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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mt Druitt Town Rangers coach Stewart Montgomery: “We represent an area that doesn’t get the respect it deserves”

Western Sydney has become synonymous in recent years with the successful cultivation of countless talented players and coaches that call the region home. One of those coaches is Stewart Montgomery, who currently leads a Mount Druitt Town Rangers side that continues to defy expectations.

The NSW National Premier Leagues 1 club were left frustrated by yet another Covid-impacted season, with Montgomery’s Rangers stuck in sixth place. And if not for greater fortune and a few finished chances, it would have been Mt Druitt’s Popondetta Park playing host to the Central Coast Mariners in the FFA Cup in place of the Wollongong Wolves.

Having been instrumental in developing this Rangers side into the resilient and competitive NPL team that it is today; Montgomery’s footballing experience provides significant insight into the effort and long-term planning that goes towards clubs in the semi-professional tier. Here are his thoughts in this Q&A.

Montgomery
Stewart Montgomery (right) following Mt Druitt’s NPL 2 Championship in 2018.

Just to start off, are you able to provide some insight into your own footballing background and what’s led you to where you are now as the Head Coach of Mount Druitt Town Rangers?

Stewart Montgomery: My background in football stems from playing in my younger years and coming through what was the State Leagues of NSW. I played in the National Youth League competitions with Penrith City and into the old National Soccer League. I then ended up at Polonia FC in the Men’s State League.

After a break from football, I started my coaching journey where I took up positions within the Nepean Association in the FNSW Metro League comp, going on to coach in NPL Youth League. From there, I took up the Technical Director’s role and Head of Football at Mt Druitt, where I’ve been for 10 years. During that time, I was also fortunate to be offered a head coach role at Western Sydney Wanderers YL in their inaugural season. It was a great experience and I learned a lot there under Ian Crook.

After the 2020 season, we made some changes to the coaching structures where I filled in and took over. Last year was good and we plan to be back up there again. Given how 2021 went we will keep the same coaching structures for 2022. I’m finishing my A Licence off in the immediate future so it all works well.

What was it like experiencing this second consecutive lockdown in NSW as coach of the Rangers?

Stewart Montgomery: It was the right thing to do, but it was frustrating. We were in a good position and were having a strong season with an ambition to come home strong and secure a place in the semi-finals.

Within the Men’s NPL we were unanimous that it was the right thing to close the competition down at that point, to focus on safety and also what was going to come in the future with regards to making sure that the 2022 season is the best it can be. Credit to all of the clubs and Football NSW for getting that done.

Mt Druitt

It’s certainly been impressive to see the Rangers become such a competitive side in NPL 1 following their promotion a few seasons ago. What has it been like for yourself at the club to be a part of this journey?

Stewart Montgomery: It’s been a long-term plan, and there’s been a lot of really good people that have contributed to that over the years. 10 years ago, when I came to the club, we had our boys’ Youth League sitting in the lowest tier of competition going in Football NSW leagues.

Our focus then was to make our youth and boys programs the best that we could. And that could be done with the right application, management and curriculum-based coaching. We won consecutive promotions in YL and now I believe many people would recognise the Mount Druitt Youth League program is a really strong one. It’s never easy for teams to come and play in our Youth League side.

Once we’d secured that, we looked at how we then move from Men’s State League 1 to NPL 2, and then to NPL 1. Again, that was a long-term plan that we worked on with a combination of youth and experience. And we’ve had some great people that have come through the program and helped us with that. Securing promotion at the end of the 2018 season was all part of the plan, and was achieved through great leadership from a whole range of coaches and players.

Our intentions from there turned to focusing on being the best that we can be in NPL 1. In that first season in NPL 1 it was like “what the hell is happening here?”. In our second game of the season away to Manly United, the first half saw four substitutions made for what were half-a-season ending injuries. We didn’t secure a win until Round 6, and from Round 7 went on to secure a sixth place finish, which was only three points off fourth place.

This season we had secured ourselves in the top half of the table and were really closing in on semi-finals and a top-three finish. For 2022, we’ve stated that we’re going to win the comp.

Mt Druitt

For you coming into the club originally, was there a collective realisation from everyone that there needed to be a shake-up and change? What was it that sparked that shift and long-term planning?

Stewart Montgomery: That same line of questioning was put to the board some 10 or 11 years ago prior to me coming on-board. The existing executive spoke to our long-term executive about needing fresh ideas and blood, and needing to push the club forward. Popondetta always had a fantastic facility and area in which to grow from, but we weren’t growing.

Financially we weren’t in a strong position and we weren’t commercially viable in terms of what we were doing with our local community, by engaging sponsors and bringing our local government authorities and council members into our program so that they could all understand what we were doing and where we wanted to get to.

So there was a whole new committee change where we drove the future desire for the club. From there, we’ve continued to challenge and push for all of the opportunities and grants. We’ve got a $5.5 million synthetic field going on the outside; one-and-a-half synthetics on the outside of where our junior fields are. And there’s a lot of positives still to come.

It was that change to make the internal decisions to put fresh blood in and from there, we’ve had a good bunch of people that are all there for the right reasons. We still keep in touch with our past executives as they, like all of us, put their heart into the club. Many still support and sponsor the club. We are very lucky there. Now we’ve got the likes of Narelle Telling and Jodi Yeo plus others who have given us a balance with the female side of the executive, and our female program is only getting stronger.

We’re really happy with where we are at, but we’re still restless in that we feel we still haven’t achieved anything other than become a serious contender. We haven’t won anything yet and that’s what we’re here to do.

Rangers

What was the transition process like for you to go from a Senior Technical Director to Head Coach of the Rangers?

Stewart Montgomery: We’ve always worked really closely as a team, but there’s obviously a fine line between being the head of the football program and allowing the first-grade coach to have their own freedom. Because I knew the existing coach well, we aligned on many things. So, it was a really consultative approach around how we secured players, what positions we were looking for, what kind of player DNA we were looking for and what were the attitudes that they brought to the club. In essence, a ‘no dickhead’ type policy.

At different times during our push for promotion we went into the transfer market to pick someone that might be coming off their NPL 1 first grade journey who would still have so much to offer at NPL 2 level. And we were really good at picking that special player. It’s a fine line but it’s one we’ve been able to tread pretty well.

In terms of the people that I’m working with, Stamati Glaros has come in and he’s working closely with me. He does as much around the program as I do, and he’s been at the club before. Bringing in those people that really understand what we’re about means we’re not changing too much. I’m big on succession planning.

Tarek Elrich

What has it been like to lead the Rangers and to represent the Mt Druitt community?

Stewart Montgomery: We represent an area that doesn’t get the respect it deserves and we take the park to represent the whole of the City of Blacktown and Western suburbs. We take a lot of pride in that and we’ve got a great, passionate vocal support that gets behind us.

A lot of people are waiting for us to fall over and they’re expecting us to drop back down. So, every day we approach it in the same way where people expect us to not perform, and every time we do the opposite of that we send a message.

No overnight success: The slow transformation of women’s football in Australia

While the jury is still out on Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson following the performances in the two-game friendly series against reigning World Cup champions, the United States, there’s one thing for certain – women’s football has never been more popular.

A total of 56,604 people turned out to the two games against the US in Sydney and Newcastle, including a record-breaking 36,109 at Stadium Australia on November 27.

A further 457,000 people tuned into the game on Channel 10’s free-to-air coverage, highlighting the incredible rise in accessibility for Australia’s flagship national football teams to the mainstream audience.

With a Women’s World Cup on the ever-approaching horizon, the outlook for women’s football has rarely looked better.

However, the so-called overnight success of women’s football has been 50 years in the making.

And for some of the pioneers who helped champion the game’s cause in the face of countless doubters, the delight of seeing the women’s game reach the incredible heights of recent years leaves many thinking, where would we be if women’s football had been backed since day dot?

It’s a question that long-time football administrator Maggie Koumi has, who currently sits on Football Victoria’s Historical Committee and Women’s Committee. She was also recently featured in the Fair Play Publishing title, Dedicated Lives – Stories of Pioneers of Women’s Football in Australia by Greg Downes.

“If people had believed in us at the start, it could have been 50,000 people per game this time,” Koumi told Soccerscene, reflecting on her earlier days in the sport.

“But it is what it is. We can’t worry too much about the past now, although I do feel for the friends of mine, the former Matildas, who had to go through a hard slog and used to have to ry and pay their way to play.

“The good thing is that we’ve come a long way since then, and the difference between what my friends had and what the Matildas get now is amazing.”

In a mark of just how quickly the women’s game has propelled forward, it was not even 25 years ago that women’s football in Victoria was administered completely, and separately from the rest of the game.

Koumi, who played a key role in the amalgamation of the Victorian Women’s Soccer Association and the Victorian Soccer Federation in the late 1990s, explained that when change did eventually come for the women’s game, it came quickly.

However, it was a long, hard slog before those changes took place.

“For a long time, I think we were just a pain in the ass to most people in the game,” she said.

“We were just sort of tacked on without any real support. There was no money for the women’s game and no one seemed to care about it. There was just an assumption that no one was interested in it and that attitude pretty much floated around football in Victoria.

“For the most part, they just made women’s football mirror the men’s game and was really hard to get people to understand that that approach didn’t work. Trying to get people to understand that you can’t just mirror whatever the men do, because the women don’t have the resources that the men do was always very challenging.”

Koumi believes changes at the top of the game – in particular at Football Australia and Football Victoria – as well as the findings of the Crawford Report, were massive institutional changes that helped set the scene for the gigantic strides forward taken in such a short space of time.

“Football Australia started to take note of the women’s game and they had people come and talk to the different federations to try and start the conversation around changing things in football,” Koumi said.

“The changes to the Football Victoria constitution [in 2006, when FV was known as the Victorian Soccer Federation], was another big catalyst.

“It changed the voting system allowing clubs to vote for zone reps and the zone reps would vote for the board and from there the face of Football Victoria changed a lot.”

The groundswell of young girls looking to play the game opened the eyes of many grassroots clubs to better.

“Brighton Junior soccer club was one of the really, really big clubs that managed to get lots and lots of people playing good a great promotion on women’s football and it all started to change,” Koumi added.

“The numbers crept up and the club’s suddenly realised that they can have a whole stack of girls playing and increase their membership and revenue, which helped.

“It didn’t necessarily change the attitude towards women’s football, but at least we started to get some serious numbers of girls playing football.”

Further efforts to provide access to education at clubs about how to run a successful women’s program – as well as greater funding for high-performances teams in women’s football – further propelled the trajectory of women’s football in Australia as a new generation of brilliant women’s footballers emerged and helped the Matildas to become a genuine force in the game.

Of course, there is still work to be done.

Koumi argues greater media recognition of women’s football, a more professional A-League Women competition and a further improvement of attitude and embracement of women’s football at grassroots clubs are crucial to the ongoing success and improvement of the game in Australia.

“A lot of clubs still do things like putting their women’s team on the back paddock while junior boys are playing on the main pitch, so there’s still work to do,” she said.

“That attitude is changing, but in some places, it still exists.

“The World Cup coming to Australia is great and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to promote women’s football and improve the facilities we have.

“We produce good players but they have to go overseas to prove themselves or to play with the best and improve and I’d like to see that be able to happen here one day.”

You can read more about Koumi’s journey and experiences in Australian football – and those of 17 other people who pioneered the women’s game in this country – in the new book titled Dedicated Lives – Stories of Pioneers of Women’s Football in Australia.

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