Football’s new board begins, but is it a new beginning?


After two years of solid trench warfare on the battleground that is Australian football, this long awaited day would end with a new board at the helm of Football Federation Australia.

Students of history will know that the unsatisfactory ending of one war usually begets another, and whether we have truly achieved peace in our time or merely a break between more bullets remains to be seen.

Chris Nikou is the new chairman. Not in his wildest dreams would he have begun 2018 imagining that he would end the year as captain of the ship, but that’s his reward for reading the waves.

A man who has cut his administrative cloth in the shadows, the first time many people will have seen his face will be in Tuesday’s newspapers.

For his chairmanship to be successful, he’ll need to embrace a much more public persona. The game is crying out for leadership. Visible, ethical leadership.

With equally close ties to the old regime and the clubs who sought to replace the Lowy family’s grip on power, Nikou is certainly wise to how the past 24 months have played out.

Now he faces a balancing act of placating those forces behind the scenes who helped secure his new role with what is best for the game. He might want to call Malcolm Turnbull for advice.

Nikou has openly remarked that expanding the top tier of the sport is his priority. Comments about “protecting the investment” of A-League owners, rather than embracing a second division, renders hopes of promotion-relegation a non-starter. At least for now.

But while social media pondered whether the new chairman was somebody overseen by more powerful interests, it was equally notable that Heather Reid and Remo Nogarotto were hailed with triumphant acclaim.

It was a delightful moment as two of the game’s most prominent voices were welcomed back to the sport - at least as administrators - both have tirelessly championed for most of their lives.

Reid is a warrior for the women’s game. If the football family was heartbroken at seeing Craig Foster withdraw his candidacy, Reid was arguably the next best thing. Her cavalier approach is unlikely to be toned down, evidenced by the immediate promise to “roll up my sleeves” after being elected.

Nobody should ever forget Moya Dodd’s deeds for country and continent but in Reid, there’s an equally passionate advocate who can hold the torch high. She’ll fight for the game to the end.

Likewise with Nogarotto. He hates being labelled as “old soccer” but with so much skin in the game, it’s impossible to overlook the stark fact: his appointment is a soothing balm on a flaming wound.

It is the first time in 15 years that an FFA director will be cheered as he enters the social club at Melbourne Knights, the stands at Sydney Olympics or the terraces at Adelaide City.

His appointment alone does not close the very painful and very real gap with the past, but the game’s “lost generation” have never had a figure on the board they could talk to, let alone one who would listen. They do now.

Alas, it would be unwise to frame Nogarotto as merely symbolic or a hangover from Soccer Australia, the organisation he worked with the Federal Government to close down so that FFA could be created.

A quick look at his staggering success in the corporate and political sphere - not only in Australia, but in Europe and the United States - suggests the new board will be leaning on his expertise in almost every dimension.

And in Joseph Carrozzi, accidentally the most divisive figure of the entire campaign, the new board has a genuine outsider.

I’m a staunch advocate of football people being given opportunities to develop their administrative talents, but his experiences and a fresh pair of eyes offers undeniable value. How best can football tap into that?

Indeed, if he can learn the game’s nuances and intricacies quickly, any misgivings about other sports or unfortunate tweets will be forgiven. Too many “suits” - to steal Lowy’s phrase - have enjoyed the perks of board life without giving much back. Carrozzi has been made acutely aware of this.

Still, with two more board members to come (likely Stephen Conroy and Linda Norquay), it remains difficult to tell just how the public will react to the new board. Most are hedging their bets.

If nothing else, while the total revolution sought by many was not accomplished, there’s a feeling that game is somewhat more advanced than it was yesterday.

Whether or not it will be enough satisfy the masses long-term is another question altogether. As it was for the previous board, taking care of the game's most important stakeholder - the fans - remains this new board's biggest test.