Opinion

Football fire burns brightly at lower levels

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As Australian football at the high end of town continues to engage in a bitter war of words and wills that is damaging the game's integrity, spare a thought for those lesser clubs from the National Premier Leagues that are caught in the crossfire.

Football Federation Australia is under attack from several fronts for its alleged refusal to relinquish its power as the game cries for fresh air and new blood.

At stake is the long-term future of our game and, needless to say, no quarter has been asked or given.

Yet I wonder if the Machiavellian money men who are driving the debate and are so hellbent on strengthening their position at all costs ever spare a thought for the NPL clubs that are waiting in limbo for their chance to be a real part of football's landscape.

More than 4000 people were jammed into Ilinden Sports Centre for the FFA Cup tie between Rockdale City Suns and Sydney FC on Wednesday night.

The Sky Blues, in their first competitive match of the season, as expected ran out winners.

After falling behind to an early goal they came back strongly to win 4-2 to reach the round of 16.

Rockdale and their fans would not have been overly dismayed by the result and more so by the valIant performance.

You see, for clubs like Rockdale, mixing it with the big guns with a sporting change of victory is all that matters.

The game was a chance for me to mingle with the crowd at the small suburban ground and see what football means to people away from the bright lights.

Australian football is not necessarily the FIFA World Cup and the Socceroos or the A-League and its marquee stars. It is also about the Rockdales and Avondales of this world.

There were plenty of loyal supporters urging their heroes to produce a special effort, families enjoying the occasion and hoping for a cup shock and the ground caterers doing brisk business with their kebapis and souvlakis. The Macedonian beer went down pretty well too.

It was a great night out for many fans of a foreign background who have every reason to feel aggrieved at being marginalised by a governing body that only last week banned the Avondale club from displaying a small flag of their ethnic origin at the back of the players' shirts.

I wonder how many FFA representatives were at the game at Rockdale to feel the pulse of the game they are supposed to be governing and see for themselves the heart and soul of our game at work?

Our football leaders have become so far removed from the game's grassroots and its lower levels that it needs to reconnect sooner rather than later with what made our game flourish in the first place since day one.

FFA need to understand that our past is an asset not a liability. The Rockdales, Avondales and many other clubs are the oxygen of our game and should be given every chance to flourish on football merits.

For a long time I was against the concepts of expansion and more so promotion and relegation.

Not that I was against this per se - no need to reiterate the benefits of a system that works well everywhere else - but because I contended that there were far more important problems facing our game that were of a higher priority, like fixing the parlous state of the A-League clubs amid diminishing interest.

The A-League has gone backwards since its heydays of four or five years ago from a perspective of of bums on seats, television viewers and commercial appeal although the general standard of play does not reflect this downturn.

The competition needs something new and if FFA are serious about its survival they must expand it instantly and introduce promotion and relegation at the appropriate time. It has no choice, to be frank.

And if this 'something new' means a blatant acceptance of the 'foreignness' of Australian football so be it.

We were always happy to support and cherish star Socceroos like Eddy Krncevic, Frank Farina, Charlie Yankos, Mark Bosnich, Vince Grella, Mark Bresciano, Mark Viduka, Stan Lazaridis, Tony Popovic and so many others. We were never remotely put off by their foreign-sounding names.

It's now time to also recognise the clubs and organisations that produced these guys.