Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The FFV, National Premier Leagues and You

This post was submitted to us by one of our readers, a passionate, non-South Melbourne affiliated supporter of the game. The contributor has been involved in football for most of his life, as a player, volunteer and committee member. While we may disagree on certain issues, I have never doubted his passion and sincerity on all matters related to soccer in this state. South of the Border would like to thank the writer for their contribution, and I hope that that the readers of this blog enjoy this piece.

Why we must see this restructure for what it is
Two years ago, the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) announced a National Competitions Review (NCR) with a view to bring all top-tier state-competitions more or less in line with each other. They later announced the National Premier League, unveiling a flash new logo with David Gallop in tow for a photo opportunity. The NPL has already kicked off in Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, the ACT and in South Australia (see here for state-specific information).

I'm not going to go into the differences between each state and their pros and cons - the bottom line is that these National Premier Leagues are 'what the FFA envisage as the future 'B-League' - or platform for promotion and relegation into the A-league. The fact that it doesn't state that fact or purpose in any of the proposed or accepted frameworks for the NPL should have alarm bells ringing.

Football Federation Victoria, the FFA-recognised organiser and promoter of the round-ball game in the state of Victoria has unfortunately, lost its way. So much water has passed under the bridge since the heyday of George Wallace and Michael Weinstein that it had me wondering recently if this was the vision they had for football in Victoria.

Let's quickly look at the NPL Victoria Criteria. The two key operational documents pertaining to the NPLV are the Participation Criteria and the Participation Licence. The Participation Criteria stipulate the process for which a club/franchise/other body will be admitted into the NPLV, while the Participation Licence outlines the more operational rules that will be enforced once the league gets off the ground.

The FFV Board of Directors announced the NPLV criteria at the end of April giving clubs just over a month-long window in which to fully research the ramifications of the NPLV, organise an Extraordinary General Meeting of all members and to submit an expression of interest form. Kind of gun-to-the-head stuff when you take into account that this is historically, other than the VASFA/VSF split in the early 1960s, the biggest restructure this game potentially will go through. Irresponsible?Unorganised? Deceitful? You decide.

The next step in the application process is to consult the 'NPLV Subject Matter Expert Contact List'. The alarming point about this is the distinct lack of real-world, on the ground knowledge among those lucky souls to be dubbed 'Experts'. I dare say that this is the fruit of shutting clubs out of the moulding process that was the NCR, relegating them to a checkbox in their 'Stakeholder Engagement' process. More alarming is the fact that every single one of the people listed are currently employees of the FFV who are meant to be fulfilling their duties to the clubs that pay for a level of service. I am of course referring here to the exorbitant, extortionist-like FFV imposed affiliation fees on clubs to enable them to compete in a league.

At the basic level, the FFV provides insurance for players and officials, fixturing and referees. That is the basic level of service that clubs demand and even then at the highest level they are unable to get referees on time, fixtures confirmed, wrong results entered into 'Sporting Pulse'... the list goes on. Instead the clubs receive services that are actually in competition with services the clubs offer. Club-funded FFV programs such as the NTC, Victory Youth and Women's teams are only the surface issues. Does anyone ask themselves what their full time employees do day-to-day? Have a look at the contact list and see for yourself the top-heavy organisation the FFV has set themselves up to be. Yet you have publications like GoalWeekly having to adapt to a non-Victorian specific market that was actually servicing the clubs, competitions and interests of all 'stakeholders (I hate that word) in a more than satisfactory manner. A few home truths printed about the FFV will get your funding pulled. Fair enough. At least they were principled in their approach and weren't bought off like so many other media outlets.

Clubs this year, more than any other, have felt a distinct lack of service over any other year. Well, now you know why - we are financing them to introduce a structure that is going to kill our heritage, our future and everything associated with it. Clubs don't even get their results in the paper on a Monday morning anymore, yet some obscure table tennis league played at Coburg Pools across the road from Pentridge can get a full results listing.

A packed Quarry Hill - will we ever see such a sight again?
Let's call a spade a spade. The FFV is inept. They are running the game in the interests of the FFV (commercial interests) and not in the interests of the game as a participation sport and another key 'stakeholder' they have forgotten about as a spectator sport. Had a look at SportingPulse recently? Or at the FFV email signatures? Both have had major edits to include an advertisement, yes a shameless plug – Get your NPLV application done before the 31st of this month! Shameful.

It is not a coincidence that crowds have declined dramatically in the last 7-8 years. The FFV in all its cunning, got through the biggest constitutional reform ever seen in Victoria where all the bigger (read: majority vote holding) Victorian clubs were asleep at the wheel and signed over all of their voting rights to the 'faceless ones', the zone representatives and chairmen of five standing committees. It was from here that they did and continue to do what they please. Exorbitant fines, concentrating on peripheral issues, being in competition with clubs these are only the small issues that every fan who has turned away from the FFV has felt on their own skin. Whether they will return is another issue, but the fact is that the FFV have a track record for being out of touch.

This brings us to our next point. Upon successful entry the applicant will have to sign a licence agreement. They have set themselves up as the organisation that gives out licences, meaning that they can just as easily take them away. That is the legal premise of a licence over a lease or affiliation agreement. The licence period has been listed as three years without promotion and relegation. This flies in the face of healthy competition and breeds mediocrity. Don't forget to nominate your three 'preferred' playing names (club/identity) to the FFV for ratification in your NPLV submission.

This is seriously beyond a joke and I haven't even touched on other contentious issues such as the Player Points System (PPS), recruitment zoning and intellectual property rights demarcation between the competition and clubs.

An Applicant cannot enter senior or junior teams (including small sided football teams) in FFV community competitions. It can and should be encouraged to train the best junior players through a SAP or Academy program to prevent NPLV clubs from decimating community clubs of their best players at this level and also give community clubs a road or pathway for those players. Applicants are encouraged to include details of any such SAP program in its application.
Take from this direct quote what you will, but the bottom line is for clubs to be part of the NPLV, they must field a minimum and maximum of one team per age group in the boys competition (under 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18) whilst also fielding under 13, 15 and 18s in the girls competition, while also fielding a men's under 20s and men's and women's seniors. For example if you have four under 9s teams they will no longer play under you. They are effectively out on the street with smaller clubs, which probably don't have the facilities to accommodate them in the first place. They now have to pick up the slack.

This NPLV is envisaged to be 'the' development league for aspiring youngsters wanting to get into the A-League and overseas. Nowhere does it mention driving crowds to games or getting in corporate sponsorship dollars to offset the very real possibility of a large deficit when you take into account the coaching situation. Clubs must appoint a Technical Director who reports quarterly to the State's Technical Director Sean Douglas. The shortage of licenced coaches in Victoria is very real.

Courtesy of the FFV Memes Facebook page.
Those lucky enough to have such accreditation already have on the face of it, less real-world experience than the Peter Tsolakis and Andrew Marths of the world. They have rightfully been ignored by the top-level Victorian clubs for decades for being 'paper' coaches whilst they will now find themselves in a position of favour in getting well paying jobs under this new system. Will the 9 or so A-Licence coaches currently in Victoria demand less than $50 an hour? Translating into a simple calculation of training 5 nights a week for two hours plus a game totalling a weekly spend of $600 a week? What about the team's mandatory assistant and goalkeeper coach? This drives up the already high costs of playing soccer in Australia. All for an unproven system not tried, tested or established anywhere in the world. For the first time in Australian soccer history, we have now become smarter than the rest of the world without the results to back up such assertions. This has time-bomb written all over it.

Club fees for juniors are capped at $1700 for each player. Working off these figures it remains to be seen how clubs can offer the level of service expected by the FFV with accredited senior coaches, assistants and their goalkeeping instructors. Forget about pricing in the sports trainers, physios and doctors a prospective NPLV club will have to employ as part of the FFV's over-the-top scheme. Don't expect the NPLV clubs to be 'elite' in all senses of the word. The climate in Victoria more than likely doesn't demand such high standards in the first instance. Secondly, should the NPLV get off the ground, corners will be chamfered at every stomach-churning hook turn. How will 'elite' clubs afford a good level of apparel for their players considering their budget? No adidas or Nike for them. We'll go with Jako or Best n' Less.

In line with FFV's enforced constitutional changes upon clubs, new NPLV entities will have to recognise “all its key stakeholders...as members under its Constitution including registered players, coaches, administrators and volunteers." No longer are club members the people that actually pay a membership subscription, now you have employees of the club (players and coaches) having a say in the club's direction. For me this is not in the spirit of the game. If players in general wish to be members of their clubs nothing prevents them from doing so - an annual subscription fee to the club which in the current VPL structure hovers at around $50 for voting rights.

There are so many rules and regulations that are simply not in the interests of clubs, their players and members, that they are too numerous to mention. From business plans, financial auditing (A successful Applicant must make available to FFV or FFA any financial information requested within 3 days of receiving notice of an inspection.) all the way through to commercial exclusivity and veto rights of the FFV.

Let's get to one of the main sticking points: Facilities.
The Open Men's side of the NPLV club must play out of a Class A facility. These facilities actually don't exist beyond a sprinkling of State League 2 sides. And we all already know that the overwhelming majority of VPL and State League 1 clubs have rejected the NPLV framework as unfeasible. So where will these Class A facilities come from? Will the FFV gloss over their own rules stipulating minimum facilities as they have in the past? Will government invest in prospective NPLV club facilities?

Green Gully, one of Victoria's leading clubs, is not in favour of the NPLV.
The FFV have already been told in no uncertain terms what councils think of the proposed NPLV. Oakleigh and Green Gully have already been informed by their local councils that should they apply, they will lose exclusivity of their facilities. So where are they going to get these 'two clubs per zone' to constitute a competitive NPLV? In the western zone, the zone with probably the most registered players and clubs they have already hit a major bump in the road. The two highest ranked clubs, Melbourne Knights and Green Gully aren't looking to enter. So who has a Class A facility in the western suburbs that is willing to roll the dice? St. Albans, Altona Magic or Point Cook in State League 5? But alas, the FFV has made it clear that they will redraw its zonal boundaries to accommodate whoever applies to the NPLV.

Nowhere has the FFV mentioned that they have secured a multi-million dollar sponsor to run this league. Nowhere have they mentioned how they will drive attendances to games. Are they content in having a glorified under 25s competition? Definitely. Thus far their attitude towards the 'bigger' for want of a better word, more experienced top level clubs, has been, 'we don't care who we get, as long as we get them.' So far the two clubs that have publicly stated that they will apply are Surf Coast FC and Ballarat Red Devils. All well and good, but to be brutally honest, neither has the financial backing or experience to run an 'Elite' club, competition or teams.

This is the core of the problem. Taking away all other issues and contentions, the FFV is hell bent on ramming this reform down the throats of those expected to implement it. Clubs must take on all of the risk while the FFV take all the plaudits should it get off the ground. If it doesn't it will be the fault of the clubs.

The Community Leagues
Let's have a look at the alternative, the derogatorily dubbed 'community leagues'. Where is the criteria for these leagues you ask? Well... FFV haven't figured that out. What has been confirmed to clubs off the record is that the FFV will only run one semi-professional league in 2014. That will be the NPLV. State League 1 as we know it will be an all-amateur affair with clubs unable to register players as professionals.

When a club representative asked this question last week, the FFV replied that they will do all it takes to protect the NPLV. What that means in real terms remains to be seen but I'll give you my cynical opinion. The FFV will do exactly what they stated. Clubs will have no professional players that they will be able to demand compensation for. State League 1 will be dissected into North, South, East and Western zones to further dilute the quality of that competition. They might also remove the club's right to charge entry at the gate for senior games and parking.

I'm not against any club having their time in the sun, but the way that used to be done always ensured that clubs with community support worked their way through the levels, learned what it takes to run a club at each level and progressed organically. These days we have these queue jumpers that see this NPLV as a ticket to the top. To be honest, they can have their ticket.

What is for sure though is that the VPL and State League 1 clubs that will be brushed aside to the scrapheap of great FFV ideas (remember FootballAce?) will not take this lying down. Over seven centuries of combined history in the VPL alone does not count for nothing, no matter how often they bang their head against the wall and put us down to believe that we should be ashamed of the players that Victoria collectively produced under the 'old' system (it worked) compared to now. Apparently we're holding the game back or something?

What is important is that if you're heading along to your club's EGM to vote on joining the NPLV - vote a resounding NO. You never know what opportunity awaits around the corner.

And at the end of my rant I realise that I haven't adequately covered each document that I said I would. Unfortunately such is the passion against these reforms I find it difficult to calm my emotions; such is the game of football for those that truly love it and have its best interests at heart.

The FFV have lost touch with the football world, they have poisoned the well from which we all draw from and charge us accordingly for an inferior product. We will stand up for what is just even if it is unpopular. The South Melbournes, the Melbourne Knights', The Sunshine George Cross' and the Heidelberg Uniteds of this world still have some fight left in them.

Say NO to the NPLV.


  1. Both the contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, and myself, would like to thank those who looked at this article and offered several pieces of useful advice.

    Those contributions also greatly informed the article that I wrote on this matter, and I am grateful for their assistance.

  2. Agree with the sentiments in both articles, great stuff as always.
    What upsets me is that our 'own' (supposedly) Greek media runs articles to the detriment of the SMFC brand on their website, poorly researched by a non-soccer person. Really irresponsible and damn right frustrating.

  3. I think the lack of council support is the main factor that will condemn the NPLV implementation to complete and utter failure. It is beyond me how the FFV can consider running a premier competition where only small regional teams are willing to compete. If this goes ahead, and the State Leagues are remodeled into zoned sub-tiers I can only see this heading in the direction of a complete breakaway of the major clubs forming and running an alternate league modeled on the current VPL.

  4. Club Licensing systems happen all over the world. FACT. This is not an 'untried system'. It is used specifically to raise standards.

    The issue here should not be that a licensing system is being installed / imposed on the clubs, but that the criteria are too stringent.

  5. Can we get some alternatives then? The FFV say the club fees are equivalent to entering a club with this many teams anyway? ie it would be the same cost as a community club. This sounds a bit like sour grapes, look for every possible negative. The current system does not serve us well, have you looked at the VCL? it needed changing and we need a national platform. If clubs have access to grounds issues, they will always have trouble, this program will be for clubs that have ability to work around these issues

  6. As I believe in exactly what you have written, I too have resigned from my Club's committee with a big NO!

  7. Sounding like all the ethnically based clubs have a whinge, I am all for the overhaul and I will be supporting my local team in the competition.

    1. Unhappy group of clubs also includes 'non-ethnic' clubs and some regional outfits.

  8. My sons under 7 team has 60 players mix of all backgrounds club is new 5 years old we have two brand new synthetic turfs pitches a new club room and have just taken over the local football teams second ground. We are growing fantastically, we have 3 ex socceroos at the club and are in a growth area. Our council has said we lose the grounds if we apply, we will also need to turn away all the kids. Why dont you come and speak to the parents, to the people at grass roots and see how little help we get from the FFV. I paid $300 to register my son at the FFV, there is no Under 7 comp, there are no refs, there are no marketing etc supplied by the FFV. We organize our own gala days, our own refs, our own soccer balls goals and uniforms. Let us have our game back


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.

Still, if your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet.

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