Australian Football Needs A Win, Not More Own-Goals

26/09/2015 6:45 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Brendon Thorne via Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 03: FFA CEO, David Gallop addresses the media during a press conference to announce the Socceroos World Cup farewell match against South Africa to be held on 26 May at ANZ Stadium on March 3, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Football in Australia has always been somewhat of a ramshackling beast, seemingly lurching crisis to crisis, but it's been a while since things have threatened to derail to this extent -- leaving supporters to question how it all came to this.

News that the women's national football team, the Matildas, had effectively gone on strike seeking better pay and conditions was only the latest in a litany of missteps the game has taken since they were the toast of the town after the Women's World Cup.

The Newcastle Jets remain under FFA control (although it now seems a buyer has been found), the Brisbane Roar have been threatened with being wound up by a pub, and the extent of clubs' losses is only truly becoming apparent to those who were not looking so closely before.

The players' union is in an increasingly bitter industrial dispute, and with a much hoped-for re-negotiation over FTA TV rights falling flat after the FFA was unable to find a truly interested commercial channel to partner with -- the governing body is left to play the poor man.

The merits of the Matildas' case for more payment for their loyalty and dedication to the national team is not in question. The part-timers are effectively training full time for an amount below the minimum wage, truly a disgrace.

By the FFA's own admission, A-League clubs made a combined loss of $17 million last year season - a season where football was buoyed by a World Cup. It has argued that it simply does not have the money to give the Matildas what they deserve.

FFA chief executive David Gallop has suggested that the governing body could meet the Matildas' demands - if the Socceroos are willing to pay for it, a suggestion also put forward by respected football reform activist Bonita Mersiades.

The suggestion is likely a political one by Gallop made with an eye toward an increasingly acrimonious dispute with the PFA, but it partly has merit.

Because the collective bargaining agreement takes a 'whole of football' approach, a pay increase to one party will invariably be at the expense of another.

This is while the governing body is barely making a profit, compared to the rate of revenue it is able to generate.

A $7.3 million profit on revenue of $136 million is unlikely to be sustained by the time the governing body files its next set of books in June. It gets to keep little of the revenue for hosting the Asian Cup, with that going to the Asian Confederation.

There's also unlikely to be an A-League club sale, such as the Wanderers' sale to a local consortium or a World Cup to fill the revenue side.

What revenue the FFA does receive has to go into a whole of football plan -- work that both takes a long time and deep pockets.

What hope there was of a short-term revenue fix of selling off SBS' A-League rights to another broadcast bidder also fell flat, with the broadcaster confirming it would just quietly shunt Friday Night A-League matches onto SBS2 after poor ratings on the main channel last season.

Of course, critics of the governing body point out that the FFA somehow found $500,000 for a school or some such nonsense in Jack Warner's patch -- and the FFA will point out that it was most definitely its money.

Not the federal government's.

In short -- the Matildas pay dispute has focused the football supporter's minds on the finances of the game in the country.

After years of rhetoric about the A-League growing at a rate of knots (some well-deserved), it seems going into the upcoming season that for the first time in a while this feels like a make-or-break season.

The game in the country badly needs a good news story.

It doesn't need players boycotting appearances in Perth, a town in which the code needs all the help it can get. It doesn't need its star female players sitting at home instead of catching a plane to the US, and it doesn't need clubs living by the skin of their teeth.

But, this is football.

Football in Australia has always lurched from various crisis to crisis between its many new dawns.

Yet the fundamentals remain.

It remains the game which can well and truly unite disparate communities -- where it may have divided before. Legions of fans can fill stadia for glorified training runs, and on the terraces there is the passion of supporters singing and dancing for clubs which didn't exist just over a decade ago.

There are also signs that after 10 years of the A-League, communities are starting to form and take on identities.

The Cove, Sydney FC's main supporter base has crowd-sourced $9900 to sponsor W-League players, a fantastic effort.

Melbourne and Sydney derbies will continue to be a highlight of the Australian sporting calendar -- not just the football calendar.

It's shaping to be one of the more interesting seasons of the A-League's short history -- all without a ball being kicked in anger.

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