Some of our readers may have seen the 'Lawn Bowls Rendell Bows Out' article that I wrote for Goal Weekly. For the rest of you, here's the article in question, with one minor addition.
Mark Rendell's resignation as Football Federation Victoria CEO couldn't have come at a more crucial time, amid the biggest proposed reforms in Victorian soccer seen in decades. With Rendell hosting National Competitions Review information sessions as recently as mid-September, his sudden exit has caused much speculation as to the reasons for his resignation.
The fate of the NCR, as it was to be enacted in Victoria, could now be in limbo. The FFV, and Rendell in particular, were adamant that they would not baulk from the process. Yet many of the state's leading clubs are strongly opposed to the reforms. While four or five clubs are rumoured to be working with the FFV, only South Melbourne has come out and openly stated its intention to engage with the process with any sort of enthusiasm.
Coming across from Bowls Australia, where he had spent 11 years as either a director or CEO, Rendell was always on a hiding to nothing, especially from the game's conservative male soccer factions. Within days of his hiring he had been dubbed 'Mr Lawn Bowls', a nickname that stuck.
Rendell's experience in lawn bowls seemed to inform his approach at the FFV, with an emphasis on expanding participation, especially in womens soccer. This focus on female soccer, while worthy, received criticism from some quarters as bordering on the obsessive. Many of those complainants also felt that the FFV's promotion of the Victory and Heart (but especially the former) saw little in the way of value returned. They argued that it wasn't the FFV's job to promote private businesses, especially with a limited budget to use on its own concerns.
But for all the criticism leveled at Rendell and the FFV on their lack of interest in elite senior men's soccer, there were attempts to try and revive interest in the VPL. The grand final was played at AAMI Park, this year in conjunction with an A-League match. Last year saw the return of cup football for the first time since 2004, though interest seemed to fall significantly this season, amid complaints about costs and poor organisation. The FFV also ran weekly live VPL matches on the internet, though some wondered if that money wouldn't have been better spent on other media ventures.
There was also the attempt at creating a player development structure independent of clubs, who were perceived to be exploiting junior players in order to pay senior player wages. Rendell was thus an advocate of weakening the control that clubs had over the game, a system of governance in place since the early 1960s. Reforms which sought to grant more power to the majority of ordinary participants – players and parents - were enacted via forced changes to club constitutions and the creation of the zone system. Others, though, felt that the net effect of the zone system was to place different mouths at the same trough, with the majority of the game's participants still more or less powerless.
The FFV also sought to reconnect country soccer to the metropolitan system. In addition to absorbing regional federations under its own banner, the FFV also attempted to bring in the Victorian Champions League, a zone based summer league for all age groups.
However, the VCL senior men's competition never got started, and soon enough its senior women's counterpart fell over as well. There were complaints about travel; about the same sorts of biases being involved in selections; about making kids play throughout the entire year; about forcing junior players to play in the VCL if they wanted state selection. Still, there were those who looked forward to the VCL season, and it created a bridge between country and city soccer.
The FFV also got rid of the Super League system, often characterised by its constituents as a flawed but fixable system. The dissolution of the Super League system was widely panned by people involved at junior level. Mismatches became more frequent, diminishing the social experience of weaker players, while reducing the amount of high level competition faced by more talented players.
During Rendell's tenure, the FFV found itself in court against two of its clubs, Whittlesea Zebras and South Melbourne. Both times the FFV lost – the Zebras' court case in particular, in which the FFV was involved in turfing the Zebras out of Epping Stadium, seriously damaged the FFV's reputation among its constituents. The financial costs were also substantial.
There was also an emphasis on stamping out poor behaviour on and off the field. While docked points were used, the main deterrents used were fines. Several clubs were punished with five figure amounts – difficult enough for teams at the top of the league pyramid to deal with – all but impossible for clubs at the bottom. The FFV claimed that its zero tolerance approach was working, while others wondered if punishing clubs instead of the individuals responsible was the right way to go.
The move to the St Kilda Road headquarters also created discord. It hadn't been so long since the FFV had moved to the Darebin International Sports Centre – now it was moving again, and this time away from its grounds at DISC.
The Knox Regional Football Centre was unveiled this year with much fanfare, but there are allegations that proper due diligence was not performed, and that the facility is bleeding money.
There have also been criticisms of the service that the FFV provides. The switch to the new results system (albeit due in large part to an FFA initiative) started off clunky and is still not seen as satisfactory by many of the game's constituents. In an era when a young Victorian cricketer can trace their statistics across every year of their career, the inability of the FFV to even have correct best and fairest vote tallies is inexcusable.
Whether sourced from within the game or outside of it, the new CEO has their work cut out for them. Among their tasks will be contending with the factional fighting and self-interest which Rendell was not able to stamp out. They'll have to quickly come to grips with the NCR reforms, whose final blueprint is due in January 2013.
They'll be in charge of a large and unwieldy organisation that appears to have high staff turnover, and a reputation of not delivering quality outcomes for its constituency. And perhaps hardest of all, they'll have to find ways of making the game more affordable for participants, as the costs of playing soccer in Victoria continue to rise.