Thursday, July 29, 2010


The Long Game

I'm very proud to have been associated, for the last three years, with the Melbourne-based football newspaper Goal! Weekly. As well as providing a comprehensive coverage of the Victorian Premier League and the A-League and concise summaries of the other state leagues, the paper often presents topical and fearless commentary on the state of the game here and overseas. In this week's issue, there is an article by the distinguished former Socceroo Eddie Krncevic which is, to put it mildly, well worth a read.

Krncevic takes the Victorian Premier League clubs to task for failing to take proactive steps to improve their lot and their reputation, and his suggestions (they fall under seven main headings) are all well-considered. And his comments could be applied with equal justice, mutatis mutandis, to clubs in the NSW Premier League.

Top of the list: the need to reduce the playing wage bill, to prevent the insidious bottom-up funding system which is having such a deleterious effect on the development and retention of young players.

Krncevic envisages all the clubs agreeing on a salary cap system of sorts, which would clearly be the only way to apply such a policy across the board. There have been moves towards this in NSW already (see here), but some of the old habits of out-spending the other clubs for short-term gain, and paying average players way over the odds, remain.

The point was driven home to me a couple of years ago, when I discovered that a certain NSWPL club had been paying an old returned hero of the club close to a thousand dollars per game. At the time, the said player was, not to put too fine a point on it, grossly overweight and waddling around in midfield week after week to very little effect. It was frankly shocking to think that the club's juniors were helping to subsidise what was effectively a bout of boardroom nostalgia.

This story is not an uncommon one, either. Clubs will tolerate abysmal facilities, pitiful crowds and a disgraceful matchday presentation as long as they can poach that star player from the club down the road, for a few dollars a week more.

Krncevic's basic point is that clubs should instead be investing to make their grounds more attractive and their matchday atmosphere more other words, that they should be playing the long game (rather than the long-ball game). A further point which emerges subtly is that the state league clubs, if they are to command the respect which their proud histories often deserve, need to get out of the constant cycle of whinging and finger-pointing that has taken hold since the formation of the A-League. One paragraph from Krncevic's article in particular needs to be enlarged, laminated, and pinned permanently to every NSWPL club noticeboard:

We all know that the formation of the A-League essentially killed off a number of avenues of revenue that previously existed for Premier League clubs. But, if clubs were clever enough then they could adjust accordingly to operate within the parameters of business now set before them, and display initiative to overhaul and maximise their assets instead of living in a vicious cycle of hand to mouth.

The former NSL clubs are, in many ways, deserving of sympathy. They have been marginalised in the post-Crawford world, their revenue streams have been circumscribed somewhat unfairly (some might say bloody-mindedly), and their ongoing contribution to the Australian game has been cynically airbrushed out of late, especially since the arrival of the various Dutch messiahs. But this does not mean that they need to give themselves up to indignation as a way of life and self-obsessed nostalgia as a virtue. They have a future; they just need to find the werewithal to grasp it.

Having come to this country as a child and not really having anything to do with, or any vested interest in the NSL, I still sympathize with the old clubs. I love the footage of packed stadiums 30-40 years ago and the history they bring. I don't like, however, these same clubs whinging about the A-league, or turning their back on the competition completely. Embrace and move on. A-league clubs also need to embrace old clubs moreso - but there is obviously a fine line to be walked in not favoring one club in particular for fear of alienating a cultural group.. Ah politics. Politics everywhere..
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