Soccer in Australia, or football as the purists call it has had its ups and downs over the decades in the Australian sporting landscape, with competitions coming and going, being reformed and re-badged into different competitions but ostensibly returning with franchises from the same main cities in each reincarnation albeit with a club or three or more added here and there. We have ended up now with the present A-League, a competition of 10 teams this current season, now heading for the grand final qualifiers.
But alas, what should be the kind of happy and celebrated last weeks of the A-League season have been thrown into chaos, first by the removal of the Gold Coast United license for next season just months ago, a franchise owned by billionaire Clive Palmer who, towards the end of the road did not see eye-to-eye with Frank Lowy, Ben Buckley and the FFA.
What has occurred today however, has turned the cold that the A-League was suffering from into a flu. Today, the FFA learned from the owners of the Newcastle Jets franchise that they can expect to have the license for theclub lobbed back at them after an unexpected announcement that nobody saw coming.
FFA boss Ben Buckley responded saying that the Jets are contracted to participate in the competition until the 2020 season but what are they going to do with a team in their main competition who has an administration that does not wish to be there? The players might be keen, but why would an administration pump resources into maintaining a team in a competition they do not believe in?
Far from that, this latest major hiccup proves that there must be something sick within the FFA organisation itself, now with two clubs that have had major grievances with the governing body of the sport in Australia.
Club grievances with the umbrella organisation are not the only problem that the A-League and FFA face. In the wake of the unceremonious exit of Gold Coast United from the competition, the FFA decided, weeks later to award a franchise for a western Sydney club to fill the Gold Coast void from next season.
Ben Buckley and the FFA have said that the concept of a western Sydney team had been worked on for some time and obviously when the events in Queensland with the Gold Coast team an opening was seen and the FFA jumped swiftly to plug that gap with a team from the west of Sydney.
But this western Sydney team will have a matter of months to form a coherent team and a strong administration to even go close to competing in the 2012-13 season. Such a quick turnaround will be a challenge for the team and it will need some time to attract marquee and other players. If the Newcastle Jets exit goes ahead, the new side will not be short of top talent to try to tempt from going overseas, though the higher prices many may attract in Europe and Asia would likely prove insurmountable for a club that has to rush to attract sponsor’s money before they can even think of how much to purchase any player for.
The A-League are also the last of the football codes, aside from rugby union to venture into western Sydney, with the NRL having long been part of the sporting community, from junior rugby league clubs to senior teams like the now Wests Tigers and Penrith Panthers. Consequently, the new franchise may struggle for crowds as they attempt to grow crowds in an already very competitive western Sydney sports market which now has a team playing in the AFL, albeit not well.
The A-League and FFA certainly have some lessons to learn and must begin to throw caution to the wind. They must begin looking at how the league can evolve gradually, without making bold moves in a competition that needs to endure where previous top-tier competitions in the same sport have repeatedly failed. But the cough is certainly a dangerous flu and the governing body either needs some strong antibiotics or “hospitalisation” to keep damages from recent events to a small part of the FFA body.