For the Good of the Game is the catch cry of FIFA, and there are times when we question the integrity of such a comment coming from the game's governing organisation. The same could be said of those running the game in Western Australia, Football West.
Three years ago the board reviewed the state premier league and produced a discussion paper highlighting improvements that need to be made by all clubs wishing to remain in the top league. Most of these changes had to do with the grounds that they play at, which had in the main fallen into varying states of disrepair. The recommendations saw a number of improvements required in particular offering spectators an undercover viewing area, and improving changing room facilities.
There is no doubt that the past 10 years have seen the Western Australian State Premier League fall into decline. The standard of football has dropped, the quality of the pitches has fallen, the club rooms are all in need of a lick of paint, and attendances have plunged considerably. The only thing that has increased is the amount that the players are being paid, and the fees the clubs have to pay to participate.
The marketing and promotion of the league is non-existent and as a result it has next to no profile.
Social media is seen as the way to promote the game these days, but sadly as much as it appeals to the younger generations who do not seem to watch the games, it does not prompt others such as past players to go and watch.
Low attendances have meant less revenue through the gates, and even less money over the bar. The clubs are haemorrhaging — and for some — the stadium upgrades being forced upon them will be the death knell.
The Western Knights, the league’s second most successful club in the past 12 years have already advised the game’s governing body that unless they reverse a decision to make them play all of their games away next season they will be forced to drop down a division.
The crazy thing about the Western Knights situation is that they have a sponsor who was — and still is — prepared to spend $2.5 million to build them a new club house. The local government were not prepared however to extend the club’s lease on their Nash Field ground to 20 years and the option of a further 20 years, as well as a few other requests which could have been negotiated.
Yet for the council to upgrade this facility with rate payer’s money it will cost them almost as much; with this option they could have had a brand new facility at no cost and which the Knights were prepared to make open to the community. Surely a win-win situation for all concerned?
What is a major concern to many in the game is the lack of effort coming from the game’s governing body to ensure that one of its top clubs stay in the top flight. Football West could surely have assisted in the club’s dealings with the council. Other clubs are beginning to feel that if head office wants to implement these changes, then they should have assisted with the planning as to how each club could achieve them, and acted as a mediator in their dealings with local government.
If the Knights do drop a division it means that the western suburbs and Fremantle will not have a representative in the top flight — a massive catchment area with money. The game will be missing out on opportunities to help raise its profile and acceptance.
There is a great fear that the “build and they will come” attitude is misplaced and is in fact putting the proverbial cart before the horse. What is being forgotten is that without a decent product and promotion of that product, you will not attract anyone to enjoy the sumptuous new facilities.
The only plus that may come out of all of this is the reducing of the number of teams in the State Premier League, which should help raise the standard, as currently too many teams are carrying players who are simply not up to the standard required.
It is likely that the state league will never be the same. It is hoped that the end result will be more people coming to watch the games, but there are question marks over whether there is actually a long-term plan attached to all of this. It is make or break for the league, and with a game being slow to embrace its history, losing its longstanding clubs could possibly have a lasting impact on the future.