By John McGifford
As a new contributor to this forum please let me introduce myself. My name is John McGifford and for nearly five years I have been the Chief Executive Officer of Central Football. Central Football is one of seven Federations nationally, who are vested by New Zealand Football with the responsibly of developing the game of football within their regions. Within Central Football’s boundaries are Poverty Bay, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Whanganui and Taranaki, across those boundaries are just over 170 clubs and in 2015 there were 13,865 players enjoying the beautiful game across the 5 regions.
I refer now to Mr Wayne Ruscoe’s story dated 18 February 2016 on this site, where Mr Ruscoe tells tales of “bullying, coercion and staggering incompetence” in football in Whanganui. Mark Twain once said once said “never let the facts get in the way of a good story” so I’m hoping below will provide the facts, all of which can be backed up, that will give readers the balance that Mr Ruscoe has conveniently or perhaps selectively failed to do. I do apologise in advance that this may be quite a read as I will be sparing brevity for accuracy and, as always, honesty.
Let’s start with the good things, things that even a bullying and coercive Chief Executive Officer of a staggering incompetent organisation must agree with. Wembley Park is a magnificent venue, and amongst the very best within the Federations boundaries. It is also agreed that it is unique in that nearly all football is trained for and played on at the same venue. This provides opportunities many other regions would give their eye teeth for. Also agreed is that there is a committed and hard-working volunteer base that supports football in Whanganui, just as volunteers do all across the Federation. Without their enthusiasm and love for the game football would be so much poorer, and may not even be able to function. It is further agreed that the hub concept is an inspirational and wonderful opportunity for football, so much so what it is endeavouring to be achieved could well become a blueprint for clubs across New Zealand. So Mr Ruscoe we agree on those things, but maybe only those things.
Now let’s now get the facts straight, and let’s start with the hub concept. With the greatest respect to NZ Football the first point contrary to Mr Ruscoe’s that I must make is that NZ Football didn’t “choose” Whanganui as the perfect place to trial the hub. Central Football were the inventors of the concept and it was through this organisations engagement at NZ Football level that it was agreed that the hub be trialled in Whanganui. A small point maybe but the first of many examples I will give throughout this account on what the Federation contributes to the region, despite Mr Ruscoe’s rather selective memory otherwise.
The hub is an intended partnership between Central Football, the 4 football clubs in Whanganui and the Whanganui Football Charitable Trust referred to in Mr Ruscoe’s story. It has been funded solely to date by Central Football and NZ Zealand Football, at a cost that is significant. I refer again to the word “partnership” which in my simplistic understanding of things the partners work together to achieve shared goals. That has been agreed to and signed off in writing by all 6 partners.
Unfortunately in that partnership we appear to have a renegade organisation who seem hell bent on taking advantage of an agreement of goodwill, trust and collective intent to instead work undercover in damaging Central Football. This is not unusual behaviour for this partner, I have much evidence in my 5 years as Chief Executive Officer but the bad behaviour well precedes me. Despite all the frustrations of “murky dealing behind our backs” Central Football is still committed to the project, and to bringing the schools and Rebel League in. Mr Ruscoe’s claims of “strong rumours that the NZ Football funding for the project will not happen unless we appease Central Football” I can’t confirm or deny. Whether New Zealand Football remains forthcoming with their support, given they are well aware of the ongoing less than desirable behaviour of a partner, is their decision.
Now let’s provide the facts around Central Football using Whanganui as an ATM machine, which would be an ATM we would all love as it gives out more than it puts in! Firstly though it’s important to understand that every participating school, club or participant across the Federation in Central Football’s competitions and its development programs pay exactly the same amount in fees, unless Central Football makes a concession (good example in Whanganui’s favour further below). Not a dollar more, not a dollar less.
Mr Ruscoe believes the Whanganui clubs are being “fleeced”. What he fails to understand or wishes not to acknowledge is that the complete opposite is happening. In 2015 income from Whanganui made up 6% of the Federations total income. The total expenditure on the region made up 8% of total costs. So Central Football’s general trading supports Whanganui, but OK as we need to do that. But of course Mr Ruscoe knows those percentages as they were the same, or thereabouts, as when he was at a meeting where I presented them to a meeting of clubs late in 2013. But again it is not uncommon to take no notice of facts presented, or take the opportunity to present them in an appropriate forum. I refer now to the 2012 AGM of Central Football in Whanganui when not one club turned up! On that day the Federation presented to a grand total of 2 people!
Mr Ruscoe talks in his story about “affordability” of leagues but again choses to ignore another fact that he is well aware of, being Central Football has adjusted its fee schedule in 2016 to decrease the amount most Whanganui teams will pay. Mr Ruscoe also talks about how the Rebel League have a low cost social league that works well for them but of course fails to mention that non-affiliated competitions don’t put a cent back into the game. They don’t support any of the development programs for players, coaches and referees, they don’t support the advancement of our most talented and they don’t support New Zealand’s participation on the international stage. “So what” some may say, but I would challenge those people if they had a sibling who wants to aspire in football to say it then. I can’t say I’m fine with non-affiliated leagues but I do understand their function as long as those participants realise they can’t have their cake and eat it too. And that is why we do need to get the Whanganui Rebel League back into the fold.
Let’s now move to grounds, where it has already been acknowledged what a wonderful facility Wembley Park is. So let’s deal with (and I quote Mr Ruscoe) “the award winning First Kicks program, which is conceived, paid for and run by local volunteers”. Again we agree on the wonderful effort the volunteers put into the First Kicks program, which is replicated by volunteers in their respective areas across the Federation. But again Mr Ruscoe knows but fails to acknowledge that in building the program in Whanganui Central Football provided significant financial support, not received by any other region. It’s also not noted that Central Football organised funding for, and bridged finance for, all the First Kicks equipment. This is a cost all other regions meet themselves. And it must be noted this is not the first time the Federation has actively sought and secured outside funding for club projects in Whanganui.
Next we move to goalposts. Central Football own most, if not all, of the goalposts at Wembley Park and in the other regions with the exception of Taranaki. For Federation owned goalposts the clubs/schools use them at no cost, they are asked to meet the cost of maintaining them though. Fair enough deal one would think. I agree the goalposts at Wembley Park are not in the best order as for the last few years it has been “repair to get by rather than fix properly”. The goalposts are currently under total repair, at a cost of in excess of $2,000.00. Central Football has funded this themselves in recognition that they should not have been left as long as they have.
Regarding the ownership of the goalposts. Mr Ruscoe is correct that in June 2015 it was agreed that the goalposts be gifted to the Whanganui Football Charitable Trust. The gifting was a goodwill and good faith gesture as well as being in recognition that the Trust owns assets at Wembley Park. This is a very similar gesture as when the Federation passed over ownership of the lights to the Trust, the installation of which was a joint project by the Federation and Trust and which were funded in Central Football’s name. Conveniently Mr Ruscoe appears to have forgotten that too.
Back to the goalposts though. Once the commitment was made to gift the Trust set “conditions” under which they were to be gifted. The conditions included terms that could have seen Central Football denied access to Wembley Park. Clearly the gifting stalled then, and I would think even the most unreasonable person would understand why. The gifting finally got back on track later last year but with a partner of the hub running around behind our back and now Mr Ruscoe’s incredibly derogatory comments about Central Football you’d have to ask yourself why would we go through with it now.
Let’s talk about the “phantom invoices” now, invoices that have applied since well before my time at Central Football and which even Mr Ruscoe’s club has paid without question. And referees sheds were in those invoices, as they always have been and are for every other region in the Federation. Mr Ruscoe again is well aware of that as it was explained in June 2015, and repeatedly since. Anyway, last year the invoices were questioned, which is fair enough. A breakdown of costs was given, and there is clear evidence of that despite claims otherwise. But that wasn’t good enough, such is the apparent distrust of Central Football invoices were demanded as “proof” that the clubs weren’t being fleeced.
Anyway despite the questioning of Central Football’s honesty and integrity the invoices were sent to the clubs and proof of work done and charges satisfied. And I must note at this time that Whanganui Athletic was not one of those clubs paying not their dues. Whether they ever considered the invoices “phony” as Mr Ruscoe claims I have no idea but I thank Athletic for their prompt payment, a payment made on time which was appreciated and now justified.
Two quick things while closing on the “not so phantom invoices”. Firstly I revert back the Board of Central Football meeting to “discuss the crisis engineered”. This meeting was scheduled in November 2015, so please don’t they think the Board have hurriedly bandied together just to discuss the crisis a minority from within the Whanganui region have helped create. And secondly withholding transfers to and from unfinancial clubs is common practise across New Zealand, so again Mr Ruscoe you don’t need to feel special.
Next, and pretty much the last of Mr Ruscoe’s points we have referees. Again contrary to Mr Ruscoe’s comment’s that “there aren’t many refs left anyway” there are actually more Central Football referees in Whanganui than there have been for quite some considerable time, and these referees are appointed to Whanganui games. Are all games filled? – no they aren’t, simply because whilst there are a good number of officials there are not sufficient to do all games. This is compounded by Whanganui playing all their games on Saturday, where the other 4 regions play men’s on Saturday and women’s on Sunday. If Whanganui want to play all their games on a Saturday that’s fine. No one is” bullying or coercing” them not to. But of course Whanganui does need to remember that will inevitably continue to place pressure on referee numbers. And again Whanganui is no different as just for every other region if there is no referee a volunteer generally jumps in the middle.
Finally on referees there are a very small number that are no longer with Central Football. That is really regrettable but fortunately we have gained significantly more than we have lost and as aforementioned the current numbers of referees are higher than they have been for a long time. And it is worth closing in noting that Central Football has the most highly achieving referee development program in New Zealand. If confirmation of that is required just check with NZ Football.
I have already gone on much more than I intended but there is one more thing I must mention. In 2014, amongst similar criticism of Central Football by pretty much the same minority of recent times, Central Football commissioned an independent to do a review of the services the Federation provided to the Whanganui region. The clubs and most of the schools were consulted in that review, as was the Whanganui Football Charitable Trust, Sport Whanganui, Whanganui City Council and the Rebel League. Again I don’t see Mr Ruscoe quoting the result of that independent review that concluded that Central Football were meeting all their obligations in Whanganui fairly at a level and cost that was appropriate. The review did make a recommendation for Central Football around resources in Whanganui, which were immediately done. So Mr Ruscoe’s claim of inappropriateness are a far cry from what an independent reviewer concluded.
In closing if members are in support of Mr Ruscoe’s plan to “wrench back control of football in the town” and avoid the “road block to progress” they should be fully informed of the facts and not let them not be told as Mr Ruscoe has chosen to do. I hope all the aforementioned has been helpful in that regard. Before I do close I would like to quote an extract from an email that I sent to Mr Ruscoe only a few weeks back, which may also helpful in consideration of the Federations role outside the competitions that Mr Ruscoe and his minority few seem only to be interested in. That email said:
“………………………….I don’t think you know the amount of time, money and resource ploughed into Whanganui in recent years. I bet you don’t know we paid more out of Hardship Fund to Whanganui families than any other region last year, or that we have worked hard to get funding for both xxxxxxx (members name deleted for confidentially reasons) and the Whanganui Football Charitable Trust, neither of which would have happened without my personal influence. I’m also not sure if you know how well the Whanganui youth players have done in recent years at Federation Talent Centre, which is a high level Central Football programme recognised as the best of its kind in New Zealand. And they are only a few examples of many……………………”
Unfortunately the naysayers are inclined to ignore where the game has progressed under Central Football as it doesn’t suit their own agendas. And I would suggest to those minority few that they take a look at their own track records before they start accusing others of “bullying and coercion”, and I have much evidence of that towards Central Football from those who purport the opposite is happening.
I thank you for your time
Yours in football
Categories: Other NZ Federation Leagues
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.