The gaping holes in Australia’s football history – Soccerscene’s exclusive interview with football writer and researcher Greg Werner

When I asked Greg Werner why he was interested in researching and recording the grassroots clubs of each and every Socceroo and Matilda, his answer was simple.

“It was born out of frustration, frustration that the largest sector of the game in this country was being ignored.”

In 2014, the Sutherland Shire based writer set about righting that ship and his journey continues to this very day. Over the last five years, Werner has ventured to all points of the domestic compass in an attempt to shed light on the origins of Australia’s representative footballers and in an effort to flesh out Australia’s footballing story.

His travels led to an unexpected publication, yet his passion to create a more in depth and detailed narrative of the Australian game has always been the most powerful driver behind what is a bold and broad reaching vision.

The trigger for the time consuming and often frustrating quest was an SBS piece on the Matilda, Servet Uzunlar. Werner recalls it vividly.

“I discovered during the segment that Unzular grew up playing in the same association in which I had spent 10 years playing & coaching. I asked myself why. If I was unaware of such a wonderful local players’ presence, how much else had escaped me?”

By extension, the key question for Werner became, “How many clubs were going completely unacknowledged for their contribution to our national teams.”

Such are the holes in the Australian footballing narrative and oft is the point made that the game existed on the national sporting landscape well before the heroics of the Socceroos at the 1974 World Cup. Equally emblematic of a poorly recorded history is the fact that many young A-League fans appear somewhat ignorant of the glory days of the NSL and the contributions made by community clubs during that period.

Greg Werner chats with former Socceroo Manager Ange Postecoglou in 2018.

Werner’s ambition focusses specifically on the individual players who have worn national colours; those whose early years of development are often overlooked and unrecorded at the expense of the contemporary concerns of the team they represented.

I put Werner’s claim that “If you are to go to just about any player’s Wikipedia entry you would think that they did not start playing until the age of 15,” to the test and in most cases, it proved correct.

Appearing as something of an enormous task, I asked Werner where he began.

“I started with what I knew from conversations on the side lines of the Shire and personal experience. The Griffiths brothers (Joel, Adam and Ryan) played at Menai, Graham ‘Arnie’ Arnold played at Gwawley Bay, Murray Barnes began at Kissing Point & my best mate Richie Bell started with Cronulla RSL.”

“Beginning with those bare bones, I realised there were only 800 more players to research,” recounted Werner with something of a tired chuckle.

“The search for answers began with Facebook, and was continued on the side lines of international training sessions, after A & W-League games, at NPL matches and even at FFA Cup and Champion of Champions finals. It also, beyond everything else, involved thousands of hours trawling through programs, magazines and newspapers going back to whenever.”

Werner has seen every major Socceroos game in Sydney since 1969, bar the disaster of 1981 and every home Matildas game since 2015.

It was the insistence of Fox Sports commentator Andy Harper that Werner’s mission would only be taken seriously with a supporting website to present the material. Now overflowing with history and memory, http://www.grassrootsfootballproject.com/ presents the accumulated research in a written and visual form.

The Grassroots Football Project logo.

Perhaps both the intention behind and the potential impact of the Grassroots Football Project is best encapsulated in Werner’s own words, “I have had the absolute honour of meeting men who were my footballing heroes and men whom I had never even heard of before the GFP.”

Such a sentiment now extends to the women’s game and no doubt the next generation of female players currently competing in junior play will be advantaged by the opportunity to read about the pioneering Matildas; those women who paved the untrodden and difficult path towards support and acceptance of the women’s game.

Werner with former Matildas Renaye Iserief, Janine McPhee, Sunni Hughes and Julie Murray.

The collated facts and data proved too enticing for renowned publisher of football books Fairplay Publishing to ignore. Werner became a co-author of the Encyclopaedia of Matildas; a visually stunning text that journeys through the history of the team and the women at the core of its success.

“It was an honour to have been given the opportunity to co-author the text and also beyond my wildest dreams. Now my dreams have shifted and I already have another book in the works and the one after that is already in the planning.”

Research has sent Werner to hundreds of gatherings in recent years.

“When Brazil toured here in 2017, I took the day off work to go to Newcastle to the first Matildas Reunion, a gathering of 60 players from all over the country. That night I added almost 20 entries to my list and had the best night of my footballing life apart from November 16th 2005. I left there at 1am to drive home to Cronulla, dealing with 40kph speed zones all the way down the freeway.

I have had the honour of spending time with some of the legends of the Australian game.”

Not seeking personal gain, Werner’s simple ambition is to “change the way the powers that be regard the most important clubs in the country,” and in turn “to make the history of our game relevant”.

It is an admirable and bold endeavour and one destined to continue.

“The GFP was never designed to be completed, for as long as internationals were being played, new players would be picked. My only aim was that their stories would be told, something which is now starting to be done. The end game would be that a plaque would be placed at the home ground of each of these clubs to make tangible their contribution.”

Something tells me that Greg Werner’s passion and energy may well make those plaques a reality. What a fitting tribute they would be to the grassroots clubs that have provided the Socceroos and Matildas with such wonderful players and people throughout Australia’s footballing history.

Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

Football Queensland maintains support for grassroots

Football Queensland has maintained its support for club and coach development as part of their strong strategic focus.

Positive outcomes for the Queensland community continue to be shown, as thousands of coaches completed their courses and hundreds of club visits have been conducted during 2020.

In total, 2,172 coaches were successfully upskilled through various state-wide courses, 255 club visits were made by Football Queensland and nine new Club Development Ambassadors were activated across the state.

“FQ recognises that building capacity in our clubs is essential to lifting the overall standard of delivery and providing the best possible environment for participants,” Football Queensland CEO Robert Cavallucci said.

“We have invested in resources to better engage clubs and coaches at all levels, launching the Club Development Unit in July and activating new Club Development Ambassadors to support Queensland clubs with improved technical services.

“This is essential to FQ’s strategic emphasis on strengthening coach development, especially at the grassroots, and for our commitment to provide high-quality participation experiences in all areas of the state.”

The Football Queensland technical team has delivered 176 courses across Queensland as of October, including 164 MiniRoos, Skill Training and Game Training Certificate courses for community-level coaches.

“It is pleasing that we have been able to educate so many coaches in 2020,” Football Queensland Technical Director Gabor Ganczer said.

“This is great for grassroots clubs and young players, because we know their coaches will have the ability to deliver enjoyable sessions that keep them invested in the game.

“FQ now has more resources to support these coaches and we are looking forward to helping them and their clubs grow.”

Doug Hodgson: The ‘forgotten Aussie’ and the importance of a mature transfer system

Although they embody far more, at their very core, every football club is essentially a business entity. Countless variables makeup a club’s balance sheet including sponsorships, merchandising, broadcast deals and ticket sales, but one major income stream that Australia is yet to fully exploit is the one that draws the most public interest – player transfers.

The cash injection received from player transfers can do wonders for a club, regardless of their stature and size. In addition to allowing clubs to reinvest the funds into their facilities and development pathways, a mature transfer system also encourages coaches to develop their youth instead of relying on proven talent.

As one of Australia’s early international football exports, Doug Hodgson was one of a group of young guns who caught the eye of international scouts and paved the way for many others to follow. His story is one of frustration and overcoming challenges, but ultimately shows that young players need resilience to make it in what is one of the world’s most competitive industries.

“As a player you have a small window and opportunity, you have to take it with two hands and make sure you have the desire and passion to succeed,” Hodgson said.

In 1994, Hodgson moved from Heidelberg United to Sheffield United for an upfront fee of £30,000, a figure which rose to approximately £70,000 with add-ons based on appearances. He was also joined by fellow Aussie, current Adelaide United Head Coach Carl Veart (pictured in top photo) in a deal worth £250,000.

Doug Hodgson making headlines for scoring on his debut for Northampton Town.

But despite earning a dream move to England, Hodgson’s path to the top was far from easy.

Following a car accident as a teenager, Hodgson was told by doctors he may never play again. A few years and a lot of hard work later, as a 20-years old he won Heidelberg United’s Best and Fairest award, earning a loan move to Sunshine George Cross where he was managed by Hull City legend Kenny Wagstaff.

“Kenny organised a trial with Hull City and I worked and worked to be prepared for it. At the end of the trial I was offered a two-year contract worth £450 per week. The club offered Heidelberg £20,000 but there was a transfer break down as Heidelberg wanted £140,000,” Hodgson recalls.

“As you would imagine, there was anger, disappointment, and frustration. I thought, here is a club that paid nothing for me, and I had serviced them as best as I possibly could. I won the Best and Fairest only for them to slap a price tag on me that wasn’t realistic.”

“I understand business and maybe they thought that was a fair price, but as a young kid, there was a lot of bitterness as I knew these opportunities didn’t come up often.”

It would take another two years for Hodgson to get another chance at his dream move. While playing in Western Australia (although still under contract at Heidelberg), Sheffield United came down under for a post-season tour. After seeing him play, Blades manager Dave Bassett was so impressed with the young Aussie that he offered him to join his team for the remainder of the tour as a trial, resulting in a deal being struck.

Hodgson possessed the talent and mental steel to become a quality player in England, and although his career was heavily injury affected, he still managed to make almost 150 senior appearances, most of which with Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic.

One honour that eluded Hodgson, perhaps due to injuries, politics or just plain bad luck was earning a Socceroo’s cap. This has led to him being dubbed the ‘forgotten Aussie’ in some circles.

“At one stage, while playing for Sheffield United in England’s first division I played 14 games straight and I won player of the month. Similarly, at Oldham in the second division I was voted player of the month when I was 29 and probably playing the best football of my career,” Hodgson said.

“There was an Australian national team camp happening in London at the time. I’m not saying I should of played because that’s unfair on the other players, but I should have been given the opportunity to go to camp. Not being able to represent my country was the biggest disappointment in my career. I eventually walked away from the game in England with 12 months left on my contract due to injuries.”

Despite the injuries and frustrations he faced, Hodgson built strong relationships in England and maintains connections with many of his former teammates and coaches today.

This is an enormous factor in international transfers that is seldom mentioned. Players who venture overseas often get the opportunity to network and learn from the brightest football minds in the world, eventually bringing that knowledge back to Australia.

“I coached the U-15s at Northampton Town and the Sheffield United Reserves. Neil Warnock was grooming me to become the next manager of the club but mentally I found it hard to accept the way my career ended,” Hodgson said.

Since returning to Australia, Hodgson has brought back a raft of knowledge which he has used to teach the next generation. Some of his key accomplishments include coaching seniors and juniors at the NPL level, being involved with New South Wales’ youth program, and leading an U-14 youth team to the Victorian championship.

“I have contacts and will open a door for someone if I can if they are good enough. We need to remember though that different kids develop at different ages and its important to focus on education and make sure they are always moving forward,” Hodgson added.

Five of the 10 largest outbound transfers occurred during the NSL era.

On the flipside of the coin, for Heidelberg United, the windfall received from Hodgson’s sale meant covering debts and ensuring the club’s financial viability during a tumultuous time.

“In those days, most clubs were running on overdrafts and volunteer work. We had small sponsorships but really relied on the community to raise funds. There weren’t many player transfers, but we had some success with guys like Doug Hodgson, John Anastasiadis, and before that, Yakka Banovic who joined Derby County,” said former Heidelberg President Peter Tsaklis.

“We were paying about $60,000 per year just for registration into Australia’s top league and there weren’t any grants or assistance from the government at the time. The transfer fees were much needed but we barely able to use the funds to improve facilities at the club, as most of it just went towards running costs,” Tsaklis added.

This was the norm at the time, where if a club was lucky enough to receive a large transfer fee, the funds were often used to balance the books. Or, if they were in a stronger financial position, used to make sorely needed investments and upgrades that they otherwise would not have been affordable.

One example of this occurring was the sale of Socceroos legend Mark Viduka, who was famously transferred to Dinamo Zagreb from the Melbourne Knights. The fee helped the club fund its stadium redevelopments and officially named its grandstand in his honour, a grandstand which today still houses one of the NPL’s most passionate fanbases.

Although Viduka’s exact transfer fee is unlisted, incredibly, five of the top 10 largest transfer fees ever received by Australian clubs occurred during that era.

To add to this, despite the mammoth deals regularly taking place around the globe, the $1.7 million Leicester City paid for Zeljko Kalac in 1995 still remains the largest transfer fee received by an Australian club.

These statistics are not emphasised to criticise the current league or administration, but they do highlight what an enormous opportunity exists in Australian football.

Australia’s transfer system has fallen far behind the rest of Asia’s key players.

Much of the rest of Asia seems to have evolved in their abilities to produce and sell talent. According to data gathered by Optus Sports, Australia’s outbound player sales in 2019 totalled $2.698 million, a number dwarfed by our rivals Japan ($49.39 million) and South Korea ($37.45 million).

If the game’s administrators can over time build an ecosystem that incentivises player transfers, the prospect of adequate financial reimbursement could lead to more clubs focusing on developing players rather than looking for short-term results, ultimately leading to more opportunities for youth and clubs tapping into one of the most lucrative income streams of all.

FIFA begins host city selection process for 2023 Women’s World Cup

FIFA has begun its process to examine the 12 candidate host cities for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, through the use of virtual workshops.

Over the next two weeks FIFA will conduct the workshops, with representatives from the candidate host cities across Australia and New Zealand informed about what is required to secure matches for the world-class tournament.

The 12 candidate cities are: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Newcastle, Perth, Launceston, Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.

Each candidate will also have the opportunity to present an overall update on their hosting plans.

FIFA Chief Tournaments & Events Officer, Colin Smith, stated: “We look forward to the virtual workshops over the coming weeks as we take our first steps together with Australia and New Zealand towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. These workshops will provide a useful forum to learn more about the 12 candidate cities, such as their plans for stadia, training sites and other key operational areas.”

FFA CEO, James Johnson, said in a statement: “The ‘As One 2023’ Bid proposed 13 stadiums in 12 host cities, and today marks the commencement of the process to select the final number of stadiums and host cities to host matches at the next FIFA Women’s World Cup. Each candidate host city will have the opportunity to present directly to FIFA regarding the merits of its proposal to host FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 matches.”

“FFA is ready to work in partnership with FIFA to host a festival of football right across Australia, and alongside New Zealand to deliver a tournament that leaves a lasting legacy for the sport both locally and globally. Aligned with the co-hosting of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, FFA has commenced the development of a legacy framework that will help ensure the continued growth and development of Australian football long after the tournament is completed in 2023.”

“Australia’s co-hosting of the next FIFA Women’s World Cup ensures that we continue to be a globally-minded organisation, and will play a significant role in ensuring Australia becomes the centre of women’s football in the Asia-Pacific region, as envisaged in our XI Principles for the future of Australian football.”



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