A-League Clubs Suffer Growing Pains
While the drama on the field has subsided, Phill Chadwick looks at the ownership struggles going
on behind the scenes.
After the back-slapping and mutual congratulations have died down following the very successful first season,
many A-League clubs are coming to the realization that this is a long term project.
Recent disturbances in the ownership of several of the clubs serve as good case studies in the difficulties
investors face in the brave new world of A-League football.
The most recent, and most disturbing, is the news that Perth Glory's founder and mentor, Nick Tana has
relinquished his license and the Football Federation of Australia have had to step in to prop the club up
while new investors are found.
For fans of that great club, the oldest in the A-League, with its non-ethnic, family-friendly, inclusive
model on which this whole competition was built, this must be a sad time. While there is at present no
suggestion that the club will fold, a great deal of tradition and pioneering spirit may be lost.
We can assume that the existing name, logo and colours, while still available, may be up for change if a
new owner has other ideas. "He who pays the piper calls the tune", after all.
Accumulated losses reported at $7 million over the club's nine year life span have finally done Tana in.
Eventually, as "investment" turns into "losses" there has to be a limit.
Let us hope that the club is claimed back from the FFA by people interested in the game of football for the
game's own sake, and not just investors looking for financial reward. If there is a Western Australian version
of Gordon Pickard out there, please put your hand up now.
I am sure that Tana's legacy will, in the long run, be seen for what it was, a truly ground-breaking club
model that showed us all the right way to establish a professional football club in this country. And let's
not forget that club's proud record of success in the NSL. The A-League needs Perth Glory just as much as it
needs Sydney FC.
Speaking of Sydney FC, in recent weeks it has had the sort of jolt that brings you back down to earth in a
hurry. Hard on the heels of their Championship win has come news of major internal dissention at board level,
pressure to dump Chairman Walter Bugno, and the probable loss of both Yorke and Littbarski.
The supporters, at least, seemed to understand the major contribution of their Chairman to the success they
had so recently enjoyed. The Cove supporters group, stung into action, rapidly mobilized protests, public
expressions of support, and generated media interest. This cannot have gone unnoticed by those agitating
behind the scenes.
In this first demonstration of "People Power" in the A-League, The Cove showed it wielded real power. Bugno
is now apparently secure.
Those holding financial stakes in A-League clubs take note.
A football club is not just a business. Many thousands of people have invested deeply of their emotions in
these clubs. To them it is not dollars and cents, it is passion and commitment. The Cove should be commended
for reminding the money men that there is much more to a football club than Balance Sheets and Profit and Loss
Down South, Melbourne Victory still live under the ignominy of a quarter shareholding by the FFA.
For a proud sporting city like Melbourne, this must burn in their guts. For the rich and powerful of
Melbourne to allow those Sydneysiders a large portion of their club is a disgrace. For the FFA to want to
retain it is even worse.
Such arrangements must be last resorts, and must be very temporary indeed.
Why doesn't the FFA sell its 25% to the Victory's supporters? Tens of thousands turned out week after week
to watch a losing team. That sort of commitment deserves reward. I don't know how much value the FFA places on
its shareholding, but there must be 5,000 supporters happy to part with $100 each to own a piece of their
club. There is half a million dollars. Goodbye FFA.
And I can see real merit and value in having a representative of the supporter base as a Board member.
Adelaide United is not without its ownership dramas. Although in the range of football club ownership
changes, this was so dull as to be almost boring. The great man, Gordon Pickard, has handed over his majority
share of the club to his old mate and minority partner, Nick Bianco. Apparently Pickard had to be persuaded to
accept some money for the transaction. A smoother transition could not be imagined.
While of different origins, both are self-made men. Both are migrants who worked their way up from the
trades to the boardroom. Both are very wealthy men with a deep love for the game of football. Bianco's recent
statements give great heart to all United supporters.
He will continue the Pickard tradition of funding supporters bus travel to away games. He will look to
encourage families to come to the games. He will allocate serious money to recruiting a marquee player.
All this is very promising. Bianco's long term and ongoing support for all levels of football in South
Australia is well known and widely admired. If Nick Bianco can continue Gordon Pickard's work and build
Adelaide United into the future he will win further respect.
So, it seems that some of the A-League clubs are feeling the growing pains of settling in to the new
competition. Painful it may be, but it is, I think, a healthy sign that this is a real competition, with real
clubs and real clubs' problems.
For there is nothing more certain than death, taxes and internal turmoil at football clubs.
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