This article has been sent to us by a fan in Australia. I think we've all become accustomed to hearing about the plight of fans at the hands of clubs' own greedy chairmen and short-sighted directors, but in Australia the threat seems to be from those that run the League itself...
Soccer Australia made a decision a couple of years ago that the solution to the problems of the National Soccer League was to cut the league from 16 clubs to 12 to avoid spreading the available talent too thinly and to avoid some of the financial problems that had plagued NSL clubs in the past. The problem with this theory is that they then came up with a list of criteria for remaining in the league that was purely financial - performance on the pitch didn't come into it. The other problem was that the Football Kingz, a New Zealand based club, were guaranteed a spot, meaning that four Australian clubs would be kicked out, while a New Zealand club had a guaranteed place.
Two clubs, Carlton and Eastern Pride, did Soccer Australia a favour by folding during the season just finished, partly because sponsorship was impossible to come by as it was seen as a 'dead season' and no club could guarantee they would be in the NSL the following season. Soccer Australia then decided that Canberra Cosmos was not a 'going concern', so they would go. The remaining thirteen clubs were ranked according to the criteria. Everyone thought they had a pretty good idea who would be ranked last as there are a couple of Sydney and Melbourne clubs who seem to most to be holding the league back. Most people were very surprised when the rankings were announced. The Football Kingz actually came last on the criteria, but were guaranteed a spot anyway, begging the question as to why they were included in the rankings in the first place. Brisbane Strikers were ranked twelfth, so they were cut from the league. Canberra Cosmos appealed the decision to label them as not a going concern and that appeals board recommended they be retained in the league, but they were booted out, anyway.
Predictably, this has resulted in widespread condemnation of the restructure process from fans across the country, not only those in Brisbane and Canberra. The 12 team league decided upon would include 7 clubs from New South Wales, no club from the third biggest city in the country and no club from the nation's capital. Three of the remaining clubs are within spitting distance of each other in Western Sydney.
The reaction from fans has led to one Australian senator asking for an inquiry into the running of the game in this country. It also led the twelve remaining NSL clubs to call a meeting, at which they unanimously recommended that Canberra and Brisbane be retained in the league and for the league to be set at 14 teams. The NSL executive have now gone back to Soccer Australia and recommended the same, but the Soccer Australia board have yet to decide on the recommendation.
There is no doubt that the NSL needs reform as it is in a bad way. There is equally no doubt that this attempt at restructuring the league has been a disaster from start to finish. I know that many people in England think that the FA have little idea what they are doing, and FIFA have certainly had their problems of late, but to see true incompetence in football administration you really only need look at Soccer Australia. You'd be hard pressed to find a bigger bunch of cretins anywhere.
Such is the state of the game in Australia. Somehow the Socceroos are still doing the country proud with their performances at the Confederations Cup and they may beat the odds and grab a place at next year's World Cup by beating New Zealand and then the fifth-placed South American country. Football supporters in Australia need something to cheer about because it's certainly not being provided by our national league.
The latest development is that the meeting to review the decision to expel Strikers and Cosmos has been indefinitely postponed. This follows an EGM called by four State soccer federations in an attempt to sack the board of Soccer Australia. However, this delay in itself is likely to harm the precarious funding and budgeting situation in both the clubs. It seems legal action may follow.
Soccer Australia's board of directors last night reversed an earlier move to kick out the two clubs. Both teams had failed to make the cut when SA decided to trim the NSL to 12 teams at the end of last season. The decision means the NSL will operate a 14-team summer league next season. In explaining its backflip, a spokeswoman for SA said it had decided to expand the league to 14 teams after originally culling it from 16.
The news of Brisbane's reinstatement was greeted with relief by the team's coach, former Socceroo legend John Kosmina. "This is just great. It was the right decision, not just for Brisbane, but for the thousands of supporters and backers of the Strikers", Kosmina said. "The stress of not knowing what the future held over the last few weeks and months was unbelievable. For mine, Soccer Australia had no valid reasons for kicking the Strikers out of the league in the first place. Much of the credit for the Brisbane fightback belongs to chairman Ross Melville, director Clem Jones and CEO Ray Evans. They fought a fair and honourable fight".
Kosmina now has the difficult task of assembling a squad in time for the season kick-off in October. "I'm starting virtually from scratch with just 14 contracted players, so I'm in the market for a number of key position players", he said. Kosmina said the nucleus of his team would be built around Young Socceroo Wayne Shroj, who deputised for the injured Ljubo Milsevic at the World Cup in Argentina last week.
The Strikers had failed to make the 12-team cut in the original assessment process, despite meeting the NSL's criteria. They were relegated to 13th on the order of entry because of an existing agreement between SA and the Auckland-based Football Kingz. Having passed the "going concern" test, and with appropriate financial guarantees in place, SA decided the Strikers should take up one of the two additional positions to expand the NSL to 14 teams.
The second additional position was granted to Canberra Cosmos. SA said the Cosmos had put in place the necessary financial guarantees missing during the previous assessment process. Since completion of the original assessment process, the Cosmos had been able to demonstrate an improved position with regard to solvency, SA said. "We came out fighting against the proposed competition reforms and were proven to be right", Cosmos chairman Danny Moulis said. The board will be meeting as soon as possible to activate the club's plans for the season, and hopefully reignite the great passion shown by Canberra crowds last season".
But the news for the Eastern Pride, from Victoria's Gippsland area, was all bad. The Pride officially are no longer in the NSL. The SA board also did not consider any applications from new entities. Last season, both Carlton and Eastern Pride collapsed financially and failed to see out the season.
The 26-round NSL schedule, followed by play-offs, is scheduled to kick off on Friday, October 5, 2001, with the grand final scheduled for Sunday, May 12, 2002.