How will the National Second Division impact the NPL?

Knights

Conversation surrounding the implementation of a National Second Division (NSD) within the Australian football pyramid has dominated discourse for some time now. And for substantial reasons.

Currently the NSD’s momentum has been led by the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), a body representing the historic sides seeking to establish the competition to hopefully drive football forward in a united manner in Australia. All of these represented clubs currently compete in the National Premier Leagues (NPL) – the state-based competition which serves as the second tier below the A-Leagues and which comprises eight separately administered state and regional competitions.

Founded in 2013 as an outcome of the National Competitions Review conducted by the then-named Football Federation Australia, the NPL is home to over 250 clubs in Australia. Critically though, these clubs differ substantially in their facilities, resources, financial budgets, and overall ambition. Many were traditional staples of the National Soccer League (NSL) before the arrival of the A-League in its stead.

Adelaide

Initially, the NPL was formed to develop youth pathways and to assure competitive minutes for local players seeking to push on into national teams and higher competitions. However, a 2018 report conducted by AAFC found that the NPL had largely failed to meet the objectives it set out to accomplish.

By comparison, the NSD is intended to be a genuine platform of opportunity for local players aspiring to play in both a competitive environment, and to progress towards the A-Leagues, national teams, and overseas competitions. Furthermore, it will act as a catchment for youngsters struggling for game time in the A-League Men to potentially earn their stripes in the competition below.

Importantly as well, the NSD will provide foundational Australian football sides left in purgatory following the dismantling of the NSL with a chance to re-establish themselves in the national sporting psyche. For AAFC President Nick Galatas, the NSD is a major step towards revitalising the second tier of Australian football to be truly competitive.

“The idea is not to create a new second division from scratch, as such, it is to look at the best suited clubs that you’ve got available and how to best establish a proper new second tier competition based on them,” Galatas explained to Soccerscene.

“Are all NPL clubs at the same level? If not, and if you’ve got 12, 14, 16 clubs that emerge from across the country as being able to play nationally at a higher standard of playing, coaching, administration, a second division is created from there. So, what we say is, let’s look at our current strongest clubs, let’s reflect what they can do individually and collectively and enable a true second tier on their capabilities.

“Obviously, initially these clubs are going to be stepping out of years in state competitions and then the NPL and since the new competition will afford them better opportunities to grow and develop, they’ll be better once there. And that will be the initial level of the NSD. That starting level will be informed by the current capability of the clubs, rather than the clubs being required to meet an arbitrary level. That’s absolutely and fundamentally key for it to be financially viable.”

Avondale FC

With the projected introduction of promotion and relegation between the A-Leagues and the NSD set to be unravelled in future, there is plenty of room for both A-Leagues sides and foundational clubs to thrive alongside one another in a suitable environment.

“Some of these historic clubs have been in a state-level environment for the last 20-odd years and that’s not their natural environment nor is it for their supporters as their clubs’ DNA and background is national. As they haven’t been there for years, what they are now is not what I expect we’ll see when they’re back on the national stage. Start modest and grow, rather than setting an arbitrary benchmark and not being able to reach it and crash,” Galatas added.

With the final outline of the NSD’s structure due to be announced by competition operators Football Australia in 2023 the subsequent effect of a prospective NSD on the National Premier Leagues remains unclear at this stage. Although the AAFC have suggested as recently as February 2022 that the current NPL model is likely to be characterised as a ‘Third Tier’ competition. Of course, it is expected that the NPLs will be linked to the new national second tier competition by promotion and relegation.

“The first thing to say is that currently the National Premier Leagues are our national second tier, and really the National Second Division is about reforming our national second tier. To have our NPL1 competitions comprise over 100 clubs is unrealistic and incompatible with a true national second tier,” Galatas said.

“What we’re doing is seeking to restructure and realign our divisions. Our National Second Division will likely initially have between 10 to 16 teams and be linked in reflect the A-Leagues in that sense. And then below that the NPLs will still be state based as there’s no real prospect of a National Third Division currently.

“Now, how do you reform as a result? AAFC has long advocated reform and it still is, for the NPL to perhaps be made more consistent in the number of clubs around the country in each member federation but also, as a third-tier competition with less onus to deliver second tier objectives, to enable local clubs to better reflect their capabilities and local communities.

“There was going to be NPL reform which FA commenced at the start of 2020 but that was derailed by COVID and of course then FA’s XI Principles were introduced which talk about reform as well, and that has been looked at in connection with the introduction of the National Second Division. So, the NPLs will be affected and changed to an extent by the new NSD.

“The aim is that the competitions are linked so that clubs can come up from the NPL into the National Second Division so that there’s promotion and relegation which ensures that there’s a pathway for more clubs to develop, not only the initial NSD clubs. The idea is to enable more clubs to grow and develop and the way to do that is to give clubs the opportunity to come up. There may be a club that we don’t know about that is emerging in the outer suburbs of one of our major centres that in 3-5 years is a powerhouse. And that’s the objective. We’re not here to pick winners.

“Let the clubs work out what they can do through their communities, their sponsors and other resources and be allowed to be the best they can be. Who knows what each may become and who are we to say?”

With the NPL NSW Men’s kicking-off this past weekend and Football Australia having announced that expressions of interest are now available to interested clubs looking to compete in the prospective NSD, the format of the NPL as we know it may be completely transformed come this time next year. At this stage, the NPL will seemingly exist as a tier separate to the NSD and the A-Leagues for the foreseeable future.

For A-League clubs whose junior sides compete in the NPL, it may be viewed as unfavourable to push them below the second tier of Australian football if the NPL is to become a third tier competition, as it would ultimately negate the conceived ambition of housing their sides in the NPL in place of an A-League Youth competition for competitive minutes. The possibility of including A-League Men’s youth sides in the National Second Tier has been broached in the second division discourse, however the notion of having A-League Men’s youth sides taking up spots in the National Second Tier in place of historic clubs will be staunchly opposed – and for good reason.

The National Second Tier is seen as an opportunity by prospective clubs to regain their place in the Australian football pyramid by virtue of their nous off the field and performance on the field. Many in the NPL will be looking at the National Second Tier as a chance to rejoin the sporting elite, particularly in the eventuality of promotion and relegation being formally introduced. What this means for the NPL in its current form is an uncertainty, for now at least.

Marconi Stallions

Sutherland Shire Council commemorate Graham Arnold with oval renaming

The Sutherland Shire Council have honoured the career and achievements of Socceroos’ Head Coach Graham Arnold with an oval renamed at his junior club Gwawley Bay Football Club.

Canberra Road Oval – which is the place where it all started for Arnold as a four-year-old – will now take the name of Graham Arnold Oval. The former Sydney FC coach was welcomed to the oval by his family and friends, former Socceroos teammates, local footballers and football fans alike to celebrate his career as an Australian national player and coach.

Graham Arnold said the occasion and the recognition was a special moment for his entire family:

“Firstly, I’d like to thank Sutherland Shire Council and Gwawley Bay Football Club for their involvement in this project and say what an honour it is for not just myself, but my entire family,” Arnold said in a Sutherland Shire media release.

“This is a special place for the Arnolds – I’ve always said that Gwawley Bay Football Club was our second family – Mum and Dad were heavily involved with the club and many of the earliest memories of my childhood were here at this oval.

“This is where I grew up and developed my love for football, a place where I made lifelong friendships that have been so pivotal in both my playing and coaching career.

“To see a place so significant to my family now named after me is a little bit surreal. I know my parents – who both loved being part of this club – would be so proud.

“I’m very grateful to everyone involved in renaming this oval and look forward to young people from across the Sutherland Shire enjoying football here for many years to come.”

Sutherland Shire Mayor Councillor Carmelo Pesce was exhilarated about the renaming to acknowledge one of the Sutherland Shire’s most celebrated sporting exports:

“We’re proud to honour Arnie’s legacy at Gwawley Bay Football Club where he first laced up the boots and developed his love for the game that he has since given so much to as both a player and coach, Cr Pesce added via Sutherland Shire media release.

“It’s important that our community honours the impact that our home-grown sporting talent has had on the global stage, and Arnie’s incredible achievements – particularly as coach of our national team – will no doubt serve as inspiration for local footballing talent for generations to come.

“It was wonderful to welcome Arnie back to Gwawley Bay today and provide so many local football fans and members of our community to wish him luck as he continues to drive our Socceroos towards qualification for their sixth straight World Cup and thank him for his immense contribution to Australian football.”

Arnold has enjoyed over a 40-year football career playing for sides such as Sydney United and the Northern Spirit while representing Australia in 88 matches, including 56 A internationals scoring 33 goals.

As a manager, he has won the A-League Championship twice with the Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC and most recently reached the Round of 16 at the 2022 FIFA World Cup where he and the Socceroos lost to eventual champions Argentina.

Arnold and the Socceroos will now prepare for their 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Bahrain at Robina Stadium on September 5 2024.

2024 PFA Players Agents Conference to kick off mid-July at Veriu Hotel

Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has confirmed that the 2024 PFA Player’s Agent Conference will be held on the July 19 at the Veriu Hotel in Queen Victoria Market.

This conference is a longstanding initiative between the PFA and the Australian Football Agents Association (AFAA).

This official conference is an opportunity for discussion between the players’ representative union and the many accredited agents and experts in the football industry.

Here the floor will be open for conversation around the tactics and strategies of managing and encouraging the huge talent within Australian football.

Some of the ascribed organisations involved in this conference include with the PFA, Football Australia, the Australian Football Agents Association and FIFPRO.

This is a key space for all parties to deliver their opinions and guidance on how best to amplify the opportunities in football and maintain the well-being of the players and industry

This includes topics such as the latest National Team CBA, trends in Asian football and the management mechanisms of players and agents.

Within the conference, there will be dialogue on key issues that have been constant in this industry including:

  • Agent Regulations
  • State of the game
  • CBA Analysis
  • National Team CBA Update
  • Commercial strength of athletes
  • Tax and financial advice
  • Trends in Asian football
  • Legal update
  • TransferRoom

All these topics are flagged by both player unions and agents as areas from which the collaboration needs to be further explored and resolved with all parties satisfied.

That’s why these conferences are held in such high esteem within the footballing community and a big step in productivity strategies.

“Football agents are an important part of the football industry,” PFA Co-CEO Kate Gill stated via media release.

“The PFA Player Agents conference, in partnership with the Australian Football Agents Association, is a platform that allows for ongoing collaboration and dialogue on emerging issues, reform and regulations within our sport.

“We recognise that a better-informed industry leads to better outcomes for all.”

The conference will be followed closely, and more information/outcomes will be presented when the conference concludes.

Key Information:

Venue: Veriu Hotel, Queen Victoria Market. Melbourne
Date: Friday, 19th July 2024
Time: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm

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