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Filopoulos’ defence of football proves he is the right man to unite and lead the domestic game

PEter Filopoulos Football Victoria

In an administrative career spanning near a quarter of a century, CEO of Football Victoria Peter Filopoulos has forged a reputation as not only an effective but also one of the most respected figures on Australia’s sporting landscape.

Recently, and with the A-League’s newly granted independence, his name has been prominent in discussions around the people required to use the new financial freedoms gained to advance and transform the competition into what we have always hoped it would become.

Whilst other candidates will also have fair and valid claims on such a role, Filopoulos’ achievements in business and commercial and marketing strategy within the game of football make him a highly desirable candidate.

The short term future looms as a vital period of potential growth of the national league; a league so oft maligned yet one fundamental to the overall image of the beautiful game in Australia. Having the right people in place is the first and most important step in ensuring that prudent and visionary moves are made and not the reactionary and conservative decisions of the past made by Football Federation Australia.

Filopoulos has experience across a range of sports and thus, a keen understanding of the unique and saturated Australian sporting market. Experience in aquatics and stadium management add a depth to his arsenal of talents, yet it his 8 years of experience in AFL administration that came clearly into focus this week.

Long before the significant role he played in rescuing Perth Glory; as he guided the club through its horrid salary cap problems stemming from 2014/15, Filopoulos had spent eight years in AFL club land. Both Hawthorn and North Melbourne enjoyed the fruits of his labour.

Last Saturday, the Richmond Tigers defeated the Greater Western Sydney Giants to claim the 2019 Premiership and Tigers fans celebrated their second title in three years with some passionate demonstrations of both pride and ecstasy in the streets of Melbourne.

The images were compelling, widely spread on social media and brought no qualm or concern. Until, that is, Peter Filopoulos stated publicly and categorically what a number of football fans were thinking.

He tweeted;

“Clearly a different perspective by media on AFL fans celebrating with flares and fireworks in public streets to soccer fans doing similar in the past. One’s a ’party getting started’ & the other is ’soccer fans rioting’. The headlines are starkly different. #FairGoForFootball”.

The message was succinct and quite simple. Had Melbourne Victory or Western Sydney Wanderers fans been captured celebrating in the same manner and the captions featured underneath the images been substituted with the usually obtuse and ill-informed nonsense spun by main stream media, a hullabaloo would have no doubt broken out.

Using the images captured on Saturday night and adding a headline or caption such as the one the Nine Network expressed through their Sydney based anchor Peter Overton in 2018, would have changed the contextual impression of the scene and fuelled an inaccurate stereotype.

After a few Wanderers fans had become somewhat over-zealous at a Sydney Derby, Overton labelled the events as a “a night of soccer violence’. It is not surprising in the slightest that such a label was not given to the events of Saturday, despite numerous reports of fans assaulting Victorian police and what appeared to be rampant disorder after the game.

Filopoulos said what needed to be said. Taking things one step further and writing formally to media organisations, the Victorian Government, AFL House and the FFA, should be his next move.

Many have lauded his comments and rightly so. Possessing a clear, long term vision for football in Australia, Filopoulos realises that the public relations slap in the face the media continues to serve up to football, holds back that vision and the game.

 

Stuart is a writer, journalist, blogger and social commentator based in Sydney, Australia. His work can also be found on theRoar.com.au, zerotackle.com.au, openforum.com and on his website, stuartthomas.com.au. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Could COVID-19 stunt progress towards the Second Division?

The ongoing worldwide pandemic has seen the A-League, as well as all state competitions postpone their fixtures until further notice.

The current situation is bleak, with no timeframe set for when on-field competition can restart or whether the current season will be cancelled in favour of a fresh start next season.

The FFA has a lot on their plates right now and no-one would envy them right now. However, if they’re not careful enough, they could potentially set Australian soccer back several seasons.

The COVID-19 pandemic will end, but things won’t normalise for a long time. The health and safety of Australians is of the utmost priority and thankfully, the country hasn’t been as seriously affected as some.

In saying that, several aspects of the game in our country cannot be sacrificed and must not be put on the backburner.

The National Second Division was easily the most necessary adjustment to the elite level of our sport prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obviously, these bizarre times have altered this. But when the dust settles, and it will, the FFA needs to act upon the National Second Division.

When life-changing events take place, it becomes second nature to drop whatever you’re doing and focus solely on the important matter at hand.

After a while, it becomes easy to forget on what you were originally focused on. Sometimes, it gets left in the rear-view mirror altogether and you never do a U-turn to find it.

The FFA cannot do this to their current plans on the National Second Division.

At the time of writing, no ‘set in stone’ plans currently exist for the FFA and the National Second Division. Nothing concrete has been put to paper.

On the flipside, it is known there are strong motivations to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. Like a cheese wheel going down a hill.

Weird analogy, but the point remains. The FFA is acutely aware of how important the National Second Division is to the future of the A-League and the sport in Australia, as a whole.

It goes without saying what makes the European leagues so cutthroat and enviable to Australians.

The promotion and relegation, the seemingly endless divisions in countries like England, Germany and Spain. The possibility of playing against some of the best in the world, both domestically and in continental tournaments. The knowledge that if you’re not up to scratch, you can be out the door as quick as the snap of a finger.

Or as quick as a cheese wheel going down a hill. How’s that come up again?

There isn’t as much accountability for poor performance in Australian soccer. If you finish bottom in the A-League, there’s no real punishment. Some seasons can be a real lottery.

The point of all this? To ensure the FFA doesn’t allow COVID-19 to halt their plans on the National Second Division.

They can be excused for ignoring other issues right now, some just simply aren’t essential. But the future of Australian soccer is one of the most essential issues for them.

Let’s say for arguments sake that the FFA planned to introduce the National Second Division at the start of the 2022-23 A-League season.

Let’s also say that the COVID-19 pandemic happened in another universe, allowing them a near uninterrupted 18-24 months to figure out a setup for the National Second Division.

With their current motives to get the National Second Division started, it’s more than plausible that it could become a reality in that timeframe.

However, we live in the universe where COVID-19 has wreaked havoc upon the world and these plans have been temporarily put to the side.

It’s foreseeable that the FFA will allow things to completely settle before they resume planning on the National Second Division.

That is easily one of the biggest mistake they could make at that time, when it comes.

They can’t afford to delay any longer. If they push plans back to 2024-25 or even longer down the line, the game in this country will suffer even more.

We can’t imagine having to make these tough decisions during this time such as cutting or furloughing staff amongst other things.

But if they make the decision to delay the National Second Division plans, they’ll regret it sooner than they think.

We’re hopeful this is not the case.

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Gary Cole: There is no better time than now to unify the game

Socceroos great Gary Cole feels it is now time to “find a way to heal” the wounds of the past and move forward for the good of the game.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, the former NSL striker believes FFA CEO James Johnson is the right man to lead Australian football into a new era, incorporating “the best of both” the old NSL and A-League.

“I think James has been an absolute breath of fresh air,” he said.

“You couldn’t have wished a worse start on a person to take over that role.

“My hat’s off to him and I just can’t applaud him enough for the start he has made and his willingness to listen and engage.”

Cole remains involved with the game in some capacity, after being elected as a member of Football Coaches Australia’s Executive Committee, late last year.

The 64-year-old has a strong belief that coaching education in Australia needs to improve and was a major factor behind his decision to put his name forward for FCA.

“Coaches have never had a seat at the table (in the game) for the last 30 odd years,” Cole said.

“Today (with FCA), we’ve got a good working relationship with James, Chris Nikou and the FFA board.

“We are talking regularly, having zoom meetings; they understand that coaches are an important part of the game. It’s absolutely terrific.”

Throughout his coaching career, Cole would go on to be an assistant to Socceroos coach Frank Arok, as well as managing various clubs in the old National Soccer League and Victorian Premier League.

The ex-Heidelberg player admits he was fortunate to land his first coaching gig, as an assistant to Ron Smith at the AIS in 1987.

“I was always going to go into coaching and I was incredibly lucky that in my last year of playing as a 30-year-old at Preston, I went and did my Senior License (equivalent of an A Coaching License today).

“That was at the end of my career, then within six months I applied for and accepted a role as Ron’s assistant at the AIS. So that was absolutely incredible.

“At the age of 30 I had a full-time job in coaching and I have to say at the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to do that.”

The mentorship he received and experience he gained from working alongside Smith, has led Cole to question the way Australia develops coaches in recent times.

“I had an incredible coach and mentor in Ron who I worked with day in, day out. So, not only did I just complete a coaching license, I got to practice on a daily basis with someone there who would coach me as a coach and answer my questions.

“When I left and came back to Victoria because my mum developed cancer, I coached Heidelberg in the old NSL and I still had my coaching mentor on the other end of the phone.

“Nowadays, most modern coaches don’t have that.

“We’ve done a terrific job at getting thousands of coaches through coaching courses. But, getting a coaching license is a bit like being an 18-year-old and getting your driver’s license, it gives you access to the roads but it doesn’t make you a great driver.”

The AIS program was recently brought back into focus after a panel of six former ‘golden generation’ Socceroos heralded the setup and its role in their football development, in a recent Optus Sport discussion.

Cole echoed their sentiments claiming “It was integral to the development of players at that point in time.”

“Those guys all had wonderful talent but what Ron Smith did was turn the AIS into perhaps the best professional finishing school for athletes that we have ever seen.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for both players and coaches to develop and I was very sorry to see it go.”

When quizzed on the possibility of a reformation of the program, the Socceroos goal scorer believes the ship has sailed on that front, due to the current structure implemented in the game.

“Most countries around the world now have some sort of national coaching setup and some of those have a system like Clairefontaine in France, which is still there,” he said.

“But we are so different.”

According to the former Socceroos assistant, a country such as Belgium which is much smaller in size, makes it significantly easier to introduce a national setup.

That’s not the case in Australia, however.

“Here, we are so vast in distance and travel. I think it would be very difficult, because the model has been…to help A-League clubs develop academies and then…help NPL clubs develop academies.

“There are challenges around the depth and quality of the coaching talent, as well as getting kids in there. It’s not simple to answer.”

After an extremely decorated playing career in the NSL and the Socceroos, Cole looks back fondly on his time in the old national competition.

Memories of his playing days at Heidelberg stick out vividly in his mind, particularly the large crowds that would gather for matches against South Melbourne.

“It was a tough competition, played in smaller stadiums. We would have 15, 20, 25,000 people at Middle Park or Olympic Park (against South Melbourne).

“It was a real derby like Liverpool against Everton. You could have a terrible season, but if you won the derby then you are everyone’s hero.

“There was a great passion to it.”

Most NSL clubs at the time were ethnically based, which created distinct atmospheres at the grounds.

“You can remember the sights and sounds,” Cole said.

“Will Hastie (Executive Manager of Football at FV) and I were having a conversation last year, (saying) you could remember the smells from the different cultures.

“That multicultural background that it gave us was absolutely incredible.”

Cole described the transition between the end of the NSL and start of the A-League as a divisive period, which the game must now, after 15 years, finally try to put to bed.

“I loved the NSL, but so much was made out of the crowd trouble. It was bad at different times and that was a part of killing it off unfortunately.

“But by the same token, (when the A-League was created) it became ‘old soccer against new football’. It drove a stake in the heart of the game and developed this disconnect straight away.

“Not only because the (NSL) clubs couldn’t play in the top division, but we did away with the history. It was like the history of Australian football, for a long time, kicked off in 2004.”

In that year, Cole was appointed Melbourne Victory’s inaugural Football Operations Manager, a position he would hold for seven years, with the Victory winning two championships in that time.

There were certainly challenges in that period, including a board which was initially not comprised of football people.

Speaking about his time at Victory, Cole said it was “perhaps the most exciting and remarkable thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’m blessed that Ernie Merrick came on board. We brought in some great players, we developed some great talent and I’m very proud of that unique opportunity.”

Whilst a fantastic achievement, it would pale in comparison to the proudest moment in his football career.

“I can close my eyes and think about my first game for the Socceroos, standing on the pitch before the game against Greece in Melbourne.

“When you stand there with a green and gold shirt on and the national anthem plays, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.

“And then, you realise you’ve got an opportunity to represent your country.

“I’ve got a lot of things to be proud about in the game, but that for me is by far and away perhaps the best day.”

Will Australia now finally put football ahead of power and pettiness?

Ange Postecoglou’s comments on ABC’s Offsiders Program in regards to putting Australian football first, were compelling and accurate.

The former Socceroo mentor and now coach of Yokohama F Marinos in the J-League was explicit, precise and curt when commenting on the necessary response to the COVID-19 pandemic within the Australian game. For Postecoglou, it is an opportunity to do something rarely seen. That being, an active positioning of football well above all the vested interests and personalities that for decades appear to have thought themselves bigger than the game itself.

The former South Melbourne player stated, “Never forget what your prime product is and your product is the sport……..If you devalue the sport, you can save as much money as you want, eventually that devaluation is going to cost you.”

For Australian football, the reference to money is the hottest topic of conversation right now. Foxtel appears to have reneged on its most recent payment due to FFA, with A$12.5 million yet to hit the savings account of the governing body.

With three years to run on a broadcast deal that was signed in 2016 and valued at A$346 million, the media giant is within inches of walking away and leaving Australia’s elite professional league without a host broadcaster.

That deal was originally cheered home in 2016 by then Chief Executive David Gallop, yet in the years that followed, little was done to advance, promote and forward the game by the powers at be. Postecoglou was on the sidelines in a coaching capacity with the Socceroos for some of that time and his comments were no doubt directed towards those whom he sees as having failed to keep football as the focus.

No doubt FFA were jubilant each and every time the Socceroos qualified for the World Cup and the subsequent financial windfall that came their way. However, little effort was made to bring the domestic game together as one. Despite increased awareness of and interest in NPL competitions around the land, the governing body baulked time after time when it came to making the essential leap to full promotion and relegation across the country.

Essentially, Postecoglou’s words ring true to all those who have observed the first 15 years of the A-League competition. Efforts were made to expand the game from the elite level and little done to engage with the grass roots and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who showed little interest in the top tier competition.

By providing pathways for clubs to advance in league play and the ensuing incentive provided for players not directly involved in the rather limited junior and developmental systems of the ten A-League clubs, football in Australia has the potential to become interconnected and united; something of which Postecoglou is well aware.

Instead, the elite men’s competition had a few highs, many lows and ended up treading water over the last five years with little change, growth or development. High hopes were placed on expansion and Western United have made anything but a weak start to their existence. However, with the financial realities of COVID-19 hitting home, it is now likely we will see some A-League clubs fold or tread close to extinction.

A third Sydney team was looking shaky in its infancy and with the current climate now leading to seven of the eleven A-League clubs unable to pay players and staff, their birth seems unlikely; most probably postponed indefinitely until the football landscape becomes a little easier to read.

Postecoglou’s comments were almost certainly a less than cloaked attack on many Australian football relics whose failures of the past are common knowledge; the men involved in the failed final days of an NSL competition that fell victim to infighting and power struggles that served no purpose to the game.

They were also undoubtedly a direct attack on the lack of vision shown by the FFA in recent history; a governing body hampered by risk aversion and people possessing little knowledge of football.

Mark Schwarzer alluded to those power struggles when he called for the abolition of state federations on April 20, citing them as the “biggest problem in Australian football” due to a reluctance to relinquish power and influence.

Both Postecoglou and Schwarzer know the landscape all too well and have been to places that very few Australian footballers and/or managers have even dreamt. Something tells me that we should be listening to them as an industry and taking the advice of people with knowledge that extends far beyond our shores.

FFA boss James Johnson shares such knowledge and experience and it will be interesting to see how he incorporates their advice with that formed by the ‘Starting XI’ think tank he has assembled in an effort to guide the game through the problems created by the pandemic.

Mark Viduka, Josip Skoko, Clare Polkinghorne, Ron Smith, Mark Bosnich, Paul Okon, Frank Farina, Heather Garriock, Vicki Linton, Joey Peters, and Connie Selby will no doubt have strong opinions.

Whether they have the nous and vision to right what currently looks like a sinking A-League ship after Foxtel’s clear intention to walk away is unclear. Hoping they do should be the wish of each and every football fan in Australia.

© 2019 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved.

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