FFA rides west on blazing saddles

Brett Costello/News Limited

On Wednesday, Julia Gillard, the most unpopular Prime Minister in Australia’s recent history, together with ineffectual Football Federation Australia (FFA) CEO, Ben Buckley announced a new Hyundai A-League club would be established in Sydney’s west and ready to participate in the competition next season.

The Gillard Government will provide $8 million of funding to FFA in order to develop football in Western Sydney. So, $5 million will be allocated to increasing participation and nurturing the grassroots community, with $1 million set aside for women’s football (there are no specifics on how much, if any, is for a W-League team). Also, $3 million will be given to Football NSW to redevelop Valentine Sports Park in Glenwood where the club will utilise their facilities and resources.

At this point, all we know is that there will be a 10-team competition next season. The details of the Western Sydney club have not been finalised. In an attempt to win over the community, Buckley has given fans an opportunity to be involved and invested in the establishment of the club.

“The community will have a say in its future colours, its culture, its values, its name and of course, the logo and identity of the new club,” said Buckley.

“In an exciting first for Hyundai A-League football, we will also explore the opportunity for the community to take ownership of the club.”

The name, “New Sydney Club” has been used by FFA on social media sites, Facebook and Twitter to generate feedback.

On the surface, the idea of having a club based in Western Sydney is a no-brainer. Many of the so-called “golden generation” of Socceroos were developed in Sydney’s west and played their breakthrough football in the National Soccer League (NSL) for teams such as Sydney United, Marconi Stallions and Parramatta Power.

Sydney’s west is certainly a field of dreams. The market spreads across a population of at least 1.9 million. However, the strategic planning by FFA is again a mystery; a decision motioned and carried without transparency.

Gold Coast United were officially axed 24 hours after the announcement and left to suffer the same fate as North Queensland Fury, the season before. So, what’s this expansion nonsense? There are still 10 teams.

According to the FFA Statutes, the objectives of the governing body include:

  • To constantly improve the game of football and promote; regulate and control it throughout Australia in the light of fair play and its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values, particularly through youth and development programs
  • To prevent all methods or practices that might jeopardise the integrity of Matches or Competitions or that give rise to abuse of Association Football

Interesting. The words, “improve” and “unifying” would stir debate amongst us all. I’m sure Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury would object to the word “integrity” with good reason.

AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants began by announcing Kevin Sheedy as coach and pinching a rugby league player in Israel Folau, two years prior to even kicking a ball. It sounds like FFA needs a point for missing with the expectation that a club and fully rostered squad can be successfully implemented in just six months.

Buckley’s fate as FFA CEO surely hinges on his ability to negotiate a new broadcasting rights deal. This must include a free-to-air component and cannot contractually be done without 10 teams. The free-to-air market is approximately 70% of total viewership. Football cannot miss out on its democratic right ever again. We can thank the stacked reviewers of the anti-syphoning list for this conundrum.

Make no mistake, the timing of a Western Sydney club has more to do with FFA Chairman, Frank Lowy saving face than the PR ramble we heard on Wednesday.

Lowy is showing Clive Palmer who’s boss. No amount of bullying or what it really is, questioning, from Football Australia will deter the octogenarian.

Australian football is and should be thankful for Lowy’s contribution to the game. However, like the Howard Government, longevity in power leads to public discontent when decisions are being made without democratic consultation.

Lowy has no problem with axing under-performing clubs. He did so with his own, Sydney City (Hakoah) in the NSL.

In Lowy’s biography by Jill Margo, Frank Lowy: Pushing the Limits (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), she explains:

“By 1987 Lowy could read the writing on the wall in big, clear letters. He couldn’t avoid the issue any longer and, putting all emotional attachments aside, made a hard financial decision to withdraw Sydney City from the national competition. Despite its… excellent performances on the field, there were few spectators and the team was unsustainable.”

Sound familiar?

“The decision in 1987 was met with great resentment. There were public meetings and from being a hero, I was suddenly the enemy. It was a turbulent time and I came under violent personal attack. There was even a life-threatening letter. Board support was not unanimous,” said Lowy.

Margo tells a story of how Lowy negotiated a deal to purchase three shopping centres from US department store, Macy’s in 1985. Lowy’s Westfield came in with the highest bid of $US364 million. It was rejected and they were offered $10 million to swap places with the underbidder. Lowy’s telephone negotiation with the banker went like this:

“Forget it. I don’t want your damn money, I want the centres,” said Lowy.

“But you’ll get $10 million,” the banker explained.

“I don’t want $10 million. We are the highest bidders and I demand you put us up. I want the centres.”

“But…”

“But nothing. I demand the right to buy those centres.”

Lowy got what he wanted. He seems to always get what he wants with his Westfield empire as collateral.

Sport is not retail space. Football is not a shopping experience. Neither are to be owned. They are ours; the people’s; free to support with our amateur hearts.

FFA would most probably get a majority vote in favour of a team in Sydney’s west from Australian football’s stakeholders. However, what we all should “demand” of Mr Lowy, is to know how he plans to use taxpayers’ money (as he did with $45.6 million to return one vote in Australia’s failed 2022 FIFA World Cup bid) on delivering every objective stated by his CEO.

Fans in Sydney’s west know football. They should question every FFA decision and hold Buckley accountable for his words.

This is no Western spoof. Football outlaws will not rule the West.

Over to you, FFA.

11 Responses to FFA rides west on blazing saddles

  1. ciaochristopher says:

    Always a pleasure to read a well crafted piece. Anthony is spot on with his usual acuteness in reading between the lines to deliver a fair and balanced critique. At the heart of the matter are the issues of power, [mis]management, and transparency. And Anthony is not alone in his critique. If the fuss from Clive Palmer was the ripple in the pond, then the tsunami has well and truly struck given what has unfolded in Newcastle in the past few days. It is one ugly manifestation. Healthy debate is the golden thread of democracy. Critical thought and examination is not desired; it is necessary. The FFA need to untie the gags, open their ears, and begin work on a football league built on a synergy between owners, clubs, players, and fans – a synthesis of voices to enunciate life again. There’s no more fat lunatics to hide behind; there’s no doubt the sustainability of the A-League is at stake.

  2. Elia says:

    Anthony well written article. I disagree with David’s comments. Unfortunately these are facts whether we like them or not. These are stories that are making headlines and journalists /writers/bloggers have to cover them. Are they going to sound similar – YES for facts are facts. David don’t shoot the messenger. Anthony keep it up. We as football fans deserve & demand the truth – good or bad. Keep them accountable. It’s our sport not theirs.

  3. Kate says:

    Anthony’s work is of a higher calibre than much written about football – it is informed but still connected to ‘we are football’. I heartily concur with his suggestion that there is a use-by date on power in any leadership role. Frank Lowy is a saviour to Oz Football – he helped wake the giant of Australian sport. But he’s stopped listening and fans are furious that our game is being derided by mistakes that could have been avoided. We must focus on a sustainable ALeague. Empiring building can wait.

  4. Rick Samimi says:

    Your line “Sport is not retail space. Football is not a shopping experience. Neither are to be owned. They are ours; the people’s; free to support with our amateur hearts” summarises the state of affairs very well.
    Lowey is used to bullying his way into getting whatever he wants…so are the likes of Nathan Tinkler & Clive Palmer…and Football, The World Game, is bigger than all of them combined. Lowey promised to set up the league & then leave the administration of the game….but his ego & natural tendency to bully have made him stay too long & he’s now damaging the local game.

  5. gazo says:

    You should check out Lowy’s deal on the World Trade Center. He and his mate Richard Silverstein took out the lease on the retail space just weeks before 9/11…

  6. David says:

    You read what everyone else has written and then take bits of what everyone has already written, add in another reference or two, and present it as your own work and not particularly logically.

    • Arya Vee says:

      He’s summed it all up well. Everything’s referenced properly. Can’t see the problem. He’s raised a lot of good points.

    • Christian says:

      David its called research mate. Heard of it? Anthony tries to write based on as many facts as possible not fiction. If you want fiction go read the Smurfs.

    • Nick says:

      Shouldn’t you reference what you feel Anthony fails to reference? Rather than say he “takes bits of what everyone has already written”

  7. Gregory says:

    NO to Football NSW fatcats!!! They have been overcharging kids to play football in this state…
    Call the team Sydney BUlls…

  8. Jonathan Crisp says:

    excellent piece,unemotional,factual and accurate……indeed all the things the FFA are not. Unfortunately as your piece implies nothing will change until Lowy goes,he wields too much power and it seems even our political”masters” are frightened of him.Only when he and his lickspittle sycophants have gone will the truth come out and then be prepared to be shocked,yes even knowledgeable intelligent observers like you.Thank goodness the game is strong enough to survive even these incompetents

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