The FFA has released the XI principles, a document with the aim of implementing change. Like all football lovers I read it and once I got through it all, I was left with…………I’m still contemplating exactly what I thought. Was it, excitement? did it leave me in a state of optimism? was it an aha moment? or was it, finally someone speaking sense. To be honest it left me with more questions than answers.
My first thought was wow there is a lot of verbal gymnastics going on here!! Either way I’m not convinced that firstly the current power system will allow any unification to occur. Absolutely no one is going to freely commit professional suicide. In other words, states, associations they are not going to just hand over the reins, even if it was in the best interest of the game.
It’s not the first document of its kind there have been others. I’m also not going to say that nothing has changed since the NSL died. Much has changed in fact the most glaring obvious fact is the world has changed significantly in many ways. Especially in terms of the environment our kids are now living in. The age we are in now in is a whole new ball game, it has confronted us so very quickly thanks to the speed of the technological advances we now have. There have been disruptors everywhere in nearly all industries. In fact, it has moved so fast that our current education system is virtually becoming obsolete not over 3-4 decades but in terms of a decade or less. Within the next 10-20 years many of the courses currently being taught will be obsolete because of the speed in AI and robotics.
I’m drifting off course here but there is a reason I want to highlight these issues. We quite often speak of the Golden Generation. I hear and read so many different views on why we had a band of players that did quite well in Europe and ultimately gave us one of the best periods in terms of international success.
A small group of these players have formed a working group and through their fame and influence are trying to affect certain changes to the game. I highly respect them for doing so but let’s be honest here, after listening to their Zoom meetings they spoke with passion however if you really dissect what was discussed most of the things that they proposed were based on their personal views. Mark Viduka for example is a cult figure and when he speaks people are going to listen. We should respect his views but we should also question his views and how they were formed. Most of the noise online comes from opinions based on bygone eras where people carry memories which quite often do not adequately paint a real picture of the past. These opinions are subjective and not objective, they are based on one’s own experiences and those experiences are going to differ significantly for everyone involved. For example, a lot of people tell me that the NSL was of a much higher quality than the A – League. That in itself is very vague when you start to ask questions like which era of the NSL? Did every team in all the years of the NSL play better football than the A league? Once again, these comments are subjective.
The NSL was for the better part a mediocre competition. Poorly financed, amateur players mostly working fulltime jobs whilst playing. There were some decent venues however, in most cases, venues were nowhere near the standard of the A-league today.
There were some excellent footballers but there were also some really average ones as well. During my era the league was extremely physical, there were players who were technical but for the most part there were more labourers than there were artists. Our national teams rarely had the most technical players selected, because this too is subjective to who was in charge, there was always one or two really technical players included but in general it was the runners, the athletes, not that they were bad not at all. But the characteristics required were similar to English football style of play and to a lesser extent a European style of footballer. Perhaps that’s because as a colony of Britain it was English Football that influenced our culture. English football today for those who can remember is nothing like the football of 30 years ago, when I first started playing in the NSL. The game was more direct and physical which made no sense in a country like this with such a different climate.
The fact of the matter is that I myself would not have had an NSL career if it weren’t for Raul Blanco an Argentinian who gave a kid like me a chance to shine. After Raul there was not one coach who valued me as a player. My skills and flamboyant nature were not valued during my time or perhaps I just wasn’t good enough depends on who you ask!
For real change to occur it would require an entire system reboot. We are mimicking traditional medicine where we focus on the symptoms instead of the root cause of the problems.
One thing is clear and that is that history has taught us nothing. The first step in order to change is to acknowledge our history, study it and learn from it. Many people are critical of Lowy, I myself have an issue with how he deleted our history prior to 2006, however we owe a lot to Frank even if I myself believe that some things could have been done differently. I want to highlight some of the good things that came from the 2006 reboot.
By far the most important thing in my opinion was moving us into the Asian confederation. It has allowed us a fairer path into the World Cup and being able to compete in the Asian cup and Asian champions league. He professionalised our national team and turned the Socceroos into a brand. He attracted Government and corporate investment into the game.
He rebooted a dysfunctional NSL with what I call fake clubs, more accurately Franchises! These are licenses to be part of a” special elitist club”. A closed system. I think the A-league in its current format may have looked like it worked at first, but time has shown that a closed system is more detrimental to football than it is positive. Franchise systems may work well for Gridiron and Basketball in the US but it’s not so great here. We also do not have a collegiate system in Australia. Collegiate systems are a capitalist style system ideal for the US and US sports, but Football is unique, it’s tribal and it’s the clubs and communities that drive that culture.
Without promotion and relegation, it has virtually killed off any possible investment into the lower tiers and clubs have turned to charging parents astronomical fees to make ends meet. Fees in this country are a necessary evil, the issue however, is what kind of value do the parents get for the investment into their child’s participation? Right now, all they get is mostly competition, which many of them absolutely love, they get to live their dreams through their kids and if their kids’ teams are winning, they then feel good about themselves and can then brag about it to their network.
The A-league is a billionaire’s plaything, it had potential but the capitalist style system its driven by has shown its frailty so quickly. Whilst capitalism took a while to show its true colours in massive economic systems, in football it’s taken just a few short years. You can blame mismanagement or a number of other symptoms for all the problems we have but no one really understands that our problems lay in a faulty value system and a corrupted form of governance. It’s like the American political system there’s an illusion of choice blue or red but the reality is they both serve the same master. Football is a game for the people it shouldn’t be for and by those who have money. That’s why I personally endorse public ownership of clubs, a cooperative where the people in charge are accountable to everyone involved.
I’ve suffered way too long and have fast lost hope that the game here will ever dominate the landscape. We squander every opportunity to practice win-win situations, everything is fear of what someone else may know. Knowledge is to be feared not harnessed. Keeping the status quo of self-interest must prevail because god forbid the game may succeed to levels anyone could ever dream about. Until then we will keep looking abroad at what we may become and hope that one day someone, somewhere, is anointed football’s benevolent dictator and wields Thor’s hammer to bring the game into a unified juggernaut!