You’ve gotta love Australian football.

I’ve read and heard so much in the past few days that is just so wrong that you almost wonder whether the Russians, bored with the United States, might have turned their attention to #sokkahtwitter.

I’d like to deal with a few of the issues around – firstly starting with AAFC directors and advisors.

AAFC Directors and Advisors

Let’s be really clear.

We’re not a Trojan horse for former NSL clubs who want to get into the A-League. What we represent is 126 clubs with male and female players, some from under 9 upwards. Five member clubs are women’s only NPL clubs. Of the 126 clubs, 18 played in the NSL at one stage or another. Some were foundation clubs who were there the entire 27 years; others came and went – not least because of a limited form of promotion and relegation that was in place for some of the time.

Of our eight democratically elected Directors, not one of them was involved as an administrator with a club that was in the NSL.

Our WA Director, former Socceroo Gary Marocchi (pictured), had a distinguished playing career with Adelaide City and managed Perth Glory in the NSL era.

In terms of the A-League:

  • The deputy chair of AAFC, Victoria Morton, who is President of South Hobart FC declared from the outset that she is involved with the Tasmanian bid to be part of the A-League.
  • Two volunteer advisors to the AAFC, Nick Galatas and Tom Kalas, had involvement with South Melbourne FC. They remain our advisors because, in Nick’s case, we need legal expertise and, in Tom’s case, he was instrumental in getting AAFC started. Neither of them are involved in South Melbourne FC today and to the extent that South Melbourne may, or may not, aspire to be part of the A-League, Nick and Tom are nothing to do with that.

Everyone who ‘works’ for AAFC is a volunteer, on top of their already volunteer roles with their clubs or associations.

That’s it folks. There really is nothing to see here.

AAFC members the ‘cause of all the problems’ in the 1990s

Second, I reject the notion which some are putting about that the clubs involved with AAFC, especially the former NSL clubs, were responsible for the problems in Australian football towards the end of last century. If anything, those clubs were symptoms of what was wrong at that time, such as under-capitalisation and poor management and governance.

Those same clubs also helped produce most of what is known as the ‘golden generation of players' as well as great talent before them. Despite being around for up to 13 years, the A-League clubs have gone nowhere near emulating the NSL clubs in this regard.

You only have to look at the birthplace of the players who tend to grab most of the headlines out of A-League matches to realise that.

National second division

The third issue is about a national second division.

Frankly, anyone who loves Australian football and wants to see it succeed should want to see a national second division. Why?

For one simple reason. If we’re going to be more competitive on the international stage, our young players – male and female – need to play better quality, more competitive games.

That is not to say it’s a national second division OR A-League expansion. Quite the opposite actually. I’d like to see A-League expansion – preferably to 18 or 20 teams like a real league – AND a national second division.

That is why we knew from the outset – and we’re absolutely thrilled that it’s happening – that we needed to work with FFA, the state federations and the A-League clubs about development of a national second division. That was the purpose of our proposal which we circulated last year: to put a stake in the ground, and give us all something to discuss as a starting-point and to refine and improve. We have now formed a working group with the FFA and state federations to do precisely this.

Hopefully, the PFA will also understand the value of a national second division, especially when they realise that they might get more members out of it! More importantly, I’m sure the PFA would be totally committed to giving more opportunities and help Australian football improve its depth and quality. Wouldn’t they?

Promotion and relegation

All of us at AAFC would like to see promotion and relegation.

We have a target of 2024 but if that’s not feasible, it’s not feasible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it as an aspiration. And it certainly doesn’t mean Australian football shouldn’t aim to comply with FIFA Statutes on this, and other, issues.

We believe promotion and relegation is an essential and unique feature of football worldwide, and it is a pre-requisite if we are going to have a sustainable football culture in Australia. But, of course, a lot depends on how the game develops between now and our 2024 target year, including and especially with the A-League.

Our aim is not to canniablise the A-League but to have a parallel and complementary competition, just as it is elsewhere in the world.

At the AAFC, we don’t look at a problem and think ‘Oh, that’s too hard. Let’s do nothing.’ We make no apologies for taking precisely the opposite approach: ‘OK, there’s a problem here. What can we do about it?’

We’re certainly not going into it with rose-coloured glasses, but hard-headed analysis and determination.

FFA Congress

One of the reasons behind the formation of the AAFC 12 months ago was to get a seat at the FFA Congress.

The reason we want to do this is because the 80-plus clubs who travelled to Melbourne from around Australia for our inaugural meeting in March last year felt that they were not properly represented, either in legal status or in practice. We’ve since grown by 58% to 126 members.

I’ve heard it so often that AAFC shouldn't exist because the state federations represent the NPL clubs.

However, in effect, with some minor exceptions, they don’t. When you think about it, it’s not surprising for two reasons. One: the NPL competition – which stands for National Premier Leagues – was established after the state federations put together their Constitutions. Two: the competition is a creature of the national body, the FFA, so it makes sense to us that we have a voice at the FFA Congress.

As our national survey showed, we have more than 41,000 players who play in our clubs; our members’ total annual turnover is almost $56 million; and our volunteers contribute 65,000 hours to the football community every week.

One of the more polite reasons I heard during the week for not including us on the FIFA Congress is because we’re ‘only one year old and AAFC hasn’t proven itself’.

The association representing the A-League clubs (known as APFCA) is only a little more than one year old itself. Before you think to yourself ‘That’s different, as they’ve been around for 13 years’, I urge you to think a bit more.

The AAFC’s oldest club, Edgeworth United from Northern NSW, was established in 1892. The second oldest, Port Adelaide, was formed in 1902. The third oldest, Weston Workers Bears (also Northern NSW), in 1907 – and so on.

More than 100 of our clubs were established before 1993, the same year the PFA was formed.

Our two youngest clubs, from regional Victoria, were established in 2014 – coincidentally the same year that Melbourne Heart became Melbourne City, which is one of the movers-and-shakers in the APFCA.

So I challenge those who say this to clarify exactly the point they’re attempting to make.

AAFC’s other priorities

Starting tonight (Monday 26 February), we’re embarking on a national roadshow to meet with our members, anyone involved with their clubs, as well as anyone else who would like to attend.

The issues for discussion include those we also talked with FIFA and the AFC about during the week. These include the costs and requirements imposed on clubs and the cost for kids to play.

We have said from day one that one of our highest priorities is to reduce the cost of participation, a point we have also made to FFA, and we intend to keep pursuing that.

The football community is more than welcome to attend any of our national roadshow sessions to be held in every capital city, other than Darwin, as well as Newcastle.

I will be in attendance with our relevant state Director, to give an update face-to-face on our first year of operation as well as answer any questions. We’ve also invited the FFA and the state federations.

For further information about dates, times and venues, please visit our website. I look forward to seeing you there.

Gary Marocchi supplied the photograph of himself. You can also see it (and more) in Andrew Howe's forthcoming Encyclopedia of Socceroos to be published by Fair Play Publishing in May 2018.

Categories: Opinion | Local

aafc, apfca, ffa, state federations, ffa governance, prorel, national second division

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