Football Alive

Pay for play slowly killing the working class game

Football is a game that just about everyone on earth has played at some stage, if not for a team in your local Association at least a kick about in the park or school playground, whereby 4 school bags or jumpers provide the goals and anything from a tennis ball to a proper football becomes the centre of attention.

The rules are simple, the skills easily learned and teams can vary, with an odd number of players always providing for the obligatory traveling goalie. It is just a fantastic sport to enjoy, on the pitch or from the stands. Of course there is always that one player who is a cut above, the star in your team, your mate who calls megs on you and walks off the field when the bell goes pissed off he didn’t have time to complete his hattrick.

These players are facing two major obstacles when we look at their opportunities compared to similar players from around the world, firstly our dearth of fixtures for our juniors who play at the basic level where they will first be noticed and secondly the ridiculous prices they are expected to pay to play once selected by the semi-professional clubs in the NPL structure.

On the first point our local seasons are ridiculously short, often 8 team competitions playing 14 games home and away, a Semi Fianl and a Grand Final if you qualify and a few preseason games before the season starts. Our juniors are lucky to play 20 matches a season.

Juxtapose this upon world football and the difference is stark. Young kids need to be playing all the time, in leagues of 16-20 teams in seasons that last 3 quarters of the year, the way our World Cup oppositions juniors play for example.

On the second point, our NPL clubs are starved of transfer fees which for some reason do not exist in Australia as they do everywhere else on earth. These feeder clubs have no opportunity to rise above the glass ceiling which the FFA is desperate to reinforce and therefore cannot bring in large amounts of money through sponsorship or gate reciepts. 

For clubs to fund their rise up the ladder or to maintain their positions, they must raise money from somewhere and this is coming from the very players who are trying to win them junior titles. That they give their all on the pitch isn’t enough, they are charged for the privilege of playing, with the money often going to maintaining the first team squad and club administration.

Now this isn’t an attack on the NPL clubs, but a critique of the omnipresent ceiling that stops them from reaching their potential and the lack of transfer fees that they would naturally receive from developing talent. It is a ridiculous paradox that we are patronised and told that our clubs must be owned by the mega-rich who as a cartel demand that those below them must produce talent for them for free.

It is another instance of this trickle-down economics which has clubs like Melbourne City owned by billionaires receiving money from the FFA to sign Tim Cahill who himself comes to play a year at the expense of a young player who has to pay money to have the opportunity to receive tuition to reach his level.

How many subsidies do these billionaires need?

Wanderers are owned by a man worth more than $700 million and looked to sign Scott McDonald, asking Motherwell to release him a few weeks after he had signed a new contract. Motherwell are a club that has skirted liquidation, in what world are they expected to give a player away? It is all the more ridiculous that he is a man with enough money to buy Motherwell and most of the rest of the clubs in Scotland for that matter with money to spare.

At the same time Wanderers basically gave away the 2014 Asian Champions League winning team without bringing in a penny for it, how are players like Juric and Spiranovic allowed to leave on free transfers? It is a double edged sword whereby the smaller clubs get nothing and the A-league teams don’t transfer list players, they cut them. Our clubs refusal to pay transfer fees also directly results in us only being able to sign players who are themselves out of contract.

Player agents are adept at flogging their clients near and far as soon as January first comes about, meaning that we are only getting players who are themselves unwanted by every club the agent can contact. We are the last chance saloon, if we want to get higher quality foreign imports we shouldn’t be looking to merely pay decent wages and throw in the lifestyle bonus, we should be competing to buy.

The impact of transfer fees upon the NPL and grassroots would exponentially change the Footballing landscape in Australia, it would allow clubs to subsidise the tuition fees and instead of charging our youth to play, these clubs would look to produce talent with an eye to sell. This would allow more of our talented youngsters both male and female, to reach their potential and take the next step in their burgeoning careers.

Football is a game for all, as I alluded to earlier everyone has had a kick at some stage. But whilst we charge our breakthrough players a fortune to develop we will find that countries where the average family earn less in a year than an elite player spends on an offseason course (learning under a flawed curriculum) will time and again outstrip us.

Not just on the pitch and in the stands but also finding themselves hosting tournaments that we dream of having. All the while a cartel of rich owners sit about lamenting or current woes and wondering why the next Golden generation doesn’t just magically appear.  


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