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Football takes a Gallop forward

by Ben Somerford on Aug 22, 2012

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Ben Buckley has had a tough gig for the past five or so years, no doubt. But yesterday's news of David Gallop's appointment to replace him as FFA CEO has been rejoiced by many football fans and rightfully so.

Firstly, full credit to Buckley for putting his all into football over the past few years, but most football supporters will remember him for the bungled 2022 World Cup bid and the failure of expansion clubs North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United.

He's done his best for fotball and added plenty of positive input – arguably none more pertinent than the upcoming broadcast rights deal which he'll sign off on – but the shy, reserved former AFL footballer has had his limitations and shortcomings.

It's in this context the FFA's move to land Gallop wins a big tick.

The 47-year-old's exit from NRL in June was a shock to all, coming after he led a decade of growth and success, having arrived in the job shortly after the Super League war. When Gallop left league, goodwill and praise poured in from all quarters of the NRL fraternity, in a sign of how highly he's respected.

Gallop 'quit' as NRL CEO only four months into a four-year contract, although it wasn't his own decision. Issues had arisen behind closed doors following the creation of the new independent Australian Rugby League Commission which led to Gallop's exit, although the 'throwaway' line trumped out to media was the code needed a “fresh approach”.

His departure, though, was dignified and that's one key aspect of the man; he always presents himself well, even in crisis and image is key in this fast paced modern world where people simply don't have the time to delve too deep into issues.

Indeed, Gallop, unlike Buckley, is well versed in getting in front of camera and getting on the front foot on issues. Most non-NRL fans won't know much about the 47-year-old, but most will know he's someone who always presents himself well, even from a fleeting news grab on a sports segment.

For example, throughout Gallop's 10-year NRL reign he was affronted with constant player misbehaviour scandals which are never easy to handle in a media-sense.

However, Gallop's qualities go beyond presentation and media sense, given his law background where decisions aren't based on emotion or passion. In the old NSL days, administration decisions based on passion were too often.

The fact Gallop isn't a 'football person' as well (which has been criticised by some), is a positive in this respect. Hopefully he'll surround himself with good football people to provide the much-needed insights, but be independent enough to separate himself from any semblance of emotion or passion.

Some of the big goals for football with Gallop at the helm will be to boost the game's revenue, which in essence comes from bigger TV money, bigger crowds and more corporate investment and sponsorship.

Buckley will take care of the former before he finishes up in his role, but Gallop is ideal for the latter two. NRL crowds went up under him, while he has great contacts to attract sponsorship. It's also worth citing NRL's $1 billion broadcast rights deal (announced on Tuesday) and acknowledging the role he played in that by building the code to be attractive to broadcasters.

On the topic of crowds, Gallop made the comment in an interview with business website In The Black last year: “Get the team into the community and the community gets into the team”. That's a message which A-League clubs need to seriously take heed of and effectively put in place and under Gallop he is likely to stridently enforce that.

On the flipside, he has had his criticism for being too reactive to issues and too conservative, particularly when it comes to expansion. Arguably, the latter is a good thing for football following a period of failed expansion when consolidation should've been the policy and now needs to be the main aim for the next decade.

Also one of football's unique challenges is the game's small section of over-the-top fans, with last week's pre-season friendly in Western Sydney providing a glimpse of the potential issues. When these stories pop up it's not a good look for football and provides fodder from other codes to ridicule the game.

It's worth remembering in September last year, Gallop infamously likened Melbourne Storm fans who booed him for strong salary cap penalties to “terrorists” which in hindsight he could've worded better. Football fans can be very sensitive (ask Tim Cahill), so this unique issue is one which Gallop will hope to manage better.

However, there is a general sense of optimism about Gallop's appointment. Buckley has done his best, but Gallop brings experience and proven success.

There's few top sporting CEO gigs available in Australia and after a hasty finish with rugby league and still being a few years short of 50, Gallop surely has plenty left to give.