'Australian spring' blossoms as NPL chase place at top table

It's been dubbed the 'Australian spring' by FIFA in a nod to the democratic wave which swept through parts of the Arab world, as the mission to deliver a new football framework in Australia gathers pace.

Sutherland Sharks

NPL club Sutherland Sharks celebrate a goal. Source: Getty Images

Tom Kalas, chairman of the newly-formed Association of Australian Football Clubs, is at the vanguard of a 97-team strong alliance of second tier teams vying for a place on the FFA Congress and, ultimately, a promotion/relegation structure to provide entry into the A-League.

Kalas, formerly a director of ex-NSL giant South Melbourne, chaired the AAFC's inaugural meeting on Monday and there have been subsequent discussions with "supportive" representatives from the world governing body and further talks with the FFA in the push for a football framework in Australia which falls into line with the rest of the world.

 

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While hoping that a promotion/relegation model might be in place within two to three years, Kalas is cautious over setting timelines and tabling demands.

His organization, he says, is more about uniting a factional and dysfunctional football family.

"Our meeting on Monday night was quite historic ... and we had a catch up with FIFA the following night, and they are across everything," he said.

"They are impressed and very supportive of what we are doing.

"We have their unequivocal backing ... we have even discussed what type of model we are looking at implementing for the association.

"Within the FIFA offices, they are calling what we are doing here 'the Australian spring'. That speaks volumes and shows we're on the right track."

We are looking at a European club-type association model and they are in tune with that. I feel we are ticking all the right boxes."

A meeting with the PFA is now on the cards and ultimately the AFC will also brought into the loop as the AAFC spreads its wings and seeks to win over football's disparate stakeholders.

"We are also in touch with the A-League clubs ... it's all about dialogue. This is not a breakaway, a revolt, a revolution or an insurgency," added a conciliatory Kalas.

"We need to work with everybody to find a solution ... we all need to get around the table."

While the end-game is a model which encompasses expansion and promotion/relegation, the AAFC is sensitive to the position of the existing A-League club owners who have lost hundreds of millions between them in the competition's 11-year history.

"They have invested significant amounts and we need to help them secure that investment," added Kalas.

"It's about building an affordable model ... the current one is too expensive.

"We need to be designing, building and flooding Australia with boutique stadiums for our evolving football culture.

"The NPL level is the place to do that and we need to help the top tier build a more sustainable model. As it stands, it's absorbing too much money from the ecosystem.

"In China they are aiming to role out 5000 boutique stadiums in the next few years and 20,000 artificial surfaces throughout the country to build a football culture."

With FFA putting A-League expansion on hold until a more durable financial model is found, Kalas understands their predicament, especially in terms of opening a pathway to the top tier for aspiring NPL clubs.

"We need to be corporate citizens ... you can't put the cart before the horse," he added.

"We need to work with the clubs, federations and broadcasters.

"We feel integrating the tiers will provide the best outcomes for player development and the long-term success of our national teams.

"We are just starting a marathon here and it may two or three generations to accomplish what we need to do."


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4 min read
Published 25 March 2017 at 1:26pm
By Dave Lewis