Tuesday, 14 May 2013

NPL Victoria - damned if you do, damned if you don't?

This is the first part of a two part look at the FFV's NCR/National Premier League reforms. The second part, written anonymously by one one of readers, will follow soon. I'm hoping that together these pieces will perform a sort of complimentary function, looking at this major issue from different angles.

This wasn't an easy post to write. A larger part of that is because I admittedly don't know much about junior development, nor do I really care too much about it either. Call it a massive blind spot on my part, and I'll agree with you 100%. It's not easy for me to write this post also, because I like to think of myself as open-minded on these issues. Maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe I like playing devil's advocate too much. Maybe I'm longing for a different hell to this one.

I recall that last year, when I went to the FFV's information evening for the Central Zone, there were five of us from the general public in the room. There were a rep each from Port Melbourne and Box Hill, Alex Alexopoulos of South Melbourne Womens FC, and myself and Gains. I wanted to attend to give the benefit of the doubt to the FFV, or at least hear what they were proposing in their own words. I did intend to write about it here, but life got in the way. I do remember wondering at the time whether Rendell would make it to see the start of this program - he didn't. I also remember rolling my eyes at several claims that the FFV were making, but also at how South would be able to implement this program.

So I've decided to look at it from what I see as South's point of view, rather than as the view of all clubs, the majority of clubs, or even those who choose to support the NPLV. This is not to say that this position should be taken as endorsement or otherwise. I can already tell this doesn't bode well when I've started with this many disclaimers.

Application Process
We still have to wait and see who actually puts in an expression of interest, and who actually then follows it up with a full scale application to join. There is always the concern among the Victorian soccer hoi polloi that many of the decision makers in this case have never run clubs in their lives. Are the FFV's expectations therefore completely out of kilter with what the clubs can actually produce? Can a club with a culture and history focused mostly on male football successfully run female football? Like it or not, women's football has a very different culture to male football. That may or may not be changing, but the fact that one is still spectator oriented at the top and the other is still participant oriented necessitates a difference of culture.

Why then is there not the leeway being given to let clubs that are good at what they do keep doing it, without making them do things they aren't good at? While I am all for the bigger clubs especially being more active in promoting women's football, doesn't that by necessity lead to the exclusion or downgrading of those teams who have been better at promoting women's football for the last two or three decades?

The Licence Period
A three year commitment, with the option of a three year extension at the end of that. No teams allowed to enter outside of the initial licensees inside that first three year period. It's a massive commitment, without much clue about what happens if enough teams drop out to create a non-viable competition. Too much hubris methinks from the FFV on this part, considering the failure to get any new independent consortia going over the summer league's lifespan - which is a point I brought up last year during their consultation process. This what they had to say on the matter:

FFV will work with all interested applicants to assist them in submitting their applications. At this stage we are confident we will have sufficient quality applications to form a viable competition.

Which doesn't actually answer the question. From the FFV's own admission, it appears that some prospective regional applicants have serious concerns about being able to field teams in all the age groups.

Identity and Names
What I can't figure out is, why is the FFV asking for three names from each applicant? Are the names clubs are using now not good enough? Fair enough if it's for some newborn entity created for this NPLV purpose, but what's wrong with South Melbourne FC? I don't buy their answer on their Facebook page that it's in the event that the junior committee of an NPLV club want to split off from their seniors and become a community club. Why do the see senior and junior wings of clubs as separate entities instead of as part of a larger whole?

The Teams
No surprises here, much as the FFV had put forward last year, mandatory male teams - one per age group from under 12s to under 20s, and an open age men's team - and four mandatory female teams, one of which is an open age team.

No small sided teams is a problematic issue for me. Not that most people who play juniors at a club end up supporting it in adult life, but this kills any possible renewal from the grassroots - players are there for a particular purpose, development, and when that ends, what's their reasons for still watching the club? It's no better than what we have now, under 21s players and their parents who won't stick around to watch the seniors.

These clubs in the NPLV will become something closer to the AFL's Victorian development pathway, an assembly line of 18 year olds. The difference there is, it's all funded by the AFL. The other difference is that these AFL teams don't go all the way down in age groups. As suspected, the FFV has attempted a power grab, while placing all the costs - players, training, coaches, registration, marketing - and all the risks, onto the clubs.

There seems to have been one temporary compromise made with regards to the player points salary cap, where the open men's division will start with a cap of 275 points before being phased down to 200 over a period of three seasons. This is similar to what has happened in New South Wales. It will be interesting, as has been noted by a few, whether the PFA will ark up about it. So far, as far as I can tell, they've not made any noises about this system, which will disadvantage older members of their union. But maybe they don't care about state league players?

While I've been one of the few proponents of the implementation of a player points system - with or without an NPLV system attached to it - I feel this will slant it too much towards younger players - they could have been more flexible on the matter, and left it at higher points cap. Still, it's not one of my major issues with this. An easy place to start would have been on restricting the use of visa players, and I'm not sure why moves towards implementing such a restriction haven't happened yet.

Financial Auditing
The one area where I have next to no reservations about our club's compliance ability, though there would still be challenges to meet. Not sure if I could say the same for a lot of other teams though. Having said that, considering that the FFV made an $800,000 loss last season - and blamed it on a reduction in fines - who are they to start dictating to clubs about fiscal responsibility and due diligence?

Venues and facilities
Considering the very short supply of sports fields across Melbourne in particular, I'm interested in knowing where new consortia will get grounds from. Sure, those using the existing facilities of a multi-club consortium might have several options (there's a whole range of issues to do with that, but that's for them to sort out), but completely new fangled groups? If some of the stories out there are to be believed - including the possibly defamatory ones involving the FFV's council liaison person - then some local councils aren't necessarily too happy with this NPL stuff, as it's not conducive to maximising use of their venues. What has that got to do with South you may ask? Well, we use venues across several council areas. We've already had North Caulfield quite unhappy with the fact we have a ground in the City of Glen Eira because of our takeover of the old Caulfield. Could this be used as leverage to get us evicted?

Intellectual Property
More troubling is why the FFV is seeking to control or share the intellectual property of the clubs, changing the current arrangement. It might be a trivial thing for them, but considering the way they have treated their own intellectual property, such as the Dockerty Cup, it doesn't inspire much confidence. I'm no lawyer though, so I'm not sure if this is standard professional sport boilerplate. Either way, the club must fight tooth and nail to maintain control if its intellectual property - including its media productions.

Recruitment and Zoning
I can understand the FFV's desire for more regional representation, and especially development pathways for kids in those areas - we've referred to that issue here and there. Of course there are issues with it - the travel component for regional teams, should they get anything like the amount of teams the FFV wants, will be much more onerous than the relatively truncated summer league season. And I wonder who's going to be responsible for paying that.

I'm not convinced by zoning either for metropolitan areas. I don't see the benefit and I don't see the point. Clubs should be able to choose the best players from wherever they want, and from whoever wants to play for them. Most other states are not using a zone system. While the FFV has made the argument that NSW doesn't have to do this because of the Northern New South Wales league, there's still no zone system within the metro districts. Indeed for several years the NSWPL did try to adhere to a version of a zone system, but abandoned it because strong senior mens clubs were being excluded and being replaced by weaker interests from other areas.

Maybe they just didn't wait long enough for the zones to become fixed in people's minds? Then again, the FFV doesn't even know yet what the zones will look like.
We are flexible as to the number of clubs per zone but we need to see who applies for a licence before finalising the recruitment boundaries.
Which considering the effort they've gone to mandate these zone systems - including butchering the flawed but fixable super league system, and the farce of messing up the cup draw several times based on the zones they drew up - is a total crock.

In addition, nine months after being asked the question, there's no new information as to how the proposed A-League academies will be integrated into this system. Just that 'more discussion needs to be had on this topic'. That's not good enough. From where and how will they be allowed to recruit players from? If they're allowed to recruit from anywhere - and that's the assumption I'm going with - doesn't that disadvantage the other NPLV clubs?

What the South board needs to tell the members
If the club is still interested in joining this project, it has some explaining and a lot of convincing to do - unless it of course manages to win by appealing to the junior parent constituency, which now has representation and suffrage at our club.
  • Since under this scheme, the FFV is only allowing fees of up to $1,700 (not including GST), how is the club going to make up the shortfall of $1,400 per child based on its current $3,200 program cost?
  • How will the club demonstrate the separation of junior costs to senior ones?
  • Why should we be asked to give up our intellectual property to the FFV?
  • Demand that our IP is ours in perpetuity, especially in the event that we enter the NPLV and then withdraw.
  • What the risks to the club short and longer term, for both sides of the ledger. And no sugarcoating please.
  • Why the club failed to win the concessions it thought it could from the FFV.
  • Show us the three year business plan if they choose to go through with this.
  • How will it impact on the facilities we use, considering we access venues across several municipalities - and will they be happy if they are not being used to the capacity local councils are increasingly looking for?
  • And we haven't even discussed what the hell is happening with our years long dispute with South Melbourne Women's FC. 

Part of the problem is that the clubs still haven't learned to work together. And while it's easy to point the finger at South as being the key intransigent party in this case, how does petty behaviour such as Oakleigh's cup forfeit - and its associated media and intra-club match antics - help build that trust? If the FFV is being accused of not listening and not responding to club concerns, I'm interested in learning how much the clubs actually did in terms of trying to get information. It seems like some clubs, for better or worse, did try to engage with the FFV on this reform process. I'm not so sure about a lot of others though.

In any case, I can't see the South board being able to convince the majority of its long term supporters to back this plan. It's hard even for me to back this plan, certainly not without very detailed evidence of how we are going to both comply with these regulations and maintain our social integrity as a club.

Additionally, if the board expects the parents of the children currently in our youth system, who are now able to vote on club matters, to support this, they might need to think again. If they live outside the designated zone (however the FFV decide to draw it up), they won't be allowed to be a part of the set up. For parents with children that would participate in small sided games, they would also be ousted. And unlike in NSW, where it appears that you can at least set up an affiliate club for social youth football, on the surface of it the rules here seem to be tighter and less ambiguous - and more open to allowing a junior team to split from its senior wing.

The net result seems to be that if we enter this competition, we'll be doing all the 'right' things and making the 'right' noises, but we'll in all likelihood have the soul ripped out of the club, and all this after fighting tooth and nail to keep it alive. If we don't get into this thing, and it somehow manages to get started and become even a feint success, we'll be dumped into a regional competition undoing much of our good work, devaluing the status of the club even further.

It's a complicated matter, because a lot of garbage is put into the mix. There are deluded souls who put all the blame onto the FFV for the way that the VPL has gone. While the FFV have had their part to play in all this, the decline of the VPL is not an isolated phenomenon. Most second tier sport has declined over the past 30 years. Look at what has become of the VFA. Which makes it all the more ludicrous that people are thinking that crowds will flock to a breakaway league or the community league which will theoretically have a better standard of play. Because you know, Green Gully vs Southerns Stars on a cold and windy Saturday afternoon is a marketer's dream - if only we knew how to promote this damn game!

This loss of culture coincides with a standardisation of the product of junior development. The fact that it is a product instead of a cultural experience is paramount. Instead of having different styles of coaching and club culture, the FFV (and the FFA) are trying to mandate a homogenisation of development. One of the more amazing things about the old clubs, at least the way that I remember it, is that each club had a different philosophy and playing culture. Those points of difference, that plurality, that volatility of the unexpected is now under serious threat. And to do away with that multiplicity of cultures, all for the sake of trying to create a winter version of the failed summer leagues, just seems callous to me.

Let's End This on a Lighthearted Note
Chances are we'll probably be in the A-League this coming season or the next one at the latest, so all this discussion is probably moot.


  1. I agree with your piece, quite good.
    Especially the points about keeping the club's integrity and soul. Very important.

  2. "•Why the club failed to win the concessions it thought it could from the FFV"

    Whoa??? Have we taken "our" terms to the FFV, and they've already knocked 'em back?
    FFV are determined to have an entirely non-viable NPLV.

    1. I'm talking here about about the consultation process up to this point. Unlike a lot other clubs, South tried working with the FFV to see if they could find some concessions, or make some changes. I can't see too much that they've managed to change. Maybe someone would like to correct that point of view.

  3. I think this article raises lots of questions and doesn't really answer anything, but that's not the fault of the writer. It's a testament to how poorly thought-out the proposed NPLV implementation is when no one, including the FFV themselves, know how any of it will work. At this stage, they've left it all at "we'll figure it out later", but since they have consulted no one else at any stage of the process it's hard to see where they will be able to gain enough knowledge to figure it out, which is a terrible position to be in when they are trying to ram this reform down everyone's throats.

    The only outcome I can forsee is that the entire scheme gets confined to the waste basket of Victorian footballing history. I only wonder whether the FFV itself will go with it.

    1. I'm glad you got the general direction I was going with this, as you're right, I don't have the answers, only questions. My hope that the FFV would answer some of these concerns in a genuine manner hasn't really been fulfilled to my liking. So my interest now is on the answers the club will need to provide to these concerns to South members.

      Thanks for the comment, Jim.

  4. The costs involved as stated on FFV website are crazy. The concept of 'recriting zones' is also likely to resisted (is it even legal?). Im pretty sure clubs will end up with fancy new names.

    Intellectual property isnt a big issue - I doubt FFV will sell much merchandise. Regardless they would have control of the more historical SM-Hellas (or the sexier SM Hellas-Hakoah) name.

    Here in Adelaide the NPL is a big yawn... the media isnt paying any attention. It certainly will never be a 'B league'.

    Its time for the game to stop these stupid schemes and address the real issues:
    * Cost of junior soccer compared to other codes
    * Lack of media attention
    * Player retention from juniors
    * Player pathways (ensure all junior and amateur clubs arev affiliated with VPL clubs)

    James H


A few notes on comments.

We've had a lot of fun over the years with my freewheeling comments policy, but all good things must come to an end. Therefore I will no longer be approving comments that contain personal abuse of any sort.

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