Friday, September 10, 2010


The Stalled Revolution

In a week which featured a battling friendly win for the Socceroos but little other football news of note, the raging debate over the health of the A-League has dominated the Australian football media. Everyone has had their say, with Archie Fraser venting his spleen at his former employers, various bloggers and commentators joining the fray, and finally Frank Lowy choosing to exculpate himself via Mike Cockerill.

The spur for all this, of course, was the revelation of the depth of Newcastle's financial troubles, but the rumbles of discontent have been building for some time. The phrase "taken their eye off the ball" has become common parlance with regard to the FFA's inaction, and the fact that the current A-League season has opened fairly brightly has added to the cries of woe.

Cockerill's faith in Lowy is frankly a little hard to share, for a number of reasons. For a start, it has become blindingly clear that for all Lowy's "club" history with Sydney City (and the nostalgia that surrounded his takeover of Sydney FC), at the moment his sole interest, football-wise, is that acquisition of the 2022 World Cup. This is still quite possible, incidentally, even if a few unconnected events seem to have pushed Australia down the pecking order in recent months.

The post-Crawford history of Australian football is quickly becoming a tale of renewed optimism and long-desired good management morphing into misguided appointments, skewed priorities and blithely tolerated pet projects of little long-term benefit. It has reached a point where if Australia does hit the jackpot in December, all will be well, but if we don't, the A-League will be on a precipice.

What Cockerill does not mention, understandably enough, is Lowy's own significant role in the downturn, which started with his takeover of Sydney FC in 2006. That, to my mind, was the beginning of the rot, and it's worth revisiting the situation in some detail, given the slightly hypocritical noises Lowy makes in Cockerill's article.

At the end of the first A-League season, it would not have been at all inappropriate to describe Sydney FC as the league's flagship. The crowds had been excellent (towards the end), the publicity generated by Dwight Yorke in particular had been welcome, and, most significantly of all, the relationship between the fans and the management of the club was enviably good.

The spending had been a little over the top, without doubt. But there were investors prepared to step into the breach (the very same investors who came into the picture prior to last season, in fact). Lowy, however, was determined to make himself another Sydney City, and indulged in a good deal of subterfuge in installing his son as a proxy owner.

Suddenly, a large proportion of the goodwill that had attended the Lowy takeover began to dissipate. The invaluable John O'Neill left (partly due to Lowy's blatant conflict of interest), Sydney FC became an administrative basketcase, and slowly but surely the A-League was starved of the promotion it desperately needed.

Publicity is not the whole picture, of course, and there is plenty that the clubs themselves could have done better over the last few years, both on and off the pitch. But Lowy, and the FFA in general, need to take a good look in the mirror before they implicitly lump much of the blame for the parlous state of the A-League on the clubs. The national association has given them scant support in recent times.

Very good post. Seems to have been ingored everywhere about Lowy's poor record in charge of clubs. Sydney city pulled out mid season.

He has been great for football but he can also be a very short term thinking tight *** on occasions too and that's not the best approach for runnign a club or league.
Thanks Mike

A couple of years ago I met an FFA executive. I was amazed that this person did not follow the A-League.

Fraser bagging the FFA is quite amazing both because an insider is doing it (although he open to hints that he is deflecting blame) and because he feels that it is a reasonable thing to do. His speaking out begs a few more questions.
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