No-one thought anything when the protagonists in various meetings on Thursday took out their mobile phone of choice – Blackberry for Steve Lowy, iPhone for most, an occasional Samsung Galaxy – and looked at it.

Was it rude? Well you’d certainly think so if you were a parent at a dinner table and your offspring pulled one out and started poking the screen mid-bite of the lamb cutlets. But let's face it. It’s not considered to be rude in today’s office etiquette. People talk, write, sip green tea and look at their phone all at the same time.  

In the midst of FFA Congress talks with FIFA and the AFC in town, what were they searching for? The latest price on the stock exchange? The temperature on an unseasonably mild and sunny Sydney winter’s day? Whether the flight back home was delayed? The latest transfer rumours? Who was saying what on social media?

Getting close.

What they were doing was busily texting others amongst the gathered groups with the latest insights into what was going on. A sort of corporate espionage.

That’s how Steve Lowy knew he needed to intervene on Wednesday night after the state federations, the A-League clubs and the PFA came to a compromise agreement of 9-5-1. Someone let him know.

Reports suggest that he hastily commanded the state federations to Westfield HQ in Pitt Street and, according to multiple sources, “read them the riot act”.

It’s perplexing just what that could be.

When the A-League clubs and the PFA turned-up on Thursday morning, they were faced with some sheepish-looking state federation presidents who were no longer sticking to the deal from the day before.

'OMG. WTF?!'  the clubs and the PFA probably text messaged to themselves. But then they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and started all over again.

More intense lobbying at lunchtime. People flitted from one room to the next – and not necessarily in search of the best prawn sandwich – as ‘lines in the sand’ were tossed-about, arguments heard, and counter-arguments made.

By the end of lunch, they were all in furious agreement. Again. 9-5-1 it is.

But wait, there's more.

When the groups returned to the meeting room after lunch, with FIFA and AFC believing an agreement was locked-in and they’d have a few spare hours before heading-off to the airport, Steve Lowy asked for everyone to leave the room. Except the state federations.

You see, it seems that someone was busily texting FFA during lunchtime.

Others have reported how everyone – FIFA, AFC, the A-League clubs, the PFA, the AAFC delegates who had met with them earlier in the day, and the waiting media – were astounded that Steve Lowy left them waiting for more than two hours. Actually, that bit really isn't surprising. 

What is intriguing is the power that Steve Lowy seems to have over the state federation presidents.

Did he make promises to them? Did he say they’d no longer get VIP invitations to FFA events? Did he threaten them with taking away their generous allocation of complimentary tickets to the World Cup? Does he have Vladimir Putin-type ‘tapes’ that would embarrass them? Or did he threaten to walk away from football altogether, like his dad did in 1987?

Who are these men who flip-flopped, not once, not twice, but five times from their original position to their final position? Who are they, that they can control football this way, but are unaccountable to the game’s fans and players? We took a look from publicly available information.

NSW – Anter Isaac

  • An accountant with his own sports management consultancy for the past ten years, Isaac worked for both Soccer Australia and FFA in the finance department. He has been President of Football NSW since 2013, and is also on the Board of the Canterbury Bulldogs Rugby League team. Early 40s.

Northern NSW – Bill Walker

  • An old-timer who was formerly on the Board of Soccer Australia when Tony Labbozzetta was President. He has twice been on the Board of Northern NSW Football and was instrumental in reinstating the current CEO, David Eland, after he was sacked by another board faction. His total time on the Northern NSW Board rivals the longevity of former FIFA executive committee members such as Issa Hayatou and Jack Warner: around 27 years, from 1985-2004 and from 2010 until now. Aged about 67.

Victoria – Kimon Taliadoros

  • Co-founder of the PFA, former NSL player and Socceroo, sometime commentator. He has qualifications in finance and business, and is now the CEO of a software company that helps to reduce environmental impacts. He was elected President of the Victorian Federation in 2015. Late 40s.

Queensland – Greg Redington

  • An accountant with his own practice, Redington has been FQ President since 2013 and has a long involvement in Townsville football. In his time as President, locals say that participation has fallen. FQ recently ran an NPL license process which has gone down like a lead balloon in many parts, and he is considered by most regional and rural clubs not to be committed to advancing football in highly regionalised Queensland. Mid 50s.

Western Australia – Liam Twigger

  • CEO of an online mine-broker business and a corporate advisory firm servicing the resources sector. He spent two years as a teenager with Swindon Town before returning to Australia. He previously worked for Robert Holmes a Court, Alan Bond, Macquarie Bank and Banker’s Trust. Twigger has been Chairman of Football West since 2013. He has been lobbying FFA to have a Football West team in the A-League. Mid 50s.

South Australia – Sam Ciccarello

  • A former CEO of Adelaide United for a little over three years until 2010, Ciccarello has extensive involvement in sports management and media including with the Sydney Olympics, the Australian Formula One and Austereo. He currently runs his own management consultancy. Mid 50s.

Tasmania – Sean Collins

  • An Irishman who has lived in Australia for almost 40 years, Collins was a marine biologist by profession with experience as a teacher and in IT in public sector organisations in the forestry and fishery areas. He now has his own consulting business focussed on business analysis, strategy and public speaking training. He was elected President of Football Federation Tasmania in 2010, and served on the Board for two years before that. Early 60s.

ACT – Mark O’Neill

  • O’Neill is a retired ACT government lawyer. He has a long involvement in football and futsal in Canberra, including as a player and coach. He has been on the record since at least 2015 promising an A-League team in Canberra. Early 60s.

NT – Stuart Kenny

  • Kenny is the General Manager of a WA-based company that provides technical capacity for the defence, mining, oil and gas, marine, civil construction and earthmoving industries across northern Australia. He previously worked in agriculture and was CEO of the NT Cattleman’s Association. As well as being President of NT Football, Kenny is deputy president of the NT Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the NT Manufacturers’ Council. Early 50s.

On the face of it, the nine men don’t read like they’re pushovers – but previous state federation presidents and A-League chairmen have cowed in front of Steve’s dad in the past, so who knows?

Wondering who was texting? Multiple sources point to the man with nimble fingers allegedly being ACT federation president, Mark O’Neill, while the man happily keeping his Chairman and CEO updated with the latest 'goss' was allegedly long-time FFA employee, Mark Falvo. O'Neill is also alleged to be the first of the federation presidents to refuse to have any further discussions with the A-League clubs and the PFA. 

It's also worth noting that observers and participants from the past two days concur that not all of the state federation presidents flip-flopped. According to multiple sources, NSW's Anter Isaac copped “unbelievable abuse” from Steve Lowy “but he never wavered. He was extraordinarily strong.”

However, what the football community should now be demanding, in light of the perilous position we’re in, is for these mostly faceless men to be called to account. They're elected to these positions because they wanted to stand for them. They obviously believe in their own leadership capacity. They wield power. They should be held accountable.

What is their vision for football in their state? Why did they twice renegue on a deal that would have solved the FFA Congress issue this week? What is their counter-argument to the A-League clubs and the PFA? And why should we not believe that they’re perhaps more interested in their position in the game, rather than what is best for the game overall?

Categories: Opinion | A-League | Football Business

ffa congress, ffa governance, ffa, fifa, afc, a-league clubs, pfa

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