Why a collaborative One Football Strategy is critical for the game

Matildas

In a move that signals a potential shift in how effectively the game is governed here, Football Australia (FA) has teamed up with Australia’s nine Member Federations to release the One Football Strategy.

Developed collaboratively over the past 18 months through copious in-person working group meetings, the release of the One Football Strategy is a first of its kind for Australian football that ambitions to bring together FA and the Member Federations in a unified fashion to take Australian football to new heights by 2026.

Made up of nine separate governing bodies – New South Wales, Northern NSW, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory – the Member Federations have often earned criticism which takes aim at the inconsistencies in governance between each state.

However, with Member Federations now provided with and agreeing to an official framework to align and contribute to, the establishment of the One Football Strategy bodes well for a game that has long seen its supporters calling for a greater volume of concrete answers and less idealistic rhetoric.

Motivated by a shared purpose of bringing communities together through football, the vision of Football Australia and its Member Federations is to ultimately inspire people to live and love the game. For FA, fulfilling these aims requires adhering to the 15-year vision outlined in 2020’s XI Principles, with FA Chairman Chris Nikou reaffirming the strategy’s importance:

“The One Football Strategy 2022 – 2026 provides a framework by which we can now measure success as a game. It will require a collective focus, progressive thinking and discipline from the game’s governing bodies to bring this plan to life.

“We are committed to this Strategy and will deliver it with our Member Federations and stakeholders in an effective and impactful manner.”

Significantly, the One Football Strategy resolutely articulates how FA and the nine Member Federations will implement these changes. Moreover, by 2026, FA envisions the following for Australian football:

  1. We are on track to hit our target of 50/50 gender parity in participation by 2026
  2. A National Men’s 2nd Tier Competition is established and continues to evolve
  3. A Women’s Australia Cup has been established and connects the pyramid for women’s football
  4. The A-League Men and Women has expanded and continues to provide valuable match minutes for player development
  5. Our clubs are excelling in Asian competitions
  6. Club Licensing is raising the standards of clubs nationally
  7. A modern and progressive domestic transfer system is driving the domestic football economy
  8. An aligned and coordinated domestic match calendar connects and unites Australian football
  9. Our National Teams are qualifying regularly for World Cups
  10. A digital transformation has taken place throughout the game
  11. Australian football structures are more streamlined and effectively servicing the football community
  12. Our fans are more engaged through innovative products and world class experiences

To achieve these ambitions, FA has aligned with the state federations to establish a strategic vision divided into four pillars:

  1. Participants & Clubs
  2. Elite Teams & Pathways
  3. Fans
  4. Unifying Football

Participants & Clubs

The One Football Strategy’s First Pillar is rooted in the goal of making football the most accessible sport in Australia. Fundamentally, participation retention and subsequent development (especially among women and girls), support for clubs and volunteers, and creating accessible pathways are intrinsically key to building a sustainable football ecosystem and identity.

For FA and the Member Federations, success means expanding on the 1,421,804 participants, 2,345 clubs, 130,251 female outdoor participants, and 417,415 male outdoor participants that play the game. More specifically, FA have outlined the following as indicators of success:

  • 2% YOY increase in grassroots NPS
  • 400,000 additional women & girls playing football
  • Improving the football product/ experience
  • 60% of the change room nationally are “female-friendly”
  • Programs that will promote social cohesion, improve health outcomes and celebrate diversity in Australian society

Elite Teams & Pathways

In order to successfully “reimagine the Australian football player development ecosystem”, FA and the Member Federations have prioritised enhancing methods of player identification; improving youth playing pathways and opportunities for coaches; renewing the national curriculum; embracing big data to drive player development; and refining the NPL competitions for girls and boys

In addition to producing world class teams, players, coaches, referees, and administrators, the One Football Strategy identifies the necessity of strengthening pathways and competitions. This relates directly to Principle IV of the XI Principles, which reaffirms that a connected football pyramid effectively translates grassroots development into players coming through the A-Leagues, prospective National Second Division, and beyond. To ensure this occurs, FA and the Member Federations have stated that Pillar Two’s success will look like:

  • FIFA Top 5 Matildas
  • FIFA Top 25 Socceroos
  • Representation at all World Cups for National Teams
  • A modern domestic transfer system
  • An established National Second Tier competition
  • Build state-wide national academies

Fans

It’s been an inarguably chaotic and disenchanting few years to be an Australian football fan, particularly in light of the obvious nullifying of momentum caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. However, to attract and grow an inspired fanbase who love and are invested in Australian football, whilst re-engaging football adherents who have opted to step away from the sport, is a task of major importance for FA and the Member Federations.

Growing passion for the Socceroos and Matildas must be an organic process, but there can be no shying away from the advantages posed by the Socceroos’ World Cup journey in Qatar and the Matildas’ home World Cup next year. The One Football Strategy shows that FA and the Member Federations are looking to “optimise the fan experience” and “establish innovative products to drive fan engagement”, with success determined by:

  • An increase in the NPS score for fans
  • The Socceroos and Matildas becoming Australia’s favourite national teams
  • A thriving National Team Membership Program
  • Minimum 70% capacity in average of all Matildas and Socceroos home matches
  • 5% YOY increase in average spend per fan

Unifying Football

Fundamentally, the heart of the One Football Strategy’s message and purpose is within the goal of uniting the game to unlock the world game’s true potential within Australia. The effective implementation of the One Football Strategy can only be truly measured in 2026, however the potential afforded to the sport by FA and the Member Federations coming together to achieve greater alignment and to maximize operational efficiencies is inherently positive for football.

What success will look like for Pillar Four:

  • Creating a new and fit-for-purpose governance and administration model for Australian football
  • Streamlined service delivery and removed duplication across Australian football structures
  • Increased revenues for the game, and lower the cost of football for participants
  • Improved service levels to the grassroots

Less problems to fix, overlapping of responsibilities and detractions from the goal that unites all of the game’s stakeholders is way overdue, and no doubt would have required major self-reflection and self-analysis on the part of FA and the Member Federations. Fans will be hoping that the outcome of this intense collaboration leads to brighter days ahead.

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.

MiniRoos to be supported by four-year investment

Australia’s leading retailer Coles have partnered up with Football Australia as the naming right holders for MiniRoos – the official junior grassroots program of Australian football in a promising acquisition for both parties.

The four-year investment aims to boost participation of the MiniRoos program, while also attempting to support education around young Australians and establishing healthy eating habits from a young age.

The initiative corresponds with Coles’ current commitment to assist Australians in eating and living well on a day to day basis. The grassroots program is created for children ages from as young as four up to 12, ranging from kindergarten to the culmination of primary school. As of 2023, there are over 240,000 active MiniRoos, which caters for all abilities.

The new sponsorship agreement also facilitates Coles and their official partnership with the Subway Socceroos, CommBank Matildas and the men’s and women’s Youth National Football Teams.

The Coles logo will become a prominent feature amongst youth football across the nation. Coaching apparel, MiniRoos equipment and Football Australia school programs are all set to have the notorious red signature writing.

In addition, Coles have also become a presenting partner of the Little Legends Lap across respective international and domestic Australian related football matches and the MiniRoos half-time mini match at senior national team home matches.

Upon the announcement via the Football Australia website, Chief Customer Officer (CCO)  Amanda McVay discussed her pleasure amongst the partnership.

“Coles is delighted to be teaming up with Football Australia in what is a historic partnership for both parties and one we hope will benefit the lives of Australians for many years to come,” she said via Football Australia media release.

It is acknowledged that the supermarket juggernaut have understood the potential Football has within the nation. The CCO also claimed Coles’ commitment:

“Coles is committed to helping Australian families right across the country and is aligned with Football Australia’s ambition to provide more opportunities for Aussie Kids to play football,” she added via media release.

From the perspective of someone in whom aches to see the game grow within their native country, it is intriguing, as it is exciting to see Coles enter the football realm.

Understanding their desire to attribute towards the growth and nourishment of the game, can only guide its vested youth interest into a path of future stability and perhaps prosperity.

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