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License To Thrill

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I paid my $12 to read Bruce Holloway’s The National League Debates, a well researched tale of New Zealand’s football league history from 1990 until the present. As a foreigner (who desperately wants to stay here, Immigration NZ, if you’re reading) it surprised me how many variation, u-turns, s-turns and even some sort of z-turn, had been visited upon the established clubs of this country.

Football is an organic thing. It grows, often out of the control of those who seek to administrate it. And there’s no shortage of clubs in this country, they appear wherever people get together. What there is a lot of, though, is space. New Zealand is bloody huge! From Cape Reinga to Bluff is the equivalent of Seattle to San Diego. Auckland to Dunedin is a further away day than any club in Europe has to travel in their own national league. The cost involved in getting around the country is huge, hence the regional league competitions. It’s the same as the lower leagues of English football, where the competition is divided into similar regions to ensure clubs don’t fold under the weight of distance.

The current solution, to form new clubs in franchise form, mirrors that of Australia where the migrant influence and some ugly prejudice meant the only solution was a blank slate, a fresh start – and also, ensuring they were under the full control of the FFA, as Nix fans are discovering to their horror.


Frank Lowy’s looking well.

I’ve also read the NZF Competitions Review. It’s vision of 2018/19 for the ASB Premiership should give heart to any football supporter. A ten team league, each team playing each other three times, with a season running between July and March. Also, the prospect of promotion to the league via regional league playoffs. This also, of course, introduces the prospect of relegation.

There are two available licenses for the new ten team league, but these licenses only run until 2017/18. Already WaiBOP have made a move, proposing the dissolution of their club in favour of Hamilton Wanderers. There are far more bids than there are licenses, which means someone’s going home without a party bag. Hopefully we can avoid the Ole Madrid situation this time round.

Those who are granted the licenses will recognise that they have to work hard to establish and stabilise to the NZF’s satisfaction, simultaneously being aware that there’ll be spurned, yet willing, clubs waiting to try and take over should they fail. The licenses essentially provide the clubs with a chance to prove themselves, even the established clubs. Because as we’ve seen with the Phoenix, two years isn’t exactly viewed as stable when considering the establishment and brand expansion of a football club.


It will be interesting to see the proposals for licensing from 2018 onwards. Three year licenses have been standard for clubs/franchises operating within the ASB Premiership since it’s 2004 inception, with clubs in some cases handing theirs on (Waikato FC) and in some cases having it taken from them (YoungHeart Manawatu).

It’s perfectly possible to see a situation where clubs going through the regional playoffs to the Premiership are granted their license upon meeting conditions of ground, training facilities and youth squad involvement. After all, that’s precisely the situation non-league clubs face in the UK when attempting to join the Football League, but also entry to the National League below, and the regional North & South National Leagues.

Would this lead to a meritocracy in New Zealand football? The best run clubs, playing the best football would be able to play at the highest level. Teams that play good football would be reliant on their clubs administrators to run the club well, or could rightfully find other, better run clubs to play for. Racking up debts in an attempt to summit wouldn’t, literally, pay off.

What is needed from NZF is a steady hand. Grant 2018 onwards licenses on the basis of membership of the league – if you’re good enough, you stay. Set the rules of entry to the league from regional leagues and apply the same financial rules to the clubs in the Premiership. And then let it stabilise, let it establish, let it grow. And leave it alone for a bit eh?




Categories: NZ Men's National League

John Palethorpe

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