National second division finds support within the A-League’s top brass

As a national second division becomes inevitable, key stakeholders within the A-League agree it is crucial to the development of Australian football, forging a path for promotion and relegation to become a reality.

In the past, public perception has been that A-League clubs were hesitant to allow for their positions within the competition to be challenged, however this is quickly changing as the plans for a second division continue to evolve.

A question hanging over the breakthrough is who will handle the administration of the league. Currently, the A-League is run by the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), which is controlled by current A-League clubs.

Danny Townsend, CEO of Sydney FC and the APL, explains that while there hasn’t been any dialogue towards the APL’s role in the running of a national second division, they would willingly support the competition in any way they can.

“We are responsible for professional football in Australia, and everything below that is essentially under the remit of Football Australia (FA), and the member federations in each state. If there is a view that we could contribute or play a role in supporting the second division, either under our banner or in partnership with someone, of course, we would always look to promote football,” he said.

“At the end of the day promoting and encouraging football to be as sustainable as it can be in Australia, and if we have a role to play there we would absolutely engage with that.”

Currently, the clubs that would potentially make up a second division are represented by the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), who would likely play a large role in the administration of a national second division. Currently the AAFC, the APL and FA are the three biggest players in shaping the structure of professional football in Australia going forward.

Tony Pignata, CEO of Perth Glory, expressed support for a second division featuring promotion and relegation.

“Football needs promotion and relegation. We see it overseas in the leagues, teams are promoted, and the bottom teams are beating the top teams just to survive. It does add a lot to the game, so I think a second division is warranted and needed,” he said.

He adds that the second division will launch when Football Australia can ensure the additional clubs can handle the financial burden of professional football.

“The timing will depend on the financial viability of the league, and that’s what FA are working on at the moment,” Pignata said.

With the support of the APL and A-League clubs, the largest hurdle that faces the second division is creating a structure that is financially viable for the inaugural teams, as they evolve from semi-professional to fully professional outfits. This journey has happened in reverse previously, as the former National Soccer League clubs joined their state leagues at the A-League’s inception.

One idea currently being floated at Football Australia is a structure similar to the current Champions League format –  32 teams divided into groups of four, followed by a knockout stage. The attraction of this format is to reduce costly away days for the clubs, limiting them to just three away games, unless they proceed to the knockout stages.

Whether this would be embraced by clubs within the second division – and the A-League teams who would eventually become a part of the competition through promotion and relegation – remains to be seen. The concept is seen as a stop-gap between bringing the second division into reality and creating a sustainable professional league.

With plans for the structure of a second division still in the works at Football Australia, it is important they deliver a structure that ensures the long-term financial viability of not just the second division clubs, but also those A-League teams that are relegated.

Pignata mentions that some of the hesitancy towards promotion and relegation from the current A-League clubs is due to the potential lack of representation for a state in the Australian top division.

“I’m talking as a football purist. The only issue that the A-League clubs are raising is if Perth Glory gets relegated, and a New South Wales team gets promoted, there is no team in Perth. If Adelaide gets relegated, then there is no team in Adelaide, and that is an issue,” he said.

“But saying that, we have to make sure we don’t get relegated, and that is what you need to fight for.”

Pignata believes that for football to reach its potential in Australia, the challenges of promotion and relegation need to be embraced by the professional clubs, despite potential issues that it would present for current clubs.

“I think in years to come, that is how it will be played, and we have no fear. We shouldn’t be a closed shop. If we want to make football here in Australia as in Europe, then we need to have promotion and relegation, and clubs need to make sure they don’t get relegated.”

Relegation could potentially mean a loss of income that could prove fatal to A-League clubs. One solution to this would be cash payments to relegated teams from the first division into the second, a concept that is currently employed in major leagues around the world such as the English Premier League. These ‘parachute payments’ would protect against the financial shock of relegation, ensuring clubs aren’t forced to fold.

There are several issues that Football Australia, the AAFC, and the APL will be required to resolve before a national second division becomes a reality. Unlike in the past, it is clear there is the will and desire for a national second division like never before.

Parramatta City FC: Celebrating 50 years and a place to truly call home

As a Club entrenched in history, Parramatta City FC has secured a double milestone in its future towards providing a football team for the region.

For many years, Parramatta City had no authentic home ground, having been based in the neighbouring suburb of Rydalmere.

However, coinciding with the half century of existence is the confirmed move to Old Saleyards Reserve in the suitably located heartland of North Parramatta.

Thanks to the individuals and committee members and their negotiations with City of Parramatta Council, the new fields bring a range of benefits – such as increased capacity for participation, improved facilities and enhanced community engagement.

Two of those committee members to turn the plans into reality are Club Secretary Lou Mantzos and President Angelo Aronis.

Having been at the Club since day one in 1974 from their junior days in numerous capacities, both are still heavily involved in driving future growth in participants in junior and senior level.

Mantzos described what it was like at Rydalmere and how the move across to Old Salesyards Reserve unfolded.

Training at Eric Primrose Reserve in Rydalmere.

“We had been at Rydalmere since 1981 and it’s an older area that is now growing with some new housing,” he told Soccerscene.

“However, the only way for us to survive long-term was being back in Parramatta, rather than competing with Rydalmere FC who are based up the road and with brand new facilities.

“The breakthrough occurred last year with executive general managers of council in the parks & recreation area.

“We had follow up meetings early this year and eventually our mission was accomplished in leasing Old Saleyards Reserve which is a nine-year-old facility.

“The fields are in excellent shape and rated as one of three A-grade grounds in the Parramatta precinct.

“We now have a dozen teams training and playing at the venue and once the junior rugby league moves across to Doyle Park nearby, we will be permanently based at our new home in 2025.”

The new home of Old Saleyards Reserve.

Similarly to all clubs involved in the negotiation process, challenges are always going to occur, whether it be due to capacity or financially.

Aronis shared his involvement at the Club alongside Mantzos during a difficult period.

“We came into it 4-5 years ago as a sub-committee, working on the new grounds and other issues involved in the Club,” he said to Soccerscene.

“The previous committees did their best in trying times, worked hard, kept the club afloat especially during the Covid pandemic but lost numerous teams during and post this period, and potentially other clubs had similar problems.

“It did make us realise that Rydalmere was not a growth area.

“For example, across Silverwater Road, Newington and Sydney Olympic Park precinct was thriving and nobody wanted to cross over and get to us which is essentially walking distance.

“The other side of Silverwater Road, which includes Wilson Park, now NSW cricket academy, was growing exponentially and the previous committees just weren’t able to attract the numbers we needed.”

The Covid-19 pandemic was not immune to Parramatta City, who needed to navigate through postponed games and seasons.

It presented the confronting reality that even a Club like Parramatta City could fold due to mounting hardship and pressure.

However, Aronis and Mantzos persevered and played a crucial role in keeping the Club afloat.

It was one initiative in particular that Mantzos believes changed the Club’s fortunes entirely.

“In September last year, after failed attempts due to Covid-19 lockdowns, we finally held a reunion game to bring back some familiar faces,” he said.

“It was Andrew Charlton (Federal MP for Parramatta) who assisted with funding for some new equipment and together helped bring many former players back to participate on the day.

“There was a collective buy-in from all participants – the former Parramatta City state league (a powerhouse during the 90’s) and all-age players paid $20 to enter as a way to raise funds and interest.

“We got 40 players on the day and the game attracted a lot of attention as people started talking about it and that was the reason why we did it – we wanted to get traction back rather than see a slow demise.

“We had a ‘Beyond 50’ push that really urged Club members to get behind us and do what they could to keep us around for the next 50 years.”

The reunion game welcomed many familiar faces.

The reunion proved a major hit, paving the way for long-term success in participation.

Aronis added what the overall impact was like post-event and a great indication of what we expect to see.

“We had two teams in 2023 as a band-aid solution, and if it stayed that way, we would have had no choice but in folding the Club,” he said.

“For this season, the number of teams is up at 12 and the reunion was one of the springboard we needed as we reached that figure without really trying.

“Now, we anticipate that we will double that figure by 2025 which would be a fantastic result.

“We were really proud of the efforts of all involved on reunion day and every bit that went into it was worth it.”

“In closing, I sincerely thank all those individuals and recent committees of this proud club for the contributions.”

Football Australia targeting new leadership appointments

Football Australia are strategically commencing a global search to fill four newly established leadership roles within its National Teams’ set-up.

Reporting into Head of National Teams, Gary Moretti, the positions include:

General Manager – Women’s National Teams

General Manager – Men’s National Teams

General Manager – Football Data & Analysis

General Manager – High Performance.

The FA are underscoring its commitment on delivering national team excellence and believe these roles will be pivotal in the ongoing improvement of the game in Australia at the professional level.

Each role is essential for the development, management and the long-term success of all high performance and national team programs and initiatives in both the men’s and women’s teams.

Under Moretti’s leadership, Football Australia’s National Teams will operate concurrently with the oversight of the governing body’s Technical Department, headed by Chief Football Officer Ernie Merrick. Later this month, they will reveal a new 10-year Technical Strategy for Australian Football.

Upon announcing these additions to the National Teams structure, Football Australia CEO, James Johnson explained the additions to the National Team structure and what it means for the future.

“The realignment and increased number of specialised resources for our senior and youth national teams stem from a comprehensive internal review of our current high performance structure when benchmarked against leading football and sporting organisations globally,” he said in a statement.

“We are a football first organisation, and this heightened focus and investment in our national teams is a reflection of our ambition. These new roles are designed to ensure everything possible is being done to deliver our strategic goal of being a leading football nation within the Asian Football Confederation and that all ages groups, men’s and women’s, are qualifying for every FIFA senior and youth World Cup.”

The recruitment process will be thorough and will be conducted by specialist recruitment firms to secure the most qualified candidates for these crucial roles.

It’s a great proactive approach by the FA to ensure the future of the national teams is consistently improving and matching Asia’s best such as Japan and South Korea who have fantastic national team structures in place.

Details of all positions will be available on the Football Australia website from Tuesday, 14 May 2024.

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