confirmed host states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.

Australia co-hosted the record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 alongside New Zealand, with the Matildas making it to the semi-finals and have grown the sport exponentially over the past 12 months.

The success of Australian national teams, including the Subway Socceroos and CommBank Matildas, has led to a nationwide increase in football participation, with an overall 12% increase in 2023 and an impressive 20% increase already noted in 2024.

Football Australia is leveraging the AFC Women’s Asian Cup as a platform to further boost participation and develop the sport, aligning with upcoming international events like the Brisbane 2032 Olympics & Paralympics.

AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa explained the exciting decision to reward Australia another major women’s football tournament.

“On behalf of the Asian Football Confederation, I offer our sincere congratulations to Football Australia on being confirmed as hosts of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026,” he said in a statement.

“I am confident that we will see a more vibrant and competitive edition in 2026 in Australia where the unrivalled passion for the women’s game is so palpable and we wish the Local Organising Committee the very best of success in their planning and preparation.

“I know the Asian football family joins me in reinforcing our confidence in Football Australia to elevate the ever-evolving stature and growth of women’s football in Asia.”

Football Australia Chairman Anter Isaac mentioned the benefits this will bring to the game in Australia.

“Securing the AFC Women’s Asian Cup is a testament to our nation’s dedication to football. It is not only a victory for the sport but for every Australian, offering significant economic and cultural benefits,” he added in a statement.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the AFC, its Executive Committee, the Secretariat, and our fellow member associations for entrusting us with the privilege of hosting this prestigious tournament. We are committed to advancing the exceptional initiatives already established and delivered by the AFC and the broader Asian football community in women’s football.”

Football Australia confirmed its intention to launch a hosting bid in September 2022 and now expects the Women’s Asian Cup to generate up to $260 million in economic output and create over 1,000 jobs for the host states.

These states were chosen after discussions with state governments to ensure they are fully prepared to support the successful delivery of the tournament.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson expressed his excitement for the winning bid and upcoming tournament being played on home soil.

“We are profoundly honoured to host the 2026 edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. This decision reflects the global football community’s confidence in our capability to deliver outstanding events. Following the resounding success of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, we are eager to create another tournament that celebrates women’s football and inspires a new generation,” he stated.

The tournament dates in 2026 will be confirmed with the AFC in due course and training and venue inspections will occur in the coming months.

It remains an extremely exciting time for women’s football in Australia, with the Matildas consistently selling out large stadiums, the growth of the Liberty A-League and now another major tournament on the horizon that is sure to boost the grassroots game as well.

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