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The FFA Cup should be renamed the Australia Cup in a nod to the game’s history

This past Wednesday, Football Federation Australia held its seventeenth Annual General Meeting.

One of the agenda items included a proposal which would change the governing body’s name from ‘Football Federation Australia’ to ‘Football Australia’.

FFA’s members unanimously approved the proposal and will go ahead with the plan to change its company name to ‘Football Australia’.

“Today we took another significant step on this new journey we have embarked upon when the FFA Congress unanimously resolved to change the organisation’s name from Football Federation Australia to ‘Football Australia’,” FFA CEO James Johnson said on Wednesday.

“This new name – which we will transition to over the coming months – signifies a fresh and exciting start for the game under the new strategic agenda, and a return to the roots of football in Australia.”

“I firmly believe that the opportunity for further change and positive transformation in Australian football burns brighter than ever, and with the foundations that we have set in 2020 there is much to be optimistic about,” he concluded.

What exact specifics Johnson is talking about when he refers to returning to the roots of the game in Australia is unclear, however one of the organisation’s touted changes is to re-brand the FFA Cup to the Australia Cup.

It’s a move that does make sense, as the governing body moves itself and its assets away from the “FFA” moniker.

Johnson told the SMH: “We’ll be announcing in the coming weeks a revamped FFA Cup – of course, the name change will be a part of that thinking.”

“But it will go a lot broader than just the name change … we’re looking at a different format which will be more open, a format that would allow more opportunities for clubs across the country to participate in national-level competitions.”

Putting aside possible tweaks in the format of the competition, if the change in name of the tournament does go ahead, it would be the right move.

FFA Chairman Chris Nikou inspecting the original Australia Cup. Credit: FOX SPORTS

The Australia Cup was the country’s first nationwide knockout football competition, beginning in 1962.

Yugal defeated St George Budapest 8-1 at Sydney’s Wentworth Park in the competition’s inaugural final.

Four-time NSL champions Sydney Hakoah were the only team to win the Australia Cup on two occasions.

Other winners of the tournament included George Cross, APIA Leichardt and Port Melbourne Slavia.

The cup ran until 1968, with administrators deciding the competition would be abolished due to various difficulties including interstate travel problems.

Since the cup competition was a national event, it did open up the doors for the idea of a long-term National Soccer League, which was ultimately introduced nine years later in 1977.

This is just a snippet of the game’s rich history and the return of the Australia Cup in modern day would celebrate and recognise the days of old.

It would be in unique contrast to some of the previous administrators of the game who have treated Australian football’s past with the utmost contempt.

In what could be seen as an extremely symbolic event of the way Australian football has ignored its history, the Australia Cup trophy was found in a rubbish bin in 2011 by builders who were carrying out renovations at the Hakoah Club.

Embarrassing events like this may have given James Johnson and his administration team the impetus to address these failures, with resources such as the ‘XI Principles’ document, drafted earlier this year, acting as a catalyst.

One of the principles, titled “Reset the narrative of Australian football”, has the following point as a proposed measure of change.

“Create a narrative which is contemporary, genuine, and acknowledges Australian football’s multicultural origins, its rich history and diverse football community today. It must foster unity, be football-focused and capitalise on football’s global nature for the benefit of the Australian game.”

The appropriate acknowledgment of the Australia Cup as the name of the country’s knockout cup competition, will be a small step in respecting the broader history of Australian football.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Football Australia meets with AAFC to discuss National Second Tier

Football Australia consulted with the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) last week to discuss modelling and other considerations for a National Second Tier.

The Thursday night meeting was attended virtually by representatives from Football Australia, including CEO James Johnson, as well AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas and representatives from member clubs.

Within the meeting, the commercial, financial, and modelling aspects of the competition were discussed.

A Football Australia spokesperson stated that the meeting was an opportunity for clubs to voice their opinions and views on certain questions posed by FA, and considerations for a National Second Tier directly to the peak body.

Football Australia held a meeting with the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) and a number of representative clubs from around Australia on Thursday 26 August as part of a consultation to discuss the objectives and vision for a National Second Tier, commercial, financial and competition modelling considerations, the Domestic Match Calendar and access to and from a proposed National Second Tier,” a FA spokesperson said.

CEO, James Johnson and several other senior executives of Football Australia participated in the meeting and welcomed the opportunity to hear directly from the clubs on some of their views on these considerations and look forward to having further and more detailed discussions in the coming months as we move the conceptual discussions towards practical ones, and in turn the national second tier becoming a reality at the appropriate time.”

Galatas said the meeting was well received by the AAFC, and that it was held professionally and in good faith.

The next steps are firstly we will provide the material that Football Australia has requested, secondly we will finalise our report, and finally we will continue to liaise with Football Australia as they progress towards finalising their model,” he said.

The AAFC released the report in January as a framework for how they believe a second division could be structured, ran and implemented.

No timeline has been placed on the development of the competition by either Football Australia or the AAFC, according to Galatas.

“We didn’t think it was appropriate to press for a timeline, and instead work towards providing information for Football Australia to develop the right model,” he said.

“Getting it right in more important than imposing some sort of deadline. Clearly the intention that emerged from that meeting was that we now work as stakeholders to complete the tasks, so short term is better than long term but there is no specific timeline.”

Football Australia recently included a placeholder for a National Second Tier competition on its domestic match calendar.

What will a National Second Tier mean for the NPL?

As the concept of a National Second Tier becomes a reality in Australia, there are questions on what the removal of the biggest clubs will mean for the State League competitions.

Football Australia are still discussing and workshopping the format of the concept, and how it operates and coexists with the National Premier Leagues (NPL) is one of the biggest questions.

When the NPL was created in 2013, the aim was to standardise the State League competitions across Australia and serve as a second tier to the A-League. The competition has been the top division in each state outside the A-League, with the winners playing off against each other at the end of the season.

The NPL hasn’t managed to bridge the gap between the State League clubs and the A-League, shown by the push for a true National Second Tier.

We know that the current NPL clubs would jump at the chance to join a National Second Tier, however, what would this mean for the State Leagues moving forward?

There is certainly commercial value to having South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights play off in the Victorian State League. Without the traditional powerhouse clubs in there, the Victorian NPL would struggle to attract sponsors and fans that drive the clubs, allowing them to perform at a semi-professional level.

Determining what the value of the NPL is without traditional clubs is a question that will be asked across every state competition if a National Second Tier drags them away.

Football Australia has previously floated a Champions League-style competition idea, with 32 teams competing in a group stage format followed by a knockout stage.

The allure of this concept is to reduce the cost of travel and the financial burden on the clubs at the league’s inception while allowing the clubs to continue to play in their respective state NPL competitions.

However, this is a stop-gap solution to get the competition off the ground, with the intention of easing into the transition from semi-professional into a fully professional second tier with promotion and relegation down the track.

There are certainly positives to this structure. Using the Champions League-style format to get the competition off the ground and running before evolving into a traditional league format could be the best way for a National Second Tier to launch.

The reality is that the first few years in a National Second Tier will be difficult for the clubs if the competition is a complete home and away league featuring at least 18 games. It is a distinct possibility clubs will fold, or flee back to the relative safety of their state competitions.

This isn’t a reason not to proceed with the competition, however, it is a danger that the clubs must recognise. To alleviate this danger, clubs can play in their state competitions while featuring in a parallel Champions League-style competition.

Some of the NPL’s biggest clubs would prefer a traditional style home and away season. South Melbourne President Nick Maikousis outlined in an interview with Soccerscene that a National Second Tier could mean some of the biggest clubs depart the State Leagues.

“We don’t agree that a Champions League-style competition is a National Second Division. Our views are that it needs to be a stand-alone competition. The challenge for the state federations is potentially losing some of their biggest member clubs,” Maikousis said.

“If you take South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, and Heidelberg out of the NPL Victoria competition, it becomes a different conversation.”

He also pointed out that reluctance to lose these clubs from their respective state leagues by some stakeholders is similar to arguments raised against the formation of the National Soccer League in the 1970s.

Fears of losing the State League’s biggest clubs aren’t new. At the NSL’s inception in 1977, the Victorian Premier League forbid its clubs from joining the new competition. Mooroolbark SC, an unremarkable Eastern Suburbs club, broke the deadlock, paving the way for South Melbourne, Heidelberg and Footscray just to follow in their footsteps.

Mooroolbark unfortunately found themselves relegated out of the NSL in their only year in the competition, before ending up in the provisional league at the bottom of the football pyramid by the 1980s.

Eventually, any national second tier competition must become a stand-alone league if Australian football is to have a proper pyramid of competitions featuring promotion and relegation. The state NPL competitions will lose their biggest clubs to this, but it creates opportunities for other clubs to forge ahead and take their place.

Australian football needs to be brave in its attempt to create something that will outlast us all. Countries like England, Spain, and Italy have built their football not only on heritage, but also a deep talent pool developed playing in the leagues below their top division.

Promotion and relegation must be the end game for football if it’s to reach its full potential in Australia. For a club to climb from State League 5 to the A-League, from amateur to professional, is the ultimate expression of the beautiful game.

The state leagues will survive losing their biggest clubs, like they did at the NSL’s inception. The question is what value these competitions still have without their biggest assets.

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