Nick Galatas on addressing the link between National Second Tier with promotion and relegation

The National Second Tier (NST) competition is building towards its expected start date of March/April 2025, but its final structure has not been settled.

While eight teams were initially announced with representation from Victoria and New South Wales, we are still yet to find out who will make up the rest of the ‘national’ component.

We will at least have an update on this around June 2024, as the Request for Proposal (RFP), Assessment & Review and Completion Phases are all completed.

Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) Chairman Nick Galatas has been a vocal advocate and involved in establishing the NST from its inception, but despite the previously announced foundation clubs, there is still work to do to ensure the NST starts in the best possible shape.

At this stage, eight foundation clubs have been confirmed, but there is a push to increase the number to at least 12.

Despite 26 clubs advancing to the RFP phase, only 8 foundation clubs proved to be a major drop off from what appeared a healthy pool of teams to choose from.

“There were 26 clubs that looked to be in a great position to be selected to start in the new NST,” Galatas told Soccerscene.

“From those, it would be expected to get 12 for a kick-off in 2024 but didn’t pan out that way.”

A lack of structure around how promotion and relegation will work with the NPL does leave some uncertainty for the clubs left out of the NST. Many clubs remain eager to be part of the expected four additional teams to be added for the competition’s commencement early in 2025.

For Football Australia, consistency will need to be applied across the board about how clubs go up and down between the NST and NPL when promotion and relegation commences. Football Queensland has made rules that a Queensland coming into the NST will revert to the competition it was in before it joined the NST. That is inconsistent with the approach of other member federations.

For example, with Preston Lions FC competing in Victoria Premier League 1 in 2024 prior to the commencement of NST, if they get relegated is it one step below to NPL Victoria or the original league they are in now?

Galatas outlined how everyone must be on the same page to form a unified system.

“As a scenario, we can think ahead to, say, 2027 and it’s the third year of competition, which is may also have expanded by then and include Queensland teams,” he said.

“For example, if, say, Preston Lions from Victoria and Sunshine Coast Fire FC from Queensland are relegation candidates in that season, it’s untenable that those teams would face different predicaments if relegated with Preston to the NPL and Sunshine Coast to oblivion.

“Hypothetically if we talk about relegation, everyone agrees that a Victorian-based club would be relegated to NPL Victoria even if originally from a lower league.

“However, when you compare it to a Queensland club, getting relegated means that they go into oblivion, which doesn’t add up. It’s fundamental and accepted practice that a relegated team goes down one rung and it has the chance to come up again.

“Football Australia needs to discuss a relegation scenario with all of the member federations and ensure there is a consistent approach. It will run the competition and must ensure the member federations work together with it and the clubs to achieve this outcome.”

Galatas outlined what he hopes to see out of the upcoming application process, moving one step closer to an Australia-wide competition.

“Instead of the eight confirmed teams we see now, it should be 12 teams from hopefully at least four states or territories to achieve the best competition,” he said.

“I would have liked to have seen a 2024 start date with 12 teams and have all the big players ready to go, but instead we’ve had a delay. But so long as we use the additional time to start strongly, the extra year to wait is not important in the overall picture.

“Having Queensland plus at least one of South Australia, Tasmania and Canberra to include four states from the get-go is the ideal platform to build on.

“Then we can look at Western Australia and the remaining areas as we build – we are just starting. We can grow the competition without rushing into it too much from a logistical point of view.”

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Liam Watson is the Co-Founder & Publisher of Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy, industry matters and technology.

Western Sydney Wanderers launch new programs for women and girls

Western Sydney Wanderers have launched a number of new programs and activities as part of their ongoing commitment to celebrate and growing the women’s game as part of Female Football Week.

The club have confirmed the launch of their first Girls Only Pre-Academy Development Program designed to advance the skills of players while teaching new skills and techniques to improve their game based on the club’s highly regarded coaching curriculum.

The Girls Only Pre-Academy Development Program will be led by Wanderers community coaching staff under the guidance of Head of Women’s Football Tom Sermanni and Liberty A-League head coach Robbie Hooker.

It is an extension of the Future Wander Women Program that launched in 2021 which gives 100 participants up to u18’s a free program which runs as a 20-week block across Terms 2 and 3 of the calendar year.

On top of both initiatives, the Wanderers will also be re-opening registrations for their FREE Girls Only Schools Clinics which engages students through football to provide them with a positive experience.

Wanderers have been vocal about their commitment to making football accessible to all schools and students in the Western Sydney region.

Female Football Week also sees the club’s FREE Active Mum’s Program return, which is designed to encourage all women to participate in basic football skill activities in a social and supportive environment.

Active Mums sessions are run at convenient times for parents, in parallel with junior training sessions held at Wanderers Football Park.

Western Sydney Wanderers CEO Scott Hudson described the benefits of the Wanderers Female Football Week celebrations and programs for the local community.

“We are very proud to have such an expansive Women’s football program at both a grassroots and elite level,” Hudson said in a club statement.

“Female Football Week is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the role that so many women play in football at all levels.

“We are delighted that we can not only play a role in the celebrations, but also make a real difference to supporting the growth of the women’s game with a number for initiatives and programs.”

The Wanderers are leading the charge in the A-Leagues regarding giving girls and women the opportunity to train with quality coaches and develop their skills whilst keeping it completely free of charge.

It’s a simple but brilliant program that marks another step for the Wanderers in the female football development space to actively engage, develop and support aspiring young players from the Western Sydney region.

Northern Suburbs and Manly Warringah Football Association representatives discuss NSW’s highest registration numbers

Football NSW has recently disclosed that the 2024 season is recording the highest number of registrations in community grassroots football.

Football NSW reported that registration numbers are up by 10% on the 2023 season with over 230,000 and counting registered members.

An important part of this increase in registration is the overall success and popularity of the Matildas and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia & New Zealand. This has helped spark an 18% increase in female registration, especially within the younger age groups pushing over 23% from 2023.

The Northern Suburbs Football Association (NSFA) CEO Kevin Johnson has supported the impact of the Women’s World Cup.

Johnson has explained that recent Female membership in the 2024 NSFA season is expanding with an 11.6% growth in female player registrations and an 11.4% increase in female team registrations.

The NSFA is one of the few associations with a Female Football Manager in Kristi Murphy.

“Kirsti has been able to coordinate enthusiasm and feedback of all the clubs into key strategies to increase the female game at an association level,” Johnson told Soccerscene.

“This structure and dedication to female development has had a huge impact on the increase of female players.”

These strategies include junior girls under 6 & 7s hubs.

“These have very important in bringing in new young players and retaining old ones, with Female Junior players increasing by 14.5% and Girls MiniRoos by 22.5%,” Johnson said.

The NSFA has focused on the association’s work in building strong connections and investment in grassroots football. The NSFA also had in 2023 an increase of 30% in sponsorship deals.

“Last year NSFA with local councils Ku-ring-gai, Willoughby and North Sydney held Live Site events for people to watch the Matildas World Cup matches with football activations alongside the matches. This project led to an increasing engagement between the community and the NSFA,” Johnson added.

“This has allowed for the development of facilities and football that is helping the 2024 season’s all-round experience.”

Kevin Johnson believes these initiatives have cemented the NSFA well on track with Football Australia’s pillar 1 in the Legacy 23 plan. which is to reach a 50/50 player gender equity in Football for 2027.

The ‘23 plan works in unison with NSFA’s objectives in making the association a successful and progressive representative of the Northern Suburbs community and Football in NSW.

Neighbouring The NSFA in The Manly Warringah Football Association (MWFA) is Karen Parsons – President of Pittwater RSL FC, who has overseen the development on the ground. The club has seen an increase of 175 registrations in 2024 to an overall 1,473 players.

In addition, the diversity of the club’s players has changed positively with females now making 43% of registrations compared to last season’s 36%.

“We knew the Matilda’s popularity would increase interest in football, therefore the club needed new strategies to encourage club engagement,” she told Soccerscene.

“The MWFA has opened up an under-7s girls league where 5 Pittwater teams now play. We also had a successful MiniRoos and MiniTillies program in February.

“Feedback from members also included the request for equal-skill-based teams in juniors. Therefore we included optional grading into the under-8s mixed comp, which on grading day had a 70% turn-out rate and positive reviews from parents.

“An academy program run by our women’s premier league coach has supported coaching and training techniques for the younger years and increased their progress in the game – also allowing promising kids extra training at lower costs.”

“Usually in before seasons there is a drop of teenagers from the 13-18 age group. However this year there has been a complete retention of 13-18-year-old participants, especially in the girl’s divisions.”

There is a solid ethos of supporting the social importance of sport in the community and approaches from all the clubs have been to maintain the engagement and encourage all to play football.

Karen spoke of the cooperation between the clubs at youth levels, making sure if the kids don’t make a team they can go to other clubs. This has retained more kids both girls and boys playing football.

“Keeping people playing football no matter what club, is always the major focus of presidents,” Parsons added.

“Outside the junior levels, the adult divisions also have had an overall jump with more All Age mixed and women’s teams created, showing this increase is not just concentrated in youth.”

The MWFA has had an overall jump of 752 more registrations from the 2023 season, currently at 19,821.

These case studies are prime examples of how all levels in community football associations are actively maintaining and developing engagement in NSW Football.

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