They drew the 2016 Chatham Cup preliminary rounds this week. The oldest cup competition in New Zealand starts on ANZAC weekend, running through weekends until the final on the 11th of September. A fortnight after that,the 2016/17 NZFC teams will begin their pre-season. With the ten team league running through until mid-March 2017, pre-season for regional league clubs will be underway prior to the 2017 NZFC final. And then there’s the Oceania Champions League, this year and next year. Does it never end?
Well, no. If you’re of a mind to watch it, there’s a full calendar year of football on offer in New Zealand. The experience of many football supporters, the gnawing gap in the schedule between seasons, is filled here by a continuous rolling buffet of the game.
It’s not so great for the teams though. NZFC new boys, Eastern Suburbs and Hamilton Wanderers, are competing in both Winter and Summer leagues this year – meaning the season that kicked off three weeks ago will roll on until March 2017, a full twelve months of competitive football and training.
Obviously lots of summer clubs already find themselves in a similar situation. Central United always know they’ll be without some of their summer ACFC stalwarts in the early part of the season, as the Oceania Champions League runs concurrently with the start of the NRFL Premier League. There’s also the need for a rest, players aren’t machines.
There’s some hope in the prospect of New Zealand Football’s competitions review, the Rob Sherman led reorganisation which has seen Suburbs and Tasman United join the summer competition. It proposes a shift towards a single season, involving all existing levels of football in New Zealand.
The plan, should the two year licenses granted to the new teams be extended, is to open up the summer competition to the regional leagues, with promotion decided via playoffs (and whether teams meet the criteria for entry, like promotion to the English football league). That would see the 2018/19 season for all leagues begin in July and end in March, and include NZFC teams in the Chatham Cup again.
It makes sense in many ways. Joining up the NZFC with the regions means that the summer competition is competitive at both ends, it means those in the regional leagues have something extra to play for beyond the end of the regular season. The potential for a club to rise from the NRFL Division Two to the NZFC, or an NZFC club to go the opposite way creates the potential for drama, for stories and for excitement.
It also gives players a break too, during the wet months of April, May and June. I’m sure they’ll be glad of that.
A single season presents challenges, particularly to those clubs who effectively exist in Regional leagues and the NZFC league. It would also mean the regional leagues would cease to operate in August/September 2017 and not resume until July of the following year.
From a commercial side, it creates one product – one New Zealand Football League. Handy for sponsorship, marketing and televising games. Economically it’s sensible not to force clubs to pour money into travel until they are operating at the highest level, and the qualification standards for the top league would ensure investment is sought or made in facilities and youth programmes for clubs on the make.
I foresee trouble when the first club who doesn’t meet the qualification standards is refused entry to the NZFC though.
Potentially it creates a structure for New Zealand football to develop within, one which allows both regional and national competitions to exist. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the endless football of the next few years, only that we should eagerly anticipate the potential future of the game in New Zealand.
Categories: NZ Men's National League