Football Victoria President Antonella Care: “It’s been terrific to broadcast on a dedicated platform”

2022 has seen football’s consistent return across Victoria, in a greatly changed environment following two seasons largely ruined by Covid-19. Nearing the end of the NPL Victoria Men’s and Women’s competitions, Football Victoria President Antonella Care spoke with Soccerscene on the health of her organisation, and the state of the game moving forward.

We’re over 12 months into your tenure as Football Victoria’s President, a period which has been largely defined by football’s return post-Covid-19. In addition to this, what do you consider the strongest success of the organisation during this time?

Antonella Care: Prudential financial planning and management through the Covid period and two cancelled seasons was really critical. I’m really proud of the strong commitment and support we gave our clubs during that period, and the fact participation in 2022 is almost at pre-pandemic levels is good evidence of that. Robust governance has been something that I’m equally proud of and think is a good success of the organisation.

We’ve also developed a greater awareness and sharper focus on gender equity, and as the first female president of Football Victoria, it’s a badge of honour that I wear. Under my stewardship I’m able to bring a greater focus to that, noting that our 50-50 focus has been adopted by Football Australia, so it’s now a national objective.

The home of the Matildas will serve as a built institution and legacy for football in Victoria. It’s really important that we’ll receive the greatest funding attributed to the round ball in this country. It will lead to a strong focus on female participation, and ensure that we as a board, especially post-Covid, have a strong focus on grassroots, and support our clubs to recover with prosperity for football.

Could you please expand on robust governance?

Antonella Care: Without speaking out of turn, I think football in Australia has historically been the recipient of people who have influenced the game, over and above what is best for it. When I say strong governance, we have implemented a governance review of football, and we’re in the throes of determining the best strategy of putting that forward. We’ve had a really good look at the standing committees and communications, and there is some interesting information that has come out of those reviews that will start to take effect into 2023.

I think, too, with the constitutional review that’s taken place, and the committee that’s been leading the charge on that, we have a good cross section of advice and information that will inform the constitutional reform changes that will hopefully, again, be showcased later on this year. All these things are leading to a stronger ecosystem, leading to decisions that are made on balance and not influence.

We’re nearing the end of the return seasons of both the NPL Victoria Men’s & Women’s campaigns. Do you feel the return has been successful? Other than participation numbers, are there any other means you’ve used to quantify this?

Antonella Care: It’s been hard, but there’s no doubt interest in our top tiers is strong, and certainly the streaming numbers have shown that. Victoria has been one of the greatest recipients of the NPL.TV platform in particular, with over six million minutes of football consumed. Our stakeholders have been extremely willing and well positioned on the back of Covid, so I think that’s had a significant impact on our success as well. Victoria has had to pivot far greater than everybody else and our resilience has shown that, so they’re probably the key things.

In hindsight, is there anything you feel you could have carried out differently in returning from the pandemic?

Antonella Care: The position Victoria was in as a closed state for such a lengthy period was something we will hopefully never see again. We probably could have communicated more frequently [when resuming post-Covid] – I think everybody spent so much time trying to see what we could do to reinstate football and get people back on the park, and we had to pivot so many times through those challenges because the numbers, rules and protocols were constantly changing.

If I had my time over again, our focus would have been greater communication, and a lot more discussion around resilience and mental wellbeing. These are the things our game doesn’t always do well; I would put some more emphasis around that.

We did introduce some really good opportunities and collectives in getting our community together. Like everybody else, the transition into Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other platforms got better as the pandemic got longer.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing football in Victoria, and the game in Australia more broadly?

Antonella Care: Covid-19 continues to present the single biggest challenge to our sport both locally and nationally, and the compliance and continued requirements for social distancing is still having an impact. Everything from return to play protocols to financial pressures have changed the way people engage in organised sport, potentially forever, and I predict those financial impacts will continue. That comes from people who lost their jobs or were stood down over the period, to the way we now spend our money differently, and it’s also impacted who chooses to play organised sport. 

The other obvious thing is the added challenge of attracting volunteers. Like all sports, we’ve had a significant loss to our volunteer base; whether people who are older are now more afraid, or who through their own requirements after a two year hiatus have decided to just go and watch rather than actually volunteer. It’s a hard job, and they’re what make or break our game day experiences.

We’ve also lost a lot of referees, and I don’t think that’s a big secret to anybody – that’s been challenging. Finally, ongoing education; we’ve lost and forgotten how to be respectful of each other, and of the people helping us through game day experiences.

Returning to your partnership with Cluch.TV to provide NPL.TV – in your opinion this has been a success, nearing the end of your first season with them?

Antonella Care: It’s been terrific to broadcast matches on a dedicated platform. It has the ability to play live matches, integrated highlights, all of that has been thrilling. We’ve welcomed new faces to the commentary team, including some really amazing new female voices. It’s a solid product, it has multiple ways you can access it, and there’s an opportunity to further commercialise it.

One of the major benefits of Cluch.TV is the opportunity for our clubs to feature their partners with 20% of the advertising inventory going back to them, so again it’s a monetary opportunity. That said, obviously nothing beats attending a match in person – you want to soak up the atmosphere and be part of your community. So we see our streams as a supportive product to create exposure for people who aren’t necessarily lovers or frequentors of football; it’s a growth opportunity for new people to come into our fold.

Does Football Victoria have a position on the regulation of private academies? Is there interest in building a membership-based framework that incentivises participation, but also promotes compliance in certain areas across the board?

Antonella Care: Academies reflect what is a strong demand for football, 12 months of the year. We’re always looking for opportunities where we can work with our stakeholders, there is no doubt we need to improve our game. Football Victoria does work with clubs who have dedicated private academies or associations with private academies, and it’s been successful, especially in our junior NPL programs.

I think with some good governance frameworks along with Football Australia, we can continue to have solid and successful relationships with all providers. There is enough there for everybody, and this is really about ‘the game’, it’s not about capitalising on every front. As stated in our strategy, it’s ‘football any time, any where’, and academies provide another opportunity for that.

I think we can work together, and it’s important to have good relationships with our stakeholders. As seen with bringing futsal back into the fold, it’s provided a good governance opportunity. Some of the systems out there are fantastic and don’t need ‘intervention’. For those that perhaps want assistance and guidance we are happy to provide it, but we don’t need to be all things to all people.

Does Football Victoria have a position on the potential development of a national second division? Has there been any consideration towards potential vacuum effects should top clubs ascend out of the current NPL structure?

The continued development and growth of our game is important, in whatever form that takes. I don’t think a second tier will create a vacuum necessarily, I think it will continue to grow our development pathways. Football Victoria remains committed to the successful launch of the second division, and I would say to any clubs who are selected, that we will be more than happy to support them in that process. We have so many strong NPL clubs in our state, that any potential vacuum won’t materially affect any clubs that choose to stay in the NPL system either.

Indigenous Football Week highlights the impacts of John Moriarty Football

John Moriarty Football

Indigenous Football Week (IFW) 2023 was celebrated October 30 to November 5, recognising the impacts of Indigenous football program John Moriarty Football (JMF).

Putting into consideration that it is Australia’s longest-running and most successful Indigenous Football initiative for 2-18-year-olds, JMF perseveres with its mission to create a beacon of light for social change as well as providing a pathway for Indigenous footballers and communities.

Overseeing JMF is an expert advisory council, Indigenous Football Australia (IFA), which was established to increase social change through football, expand the operations of JMF and ensure equal access to football for grassroots and elite Indigenous players.

Speaking with Soccerscene, JMF Program Director Jamie Morriss and JMF Scholarships Coordinator  & IFA Council member Allira Toby discussed the overall impact of assisting Indigenous peoples and their communities around the country.

What was the process involved in organising the Indigenous Football Australia Council?

Jamie Morriss: We looked at bringing in expertise across a range of different areas, including previous Socceroos and Matildas, and also sport more broadly as well as academia and media. The council has majority Indigenous membership and is gender equal. Its goal is to strategically guide John Moriarty Football. The IFA Council meets once a quarter to discuss where the strategy and direction of the program is going.

Having lots of great experience along with great individuals on that council provides expertise and thinking to help us unlock doors and continue to drive the program forward.

What is the procedure for kids to be involved in the Scholarship?

Allira Toby: A lot is involved in the scholarships. We have a criteria that identifies kids in the communities that have the potential to go far professionally in football. A key component of this is the individual Scholarship Holders, with the support of their family, making a commitment to attend school.

A JMF Scholarship starts at the grassroots level in our community hubs. We provide football training and development, mentoring, help with their studies, providing football equipment and club fees, and even travel to tournaments. As their talent and skills develop, they may then qualify for a Sydney Scholarship during their high school years. In Sydney they will attend a top sports high school, receive extensive football training and development, wrap-around pastoral care, mentoring, tutoring, placement with a football club, and much more.

How many kids have gone far in becoming a professional footballer?

Allira Toby: We have one individual so far playing professional football. Marra woman Shadeene (Shay) Evans is the inaugural JMF Scholarship Holder. She has played for the young Matildas and is currently playing for the Central Coast Mariners in the A-Leagues.

We also have a number of talented Sydney Scholarship Holders who are well on their way to playing professionally and are already playing in high level tournaments and competitions.

What is the vision for JMF?

Jamie Morriss: To grow it across Australia. Ideally we would have a hub operating in each of the states – currently we are in three states, but we would like to offer the program nationwide, with the view of having more staff on the ground to run the grassroots program so we can impact as many kids and communities as possible.

Are there any fees involved for this program?

Jamie Morriss: Not for us – we offer the program free of charge to all the communities that we are delivering to.

We have some contributions from schools and partners that we are delivering to so they help with our fundraising efforts. For the scholarship players that we support in Sydney, we cover their registration fees, boots, shinpads, additional training sessions and we support their travel to and from community so they can go home for the school holidays.

John Moriarty and Shadene Evans in 2018

The sister program of JMF, Indi Kindi, is an innovative early years education initiative for birth to five year olds, delivered by locally employed Aboriginal staff.

The Indi Kindi program includes Indi Footi which activates young brains through movement and develops basic football and motor skills, balance and coordination in a fun and non-competitive environment.

Having been recognised across the A-Leagues, JMF will continue to have an everlasting impact.

Football Victoria’s Community in Business Full-Time Lunch to keep the momentum

Football Victoria CIB Full Time Lunch 2022

Football Victoria will wrap up the very best of 2023 as part of the Community in Business (CIB) Full-Time Lunch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday, November 16.

With the theme of ‘Keeping the Momentum’ for the day, all attendees on the day will celebrate the highlights from within Victoria and nationwide. Following the World Cup success of the Matildas, strides made by the Socceroos, the record-breaking start by honorary member Ange Postecoglou and the A-Leagues season off to a great start, there will be a stack to discuss.

Hosted by Michael Zappone, he will speak with a variety of guest speakers and panellists, as per below:

  • Former Socceroos Legend and Western United head coach, John Aloisi
  • Melbourne Victory FC Managing Director Caroline Carnegie
  • Melbourne City FC CEO Brad Rowse
  • Pararoos Stars Christian Tsangas and Cosimo Cirillo
  • Paul Trimboli of South Melbourne FC – former player of Ange Postecoglou

Guests will take part in networking opportunities throughout the day, as well as being treated to live music from Belle Lynch.

With the Socceroos playing at AAMI Park against Bangladesh for the Asian Cup qualifier that night, it will be a short walk to attend after the lunch.

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