Preston Lions FC President David Cvetkovski on National Second Tier: “The key is to surround yourself with the best people with a real passion”

Preston Lions FC recently held their Preston in Business (PIB) event for the 2024 season to show their appreciation for their dedicated sponsors, to network and get an insight into the future direction of the club and their inclusion in the National Second Tier (NST) – commencing in 2025.

Taking place at Mystique Bar and Lounge, the special keynote representative was none other than David Davutovic – the producer behind the famous Optus Sport documentaries and also a football presenter, with a range of coaches and leaders also on the footballing panel providing information for the men’s and women’s teams.

A panel of coaches and leaders also shared their views on what Preston fans can look forward to.

President David Cvetkovski introduced the audience to a captivating evening of insights and networking. He discussed the significance of the sponsors have on being the backbone of Preston Lions in the past and into the future, NST progress and the impact Preston Lions has on the broader community.

“To our sponsors, we are so grateful to what you do and for what you do because without you there is no club and that is the reality,” he said.

“Our sponsors have been the backbone of this club over the last 10 to 30 years and longer than that – we’ve got a sponsor who is coming up 44 years, that’s an amazing effort.”

2024 will be a massive year for Preston, who are ready among other teams for the highly anticipated NSD.

Cvetkovski spoke about the core values and the secret of how a club from NPL2 got to be one of the clubs to be involved in the NST next year.

“To have good relationships and strong attendances, the answer is pretty simple and there’s a philosophy that l like to keep,” he said.

“Whether in business or in the business of football, the key is to surround yourself with the best people with a real passion – we have the best people, respect each other, and make logical decisions with a shared vision.

“It’s passionate people who aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and stand by each other when the going gets tough, that’s my measure of people.”

Cvetkovski finished off his speech with a special message about how Preston is more than just a club with the influence they have in the community.

“We are a football club, but we are more than that – we have had to see the human side – the impact that this club has on the people and the broader community,” he said.

“With the passing of lifelong supporter Jason Milosevski and the way the club has wrapped their arms around from supporter groups, everyone at the club has been touched,” he said.

“This is the fabric of our club, these were Jason’s last words – ‘Preston is not just a club, it’s a way of life.”’

Preston Lions have commenced their VPL 1 season, ahead of a huge year for them.

Events such as these are the entrée to what we should expect from NST teams when the competition is up and running.

APIA Leichhardt FC: 70 years on & still counting

On 18th April, APIA Leichhardt FC – one of the most successful football clubs in Australia – will be celebrating its 70th year with a glamorous gala event at La Montage Function Centre.

The names of the former players who wore the maroon and sky blue colours of the club just roll off the tongue – including Stan Ackerley, Leo Baumgartner, Col Bennett, Arno Bertogna, Archie Blue, George Blues, Fillipo Bottalico, Mark Brown, Rod Brown, Alex Bundalo, Terry Butler, Ricard Campana, Ernie Campbell, Paul Carter, John Doyle, Stan Foster, Johnny Giacometti, Sebastian Giampolo, Joey Gibbs, Terry Greedy, Pat Hughes, Audauto Iglesias, Karl Jaros, Peter Katholos, George Keith, Billy Kerklaan, Lawrie McKinna, Danny McKinnon, Graham McKinnon, David McQuire, Ross Maiorana, Brad Maloney, Jean-Paul de Marigny, Joe Marston, Bruce Morrow, Tony Morsello, David Muir, George Nuttall, Phil O’Connor, Peter Ollerton, Franco Parisi, Tony Pezzano, Mark Pullen, Nick Rizzo, John Roberts, Billy Rogers, Jim Rooney, Bill Rorke, John Russell, Jim Sambrook, Marshall Soper, Darren Stewart, Brian Taylor, Cliff Van Blerk, Jason Van Blerk, Walter Valeri, Willie Wallace, John Watkiss,  Vernon Wentzel, Peter Wilson, Johnny Wong and Charlie Yankos.

The significance of this milestone is not lost on long serving President, Tony Raciti, who has been associated with the club since 1977 and is leading the charge for  APIA’s participation in the National Second Tier Competition commencing in March, 2025.

Although there is a lot of work to be done before next March, Raciti goes about his work with his usual determination to ensure the club is fully prepared for the task ahead.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Tony Raciti discusses the significance of APIA’s longevity in Australian football, the state of play for the Club’s National Second Tier effort and conveys his thoughts about all things football in Australia.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

On the 70th anniversary of the club, what feelings are evoked?

TONY RACITI

The club has shown incredible stability in this time and we’re on target to enjoy another 70 years of prosperity.

The function on 18th April will be recognition of the club’s achievements over the 70 years and the large assembly of former and current players, supporters and sponsors will be a testimony to the continuing success and ambition of the club, particularly with the start of the National Second Tier.

R.S.

Is the original reason for the club’s formation still relevant today?

T.R.

It was originally formed as a sporting social club but obviously football was centre stage.

Today, the social aspect is not so evident as we’re a football club first and foremost providing a focus for the sport in the inner west for thousands of people, including players and supporters.

It’s now a firm fabric in local society.

Although the club has a strong Italian heritage, especially dating back to the 50’s and 60’s, there was also a strong Scottish and English influence which is still prevalent today.

Interestingly, if you examine the data base of registered players at the club, there are roughly 75% of Anglo Saxon and others of non Italian background which confirms we’ve fully integrated into the local community.

R.S.

You’ve been with the club since 1977.

What changes have you seen in this period?

T.R.

The fact we were incurring substantial losses in previous years, despite always meeting our debt, was not ideal. However, we are no longer incurring annual losses but breaking even or making small surpluses.

Lambert Park had never been subsidized by the local council until 2014 when the club was granted a $2.4 million government grant to upgrade the facility, the clubrooms and playing surface.

The club currently has an asset register which exceeds $6 million dollars and fortunately the local council is to provide funds to upgrade our synthetic surface and drainage. They will contribute $1.8 million dollars with the club funding  $500,000.

Fortunately, we’ll be playing at Leichhardt Oval next year in the N.S.T. and we have seven other grounds available in the area as registrations are growing rapidly.

To  meet the demand, we’re hiring school grounds for training  , including Concord High School four nights a week which has been funded by  the junior and women’s section of the club  who have banded together to raise $45,000 for lighting at the school.

R.S

Does Football NSW do enough to support your club and NPL Clubs in general?

T.R.

Unfortunately, the landscape has changed in the last decade or two and the makeup of the board requires more people with a football background.

Currently, there are a number who don’t have the knowledge of football history and club operations.

Nevertheless, Football NSW are a governing body with a strong management structure in a game which is bursting at the seams in N.S.W.

R.S.

Can the National Second Tier be a natural progression from the NPL?

T.R.

Absolutely.

It will support and underpin the A-League and provide advancement for clubs who want to grow further on a national stage.

In recent years, there’s been a deterioration in criteria observed for the NPL so the NST will provide an opportunity for clubs with ambition to achieve a higher position in the game and to evolve further in a much stronger competition with better training and playing facilities.

R.S.

Can the clubs raise sufficient capital to fund their place in the N.S.T.?

T.R.

I’ve been personally impressed with the clubs involved in the process and have no doubt the clubs will be financially stable, particularly with their fund raising activities.

From an APIA standpoint, we’ll be the first sporting club in Australia to be owned by the community via public shareholding.

This process hasn’t been launched yet because we haven’t finalised our prospectus which has to be approved by ASIC.

Initially, we are limited by law to twenty shareholders who have committed $500,000 so we can submit our bank guarantee to the F.A. to play in the N.S.T.

Beyond the approval of the prospectus, we’re confident we can increase our shareholding to 1000 by the end of 2024.

We also have strong corporate sponsorship to the tune of $800,000 per annum and with the move to Leichhardt Oval next year, the 2,500 under cover seats will be sold by end of January, 2025 which will give the club an injection of $1,000,000, adding to other revenue streams.

R.S.

Are all your supporters and sponsors fully behind the N.S.T. ?

T.R.

Very much so and they see the club is well managed with a strong board.

For the past decade, the club has been a powerhouse in first grade as well as juniors, SAP, women’s and girls.

Currently, there are twelve other clubs knocking on the door to be included beyond the initial eight accepted, so this speaks volumes for the interest in the N.S.T.

Obviously, only four of those clubs will be accepted in  the 2025 competition because there can’t be a 20-team League in the first season.

The FA  have been totally co-operative as a governing body which will guarantee the League has direction, stability, and good management, providing better marketing opportunities for the clubs, especially blanket television broadcasting.

Regrettably, in the initial stages there will be no money for the N.S.T. flowing from the broadcast deal.

R.S.

In view of the troubled A-League, will the football public warm to the NST?

T.R.

I believe they will and when promotion and relegation is introduced both Leagues will boom.

With the cost of licences in the A-League, it was premature to introduce promotion and relegation immediately.

Critically, there will be a higher level of competition on view in the NST.

R.S.

Can the A-League overcome its current problems to ensure there is no delay in the start of the NST?

T.R.

The NST will definitely commence next year.

It should be remembered there are thriving clubs like Sydney FC, Wanderers and Melbourne Victory and the remainder are working hard to improve their lot.

I wish I had $15 million to purchase Newcastle Jets because it’s a strong football area.

The purchase of Perth Glory by the Pellegra Group is also a perfect example of the willingness of substantial investors to support the game.

R.S.

Currently NPL playing times vary greatly.

Do you expect there will be uniformity in the NST whereby all games start at 3pm on the weekend?

T.R.

There is only one time to play these matches which should be at 3 or 3.30 pm on a Sunday afternoon.

You’re looking for trouble playing outside these times when you’re playing in winter so APIA will be abiding by these times.

David Davutovic on Preston Lions’ rich history and ambitions for the future

At the recent Preston in Business event, media personality David Davutovic spoke about Preston Lions’ storied history, it’s incredible impact on football in Australia and the Club’s future as one of the eight foundation clubs in the emerging National Second Tier (NST).

The Lions are well known for their incredible fanbase, garnered over 77 years of history and have significantly broadened this over many years. This transition means that for the first time since 1993, Preston will be competing on the national stage of Australian football.

Davutovic, a special keynote guest, reflected on the Lions’ foundation and their growth to being one of the most popular NPL-based teams.

“The club has played a huge role in Australian football. The club had 30 pretty successful years prior to the NSL and there is a truly rich history at the club,” said Davutovic, Managing Director of Bruce Media.

“The club has been in the top division, in the NSL for 13 years and before that from 1947 onwards there have been some great players come through and represent the country.” he said at the event.

“More recently, Sasa Ognenovski came through in the post NSL era and was a product of this club. He was voted the best Asian player in 2010 and won an Asian Champions League over in South Korea then went on to play for the Socceroos.

“There’s no doubt this club is right up there in its contribution to Australian football, and we are all very excited to see what the future holds.”

The NST has been an attractive idea for many years but with very little action from Football Australia, it never really came to light until recently.

Preston Lions were one of the biggest drivers and immediately put their hand up to become one of the foundation clubs. The club’s strong performance in critical revenue streams like sponsorship, gameday ticketing and membership have helped the club get into a position to take on this financial hurdle with an opportunity to dream of achieving the impossible.

“It’s really exciting for the sport and it’s interesting as to how it’s all come about,” Davutovic said.

“It’s a bit like the A-League expansion project of five or six years ago. It happened somewhat organically because there was this groundswell of support, and Preston as a club have (arguably) played the biggest role in kickstarting this momentum that triggered the second division.

“When it kicks off next year it’s going to be huge. Preston had the courage to step forward and immediately say yes and obviously it’s a massive financial commitment for the club but they said ‘we’re doing it’ and credit to the club for that.

“The current situation is eight clubs in the second division but my understanding is that they are looking at an expansion to 10 or 12 teams, maybe more from Victoria and they can really grow this second division.”

Australian football cannot afford to waste the momentum gained from fantastic performances on the pitch in international tournaments.

With the fast-growing rates of participation and attendance at the national level, as well as the emergence of a few amazing young talents hitting their stride locally and in Europe, there has never been a better launchpad for growth within the community.

Davutovic spoke on the future of Australian football after fantastic Socceroos and Matildas international campaigns – adding to the emergence of the ever-important NST.

“The future of Australian football is really bright, evidently in the results from the Socceroos at the last World Cup then the quarter final exit at the Asian Cup to a very decent South Korea side,” he said.

“Of course, the Matildas with a brilliant campaign are growing women’s football, even the representation here at Preston is great.

“I can actually see football taking on the other codes, because all of a sudden, teams like Preston and all the other state league and NPL clubs are getting recognised. They have been treated disrespectfully from around 2004 onwards.”

“They are part of the system and have just as much of a right to compete in the top division and in the Asian Champions League as the A-League clubs because at the moment it’s a pretty closed shop.”

The opportunity for Preston to make an even bigger mark on Australian football has presented itself with the NST and the club clearly has every intention to grow because of it.

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