Last night, the Australian football community were treated to a rare and unprecedented public discussion between some of the greatest players’ the country has ever produced.
Streamed by Optus Sport and hosted by Socceroos legend John Aloisi, he was joined by former teammates Josip Skoko, Craig Moore, Mark Schwarzer, Vince Grella and Mark Viduka for a robust debate around the state of the game in Australia.
Put simply, it was bloody brilliant.
In addition to being a compelling chat, it was hugely refreshing to hear these highly experienced and knowledgeable players - who had contributed so much on the pitch for years - voice their opinions on the biggest issues we’re facing right now.
From junior development, to the cost of registration fees, the highly contentious role of Member Federations, the curriculum, the salary cap and the fractured governance model overall - nothing was off the table.
It was particularly telling when Aloisi asked Skoko to complete the sentence: “In the last 10 years, Australian football has ...” and the former Genk midfielder bluntly replied “gone nowhere.”
The entire football fraternity watching, let out a frustrated sigh in acknowledgement because although this was the first time we were seeing this group talk about the predicament that the game is in so openly, these weren’t new frustrations.
I wondered with great interest if Football Federation Australia chiefs and club owners were listening.
Then, somewhere between Schwarzer rightly slamming the cost of registration fees and Moore saying that the whole of football “needs to align” it dawned on me that the icons of our game were convening on a live stream to solve the game’s problems and not in a boardroom where real change could be affected.
Instead, Football Federation Australia and its member federation affiliates have used their obsession for money, power and control to dictate the way the game is played and just who is put in key positions.
By way of design, they haven’t been interested in healthy opposition, constructive criticism or driving the game forward - they want autonomy, not a democracy and to protect their owninterests.
It’s why they’ve continued to make the same mistakes for decades now.
Things like slashing registration fees, moving to a unitary model, providing more visibility of the games on free-to-air, developing a curriculum that accurately mirrors the demands of the football populous and recalibrating youth development pathways are all logical, and natural evolutions that the wider community has been agitating for.
But for years but we haven’t seen any progress made in these spaces and more.
Ever since the Crawford Report was released in 2003, we have known that an independent A-League model was vital, yet it took the game’s powerbrokers 15 years to announce the transition.
A second division, in addition to promotion and relegation, has also been discussed for years yet once again, it took the same length of time to simply announce that “committees” had been formed to look in to their development.
Further still, expansion has been one of the biggest farces the competition has had to endure in its short lifespan and when the research documents were leaked after the latest round, it became clear that the current administration did notlean on the data and once again, making decisions based on self-interests.
For as long as the community have advocated for positive action, it’s been ignored and as a result, the quality, interest and viability of football in this country has suffered tremendously - from the professional game, right through to the grassroots.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not to blame for this - the custodians responsible for the game are.
We have relied on former players, television pundits and fans to be the catalysts for the greater good of football, while the almighty dollar and self-interests have reigned supreme.
But if you’re anything like me, you’re tired of having the same conversations - enough is enough.
Now, in the face of such ugliness and uncertainty, the game’s administrators have been presented with a unique opportunity and that’s to reset and prove that they have learned from the mistakes of the past.
The news last week that host broadcaster Fox Sports did not pay the final instalment of their broadcast arrangement has naturally invited skepticism about the game’s future.
But I truly believe that with the right leadership, it can be used to the game's advantage to create an ecosystem that’s not solely reliant on one entity for survival.
The governing body and the club owners have an almighty task ahead of them and I don’t envy their positions but if they want to avoid the same fate as the likes of Soccer Australia and the National Soccer League, it’s time to change and that change, starts with them.