Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.
After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.
When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.
In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.
It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.
Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.
It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.
Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.
In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.
In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.
Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?
When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.
The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.
One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.
If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.
However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.
Do you think the right people are running the game?
I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.
I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.
There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.
James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.
Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.
Is this a satisfactory situation?
This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.
However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.
What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?
The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.
We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.
At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.
Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?
There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.
Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.
Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?
Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.
There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.
At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.
Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.
There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.
What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?
Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.
At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.
The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.
We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.