Why all the talk of a second division won’t simply disappear
Heidelberg United and Blacktown City’s stunning Round of 32 FFA Cup victories are beneficial to Australian football in more ways than one03 August 2017 | Mike Tuckerman
After seeing off A-League opposition in the form of Perth Glory and Central Coast Mariners respectively, the Bergers and the boys from Blacktown can look forward to another round of knock-out action on the national stage.
That they can do so on the back of such impressive performances – neither Heidelberg’s 1-0 win over Perth, nor Blacktown’s thrilling 3-2 win over Central Coast were flukes – is a nice little fillip for both the New South Wales and Victorian state leagues.
It’s perhaps instructive that this year’s giant-killers to date hail from Melbourne and Sydney. State league clubs now play under the auspices of the National Premier Leagues, which many supporters feel should be the basis for a new nationalised second division.
The fact that the Victorian and New South Wales state leagues are by far the nation’s strongest has largely been overlooked by fans clamouring for a second tier, although it should be pointed out that former National Soccer League stalwarts Adelaide City and Queensland side Redlands United – along with traditional Victorian powerhouse Green Gully – have also knocked A-League opposition out of the FFA Cup.
Meanwhile, a national spotlight is nothing new for either Heidelberg United or Blacktown City. Both clubs spent time in the National Soccer League, with the Bergers forcibly excluded in 1995 following a period of rationalisation which saw the NSL confusingly rebranded as ‘the A-League’, while Blacktown City dropped down to the state leagues via a more traditional route – relegation.
Blacktown City found themselves back in the big time twice more during the NSL era, but it’s an opportunity no longer afforded to the club in the closed shop that is the fully professional A-League. And after several years of watching the same ten teams go around in the top tier of Australian football, the natives are getting restless.
The creation of the Association of Australian Football Clubs has no doubt spooked Football Federation Australia, but in truth it’s been a long time coming. First meeting in March, the AAFC now counts more than one hundred National Premier League clubs as members. They want a national second division – one that eventually boasts promotion and relegation between the top two tiers – and they want it sooner rather than later.
Can you blame them? When practically every other football-playing nation on the planet plays host to multiple leagues with promotion and relegation, is it any wonder the clubs locked out of the top tier of Australian football should be pushing for change? What is it that makes Australia so unique?
Well, for one thing, distance. Any national second division will need to not only solve the conundrum of not being overly reliant on clubs from Victoria and New South Wales, but also how to transport teams across one of the largest countries on earth.
Then there’s the thorny issue of funding. If it’s expensive to run National Premier League clubs now, how will that scenario improve in a fully professional second division? The A-League may have already attracted unprecedented levels of investment from subscription broadcaster Fox Sports, but will those broadcast riches trickle down to a second tier? And what happens to a club’s fanbase should they go down?
We may not have the answers at present, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the questions. If a second division is going to happen one day, then the powers that be may as well start the dialogue.
Football Federation Australia, then, are arguably victims of their own making. The FFA Cup has been an unqualified success. It has helped bridge the divide between old soccer and new football, provided a platform for both traditional and upwardly mobile clubs to perform on a national stage, and proffered some much-needed content during the interminably long A-League off-season.
What it hasn’t done is quell the support for a second division. If the game’s governing body thought the FFA Cup would end the discussion around bringing some of Australia’s former heavyweight clubs back into the fold, they were mistaken. That conversation has only just begun.
ffa cup, blacktown city, heidelberg united, npl, aafc, second division