Everyone seems to be throwing in their two cents worth on ‘what’s wrong with New Zealand Football’ at the moment, therefore I don’t see what should make me any different. Gareth Morgan’s piece today was another in a long line of articles by various pundits that have contained plenty I disagree with. I’m no expert on sports administration, and I am the first to admit I’m not even really that much of an expert on football, but I would tentatively assert that I know at least as much about the game as Gareth. So working under the assumption that I can’t do much worse than him, below is my attempt at the genre.
First I need to get one thing off my chest. There is little that annoys me more than business people who think that the answer to any given problem you can shake a stick at is “more business”. Gareth might be right that the board of New Zealand Football is an “old boys network”. I simply don’t know. But one thing I do know is if it happens to be true, then the answer is not to replace one set of old boys with another. Try this exercise: print out a list of New Zealand companies, put on a blindfold, get yourself a pin, and jam it into the paper somewhere. Then google the company, go to its ‘about us’ page and pull up the photos of the board members. Done that? Now how many of them are not old boys?
Football is a sport, not a business. Not for profits have completely different drivers that require different skillsets. I have no objection to business people on the board of NZF per se, but like any healthy organisation it needs people from a range of different backgrounds – business, as well as charity experience, a mix of detail as well as big picture people, and financial as well as football knowledge.
Then, once you’ve incorporated all that, how’s this for a radical notion – what about getting a fan representative? Lots of clubs have them and it may assist the rest of the board understand why we generally don’t get many spectators at games in this country and begin to address it. Failing that, just one person from whatever background who happens to be under 30 would also be an asset. Someone who might provide insight on what attracts young people to our sport, and even more importantly, why they leave. Both of these options would view strategic decisions through important lenses that might not currently be present, and their inclusion could be argued to be higher priorities than attracting business acumen to the board. Oh, a woman or two on the board might not hurt either – long overdue when for one thing you consider the world ranking of our Football Ferns!
But simply changing the board is never going to be any sort of silver bullet. I see two problems with New Zealand football that if they were fixed, could make a real difference long term. One, I’m always crapping on about – we need a competitive and exciting National League. The other is I think we need to attract more brown faces into the game.
The former I probably should resist the urge to keep banging on about, except to say that we need a league that people want to take their kids along to watch, and that kids up and down the country whether they are in Dunedin or Auckland can identify with, put posters of up on their bedroom walls, and imagine their favourite players lifting the ASB Premiership trophy. Then, they need to imagine doing it themselves when they get older. I don’t advocate a return to Superclubs. Franchises are fine – they are cost effective and stop multiple clubs in the same regions duplicating resources. We just need rules to spread the talent out more rather than it all being concentrated in one or two clubs.
Related to that, is the need to make sure that all kids can see themselves in those teams by doing whatever we can to inspire people who look like them to want to play the game and rise to the top. Gareth worries about our boring English style of football. The way to fix that should not be to swap English football for Dutch (total) football or Spanish (tiki-taka) football. We need to develop a uniquely New Zealand style of football. There is so much untapped Polynesian flair sitting in South Auckland and elsewhere waiting for us to give them something to interest them about our game, to beckon them in to help us transform it, take ownership of it and truly grow it.
We’ve got a start with people like Bill Tuiloma and Winston Reid as heroes for kids to look up to and seek to emulate. Of course it’s a lot more difficult than just “get more” though. Kids of every stripe need to see organisations at grassroots level that ‘get’ them, seem cool to them, and are places where their friends have a good time and go to school raving about.
The best part is, this is not something that particularly needs Gareth’s millions of dollars thrown at it. Plenty of improvements that could be made would cost little or nothing. Maybe the first change though needs to be fewer people who wax lyrical in newspaper columns and/or on blogs the way I am now, and more people who get involved in their local clubs. In the words of Gandhi: ”BE the change you want to see in the world”.
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/