Thousands of Australian football clubs facing financial disaster according to ASF survey

A national survey conducted by the Australian Sports Foundation has found that as many as 70,000 Australian grass roots sporting clubs require immediate financial assistance to survive, with up to 16,000 facing extinction in the short term future.

With over 14,000 registered football clubs currently participating in Australian competitions, the survey results suggest that many will be exposed to ruin in the coming months. Without injections of capital in the form of governmental support, thousands of grassroots clubs will be unable to meet their day to day expenses.

The report cites the need for a A$1.2 billion injection into clubs in order for them to continue, with a reported A$1.6 billion having already been lost since the pandemic began to seriously affect the Australian sporting way of life in March 2020.

Whilst much of the nation felt close to moving into a post-COVID existence in June, the recent outbreak in Victoria and consistent hot spots becoming apparent in New South Wales, both ensure that any notion of Australia being clear of danger is false.

The ramifications of Australia’s two most populated states still being gripped by the virus means that the challenges faced within grassroots football clubs will likely continue for some time, at least into the medium term future, thus increasing the financial strain and making the risk of collapse more likely.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity for nations to deal with the danger and potentially emerge from it with a re-opened economy ready to repair the financial damage done. It was one grasped by New Zealand’s hands under the firm leadership of Jacinda Ardern. Now, after over 100 days of coronavirus clear living in the shaky isles, they too have fresh cases, just as the financial rebound was building considerable momentum.

Despite the latest developments in New Zealand, they have done a sterling job. However, even with the best efforts made across all states and territories, Australia has fallen well short of achieving a similar result to that of its trans-Tasman ally. The financial effects of the elongated struggle with COVID-19 are now beginning to threaten the very existence of sporting clubs that previously held our communities together.

As such, ASF predicts that around one quarter of Australia’s 70,000 grassroots clubs will most likely be unable to recover from the financial hit they have taken over the last six months. Should the situation in Victoria worsen or merely continue for some time, that number could well escalate.

When interviewed by The Guardian, ASF’s chief executive, Patrick Walker explained the dire financial realities facing grassroots sport and also spoke of the immense physical and psychological ramifications for the communities served by the threatened clubs.

“Our survey shows that without financial support, thousands of community clubs risk insolvency in the months ahead, which presents a real risk to the physical and mental health of our communities,” Walker warned.

The report identifies specific areas where clubs have been negatively impacted, with declining memberships and sponsorship commitments the most obvious concerns, as well as a significant lessening of opportunities to fund raise and generate revenue through hospitality.

Most graphically, the report cites the concerning reality that 93% of all clubs have taken a significant financial blow and also predicts that 70% of small local clubs would experience lower participation rates in the short term future. With concerns still prevalent in terms of safely participating in sport, parents and players themselves may well be cautious rather than confident when it comes to returning to the field of play.

That caution will only prolong the dangerous situation in which many grassroots clubs finds themselves. Despite players being back on football pitches in some states, the lost revenue from the postponement of play, as well as the impossibility of organising large community gatherings for fundraising purposes, means that many still lie directly behind the eight ball when it comes to surviving the horrors of 2020.

It is well known that grassroots football clubs run on the most shoe-string of budgets and the generosity of volunteers. As with many clubs across the country, and as pointed out in the ASF report, most have around six months of capital on which to draw should they hit hard times.

Sadly for many, that six months has now passed and many will be starting to fear for their survival; knowing full well that without immediate revenue streams, the continued existence of their club may well be a bridge too far.

 

 

 

 

 

Staff Writer
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Lawrie McKinna: A true survivor

Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.

After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.

When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.

In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.

It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.

Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL  match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.

It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.

Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.

In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?

LAWRIE McKINNA

When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.

The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.

If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.

However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.

R.S.

Do you think the right people are running the game?

L.M.

I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.

I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.

There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.

James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.

R.S.

Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.

Is this a satisfactory situation?

L.M.

This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.

However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.

R.S.

What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?

L.M.

The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.

We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.

At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.

R.S.

Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?

L.M.

There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.

Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.

R.S.

Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?

L.M.

Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.

There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.

At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.

Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.

There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.

R.S.

What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?

L.M.

Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.

At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.

The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.

We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.

Heather Garriock: Acting for the good of the game

Heather Garriock

Heather Garriock, the former Matildas midfielder, is the proud holder of 130 Caps for her country and as she looks back at her extensive career in playing, coaching and mentoring, she faces her biggest challenge to date in attempting to make a difference on the Board of Football Australia (FA) which she was appointed to in September, 2021.

After the success of the Women’s World Cup, when the Matildas became the talk of the nation, it would be easy to say that football in Australia had finally arrived on the map.

However, acceptance for the game has never been that simple and despite the impetus generated in women’s participation numbers since the World Cup and some excellent attendances at the A-League Women’s matches this season, the A-League Men’s competition is struggling.

On the football field, Garriock always accepted a challenge and she is determined in her role on the FA Board to make a difference.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Heather Garriock discusses her early career in football before she rose to the top, the meaning of being a Matilda, how she contributes to the continuing growth of the women’s game, her involvement on the board of the F.A. and the role of past players.

ROGER SLEEMAN

When was your introduction to football?

HEATHER GARRIOCK

My Dad was a Scotsman who played semi-professional football and was a fanatical Hearts supporter.

I started playing as a six year old at Leppington Lions and lived and breathed the game into primary school when I was selected in the NSW Primary Schools squad.

Eventually, I was chosen in the first NSW women’s public school team from 250 triallists.

R.S.

What was your progression from there?

H.G.

I attended Westfield Sports High School and also participated in the NSW Institute of Sport from 13-14 years old where I was coached by Connie Selby, 3-4 nights a week.

I was in the state teams and played under Jean-Paul de Marigny who reckoned I had a bad attitude so I left to play in Marconi Reserves.

While at the club, I was privileged to witness the feats of Craig Foster, Andy Harper and Francis Awaritefe.

On leaving school at the end of year 10, I went to the AIS where I was coached by Chris Tansey and in the same year became the top scorer and player of the year at Marconi.

Ultimately, my winning mentality and strength of character was rewarded when I was selected for my first Matildas appearance against China in October, 1999.

R.S.

Can you describe your early journey with the Matildas?

H.G.

Early in my experience, we had tough coaches like Chris Tansey and Adrian Santrac but fortunately when Tom Sermanni took over the reins, things changed completely.

Tom was able to get the best out of me and I loved playing for him.

R.S.

How much has women’s football changed since you first played at a senior level?

H.G.

I still can’t believe how the women’s game has grown so much, but I am proud to say I was part of the pioneer movement which worked so hard to pave the way for future generations to excel in the sport.

R.S.

How do you rate the standard of the current Matildas with those playing in your time?

H.G.

It’s hard to compare eras because we were part timers, unlike so many of the current players who play full-time overseas.

The game is also quicker and players are in some cases playing 50-60 games a year.

However, from my era, players of the quality of Cheryl Salisbury, Di Alagich, Joey Peters, Lisa de Vanna and Julie Murray had that X-factor and would perform in any company.

R.S.

What is your opinion of the A-League Women’s competition?

H.G.

While the established Matildas are playing overseas at big clubs which has left a void, our young players are getting the opportunity to  compete at the highest level in Australia.

Also, their local experience has been highly beneficial to the Young Matildas who are improving rapidly in international competition and the recent defeat of China was a testimony to this.

Furthermore, as the professionalism of the league improves, so will the quality of players.

R.S.

After the success of the Women’s World Cup, why hasn’t that success been capitalised on by infiltrating the business world to back the game?

H.G.

On the contrary, the Matilda’s brand is one of the strongest in Australian sport, superseding the Socceroos.

However, it’s not a competition between the two because we need both to be strong.

R.S.

You were appointed to the FA Board in September, 2021.

What is your role and what have you achieved in this time period?

H.G.

In this time, I’ve been involved in improving the lot of the Matildas, e.g. the collective bargaining process which has led to equal pay conditions with the men.

Also, I’m involved with overseeing the technical development, development pathways, junior national teams and focusing on the history of the game.

The success of integrating the former Matildas into the World Cup experience was a great achievement and we’ve had so much feedback about how they felt so accepted during the event.

R.S.

How do you rate the current FA Board’s ability to turn the future of the game around?

H.G.

We have a new team with new leadership in Chairman Anter Isaac, who has been in the game for many years and is determined to take the game to a new level.

The game has to be united with a top to bottom approach, with particular emphasis on working with the stakeholders and the member federations.

R.S.

Why can’t more opportunity be provided to former players from the women’s and men’s game to contribute their expertise, rather than non football people dominating the sport?

H.G.

This is a fair point to action and we must identify what they can contribute so the game benefits and becomes stronger in all areas.

Recently, we discussed the appointment of talent scouts to scour the country for the very best young players.

Obviously, there are many other areas they can be utilised.

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