From A-League expansion, to the creation of a system of promotion and relegation and the formation of a national second tier, there is a great hunger for the game to grow. After 13 years away from the big time, former National Soccer League clubs are dreaming of playing in the top tier of Australian football again.
Current Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou has done everything in the game at club level. From winning championships as a player and coach in the former NSL to breaking Australian sporting records with Brisbane Roar in the A-League.
He was also the first coach to win a major title for the Australian men’s national team and with a career in football spanning over three decades, Postecoglou is one of the game’s most prominent figures.
So, when it comes to current structure of Australian football, the Asian Cup hero also believes the game must develop.
“For me I just want to see the game keep growing,” Postecoglou says speaking exclusively to Neos Kosmos.
“It’s nothing to do with whether I’m national coach. There is an appetite for it to grow and that is a good thing. It would be worse if it was going the other way and we were trying to downsize or have less teams, I’m not frustrated or anxious about it I see it as a positive. There are people out there who want to be involved and from a football perspective that is a positive thing.
“We have more kids playing the game than ever before and we want to give them as many opportunities as possible which means that we need to give them more teams to aspire to play in.”
Since FFA CEO David Gallop’s announcement in October 2016 that the ultimate goal of Australian football is promotion and relegation, NSL clubs like South Melbourne have been leading the charge for inclusion into the A-League.
This week South ramped up their intention by flying in former Brazillian national team legend Roberto Carlos and announced that they had opened talks with the superstar to become their manager if they enter the A-League.
Matildas’ star Lisa De Vanna, recently joined South Melbourne’s women’s team due to the work of Gabrielle Gilliarno, who is head of South’s women’s football department and a member of South’s advisory board.
On that board is also Louisa Chen, one of Victoria’s biggest developers and investors in the state and so is former Federal Sports Minister Andrew Thompson.
Both sides of government have also expressed support for South’s A-League tilt which according to advisory board chairman Bill Papastergiadis was key in developing the club’s expansion bid.
“The most important example of support is the 40-year licence that was granted to us for the stadium, a deal we did 20 years ago and which had the support of the government and opposition,” he says.
“This is a $70 million stadium and it’s important because if we didn’t have that stadium deal then you know what? We couldn’t go ahead with this A-League deal.
“The beauty of Lakeside is it will be full every week. It will be great for the viewing public on television. It will be buzzing and alive and it will be a great experience for all those who attend because they will also be able to participate in the social club, the futsal facilities and all the other things that we’ve just spent over $2 million dollars on.”
Papastergiadis believes that having a closed system like the A-League stifles investment in the game particularly by clubs in the lower tiers.
“By not having promotion and relegation you’ve killed aspirational football in this country,” he says.
“Clubs will not invest if they can’t see that investment will bear fruit, they won’t invest in infrastructure and they won’t invest on their players and their coaches. Creating an A-League with no promotion and relegation to the NPL was arguably a safe thing to do back then, but it’s no longer the right solution now.”
To the frustration of many A-League aspirants, FFA’s timeline and selection criteria for expansion didn’t eventuate as expected in April and the date for any new clubs was pushed back to at least the 2018/19 season.
Instead the governing body made an announcement that it was more focused on restructuring the ownership and operating model of the A-League and W-League.
However, the wait on expansion saw an alliance of NPL clubs form with the advent of the Association of Australian Football Clubs. The AAFC is an organisation of over 100 NPL clubs who are seeking representation at the FFA Congress, the formation of a second division and a system of promotion and relegation linked to the A-League.
AAFC Chairman, Tom Kalas says member federation clubs need to have a seat at the table.
“It’s important to bring the NPL clubs in nationally because if we don’t support them and invest in them and funnel resources to grow the infrastructure footprints of football we can’t build football culture,” he says.
“By having these clubs recognised and integrated in the football pyramid then they go to councils and go to state governments and say we need to upgrade our facilities. We need artificial grass to help us with our juniors because now we are playing at the national level. That is the strategy, if we bring people together so we can use that type of muscle to grow facilities.”
While South’s facilities are one of its biggest selling points in its quest to make the A-League, fellow member federation Club Sydney Olympic is in a different position. The club has historically never had a home and CEO John Boulous says Olympic needs to see direction from the governing body for it to move forward.
“To go to the next level, you need to fit into a game-wide plan and we need to see what the whole of game approach is to expansion at all levels of the game and we need to adequately prepare for that,” he says.
“Our challenge is that our football program is restricted by facilities. A huge strategic priority for the club is to develop facilities to be able to grow and enhance our football program. Our training facilities are not where we want them to be for our youth players up to the senior players and that is something the club is doing a lot of work on.”
While NPL clubs like South Melbourne are forging ahead and others are looking to the FFA for direction, Postecoglou broke down the plight that many young footballers are facing in the current climate.
“We’ve got thousands and thousands of kids who are chasing a dream to become a professional footballer and we can only offer them 10 spots a year,” he said speaking at a recent fundraising event for the Australasian Football Institute.
“They don’t just get disillusioned and give up playing the game, my personal thing is that they just walk away from the game and they don’t even support a club because they just feel like they haven’t had a decent shot at it.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me that we only have enough room for nine teams in this country, there is definitely a need for expansion. It will be inevitable that it will happen, the timing and where, that is beyond my station.”