Don't wait for the FFA: Promotion and relegation is in our hands

Like most of you, I’ve been around Australian football long enough to know the epic list of annual debates. Most fade as quickly as they rise but the issue of promotion and relegation is the one that isn’t dying.

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Conversely, it’s only heating up. And right now? White hot.

Football Federation Australia are worried because they think a reasoned debate – one supported by facts and stats, not emotion and nostalgia – is not being tabled.

I’ll clear one thing up straight away: Whitlam Square isn’t inherently anti promotion and relegation. Steven Lowy’s recent comments prove that. FFA are just desperate for the A-League to work first. Fair enough.

They’re also worried that the A-League owners consider their multi-year licences a legally-binding right to play in the elite league.

Yet I’m willing to gamble that these are businessmen who know a good bet when they see one. If football takes off in Australia, they have more to gain than anyone. Way more.

So the time has come to put options on the table regarding a second division. Real options. Ones that are inclusive, intelligent and, above all, viable.

Viable enough that no club goes broke in this second tier. Ambitious enough that every club commits to an agreed set of minimum standards.

Prove it works, over a few years, and then can we talk about promotion and relegation. But if it proves beyond the collective capabilities, the deal is off.

Australian football should be looking at a national second division in the next three years. Such is the debate, that will look like three years too late or 30 years too early. C'est la vie.

But putting it off any longer and the game risks falling into the NRL and AFL trap: the top league becomes simply too strong to be linked to those below it.

Just don’t expect the FFA to come to the party on this one. Nor do they necessarily have to. Not yet. A compelling, irresistible case must be created first.

Their focus is on creating a money-making elite – Socceroos, Matildas, A-League – and hoping that inspires a generation to take the game on, with TV networks paying big dollars, thus infusing the game with money to spend and heroes to worship.

That’s fine, but if the rest of the sport waits for a master plan that sees their ambitions fulfilled, good luck. Likewise, throwing an entitlement tantrum will be seen as pedantic.

So the call to arms has to go out. A second division needs creating but it requires something that hasn’t happened yet: the interested parties must come together and work as one.

It’s time the likes of South Melbourne, Adelaide City, Brisbane Strikers, Sydney Olympic and any other forward-thinking clubs – perhaps the Sutherland Sharks – got together and formed a collective plan.

It’s time those clubs reached out to the markets the A-League hasn’t quite reached: Canberra, Geelong and Wollongong, and those it forgot, Gold Coast and Townsville, as obvious starting points.

Those regions know the A-League ship has sailed. David Gallop is determined to “fish where the fish are”, so their only hope, for now, is to dig in for the next division.

Indeed, A-League 2 would become the testing ground for Australian football. For new clubs and regions; for hungry young players and ambitious coaches.

Imagine the sight of all these teams coming together for the launch party – just like the A-League in Darling Harbour in 2004 – and tell me that doesn’t make your juices flow.

If it sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. But the A-League was ambitious. So was the FFA Cup. Doomsayers tried to kill them both. Look at them now.

For mine, Professional Footballers Australia loom as the ideal party to help facilitate everyone coming together; it was indeed their modelling that gave birth to the A-League.

Over a decade on, they remain the only industry body who could probably execute the vision for a second tier. It’s also in their interests – a rush of new members – to find the right model.

Tempting though it is to lump the responsibility on the FFA, it’s time the football community – particularly those ambitious clubs – began driving this one from the ground up.

The opportunity is there but the clock is ticking. A-League 2 is waiting.

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4 min read
Published 24 May 2016 at 9:39am
By Sebastian Hassett
Source: SBS