FFA Deputy Chair Heather Reid talks growing the W-League, reforming WNPL and...

FFA Deputy Chair Heather Reid talks growing the W-League, reforming WNPL and A-League expansion

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That she was elected onto the FFA’s Board of Directors at November’s AGM did not come as a major shock to new FFA Deputy Chair Heather Reid.

A trailblazer in women’s football, Reid had been heavily tipped by media observers as one of the ‘locks’ to ascend to the board in the first election held after the coup that deposed the reigning Lowy regime.

The former Capital Football CEO (the first women to ever hold such a role at a member federation level in Australian football history) has told dailyfootballshow.com, however, that the scale of her endorsement by the infant FFA congress – which put her on 90.78% of their ballots – did catch her off guard.

“I was indeed surprised with that first round result,” Reid said.

“I was surprised, if I go back even further, to be asked if I would accept a nomination from the PFA (player’s union Professional Footballers Australia).

“I was quite comfortable in semi-retirement on the Sunshine Coast but, of course, when I was called by the PFA to consider that I couldn’t say no.

“I was quite… comfortable, I guess, on the weekend before the AGM thinking that I would get the 60% (the threshold required to win a seat on the FFA board).

“Doing the numbers I thought I would be ok to get across the line on the first instance.

“But to get 91% was quite amazing.”

Reid – alongside newly elected board members Carrozzi and Nogarotto, the re-elected Chris Nikou (who was appointed Chair of the FFA as part of the same process that named Reid Deputy) and incumbents Kelly Bayer Rosmarin and Crispin Murray – now faces a gargantuan task; with numerous critical issues needing addressing to reinvigorate a game that has begun to lose serious momentum in recent times.

Chief among the issues that require the new board’s attention is the topic of expansion.

The December 12 meeting of the FFA Board has been floated as a potential D-Day for the announcement of which of the six remaining bids vying for expansion will enter the A-League, with serious doubts raised as to whether a further delaying of any decision would allow enough time for the two new sides to properly prepare themselves for the proposed A-League entrance point of 2019-20.

On the record prior to the Board election as being in favour of expansion, Reid told dailyfootballshow.com that she – stressing that her views were her own and not that of the FFA board – still believed the process was viable.

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“I believe that the A-League has the capacity to expand one or two teams in the next season,” Reid explained.

“We still have to look at the future of Wellington beyond that 2019-20 season and if Wellington is not in the league then I think we could easily take another one or two teams in two years time.

“I’ve had a preliminary briefing on the final bids for the first round of expansion and it’s certainly giving us some headaches.

“I think there’s a whole lot of considerations that are in the mix.

“The capacity to pay the licence fee is a major issue. FFA does not want to be in a position where the decision is made and then, for whatever reason, within a short time we find that it’s the FFA that must then manage that licence arrangement and take on the financial risk associated with that decision.

“We need understand the total financial picture of the FFA at the moment and the future financial picture as well given that it’s been reasonably well broadcast that at least four sponsors are up for renewal next year. That’s a sizable amount of money there.

“So, the capacity to pay the licence fee is one issue.

“The capacity to maintain the licence and have an extra $8-10 million to support the team on an annual basis is also a big issue. So, it’s that sustainability and viability of the bid that’s important.

“Those points lend themselves to issues about the geographic reach that the successful bidding clubs can call on. The capacity to have their stadium and training facilities already locked in. The transport networks … all of the other things that have been very well promoted in the press are very much on a very long list of considerations for the board.”

Although not a part of the ongoing bidding process – which only surrounds A-League licences – the ability to field a W-League side and provide pathways to female footballers has been a frequent rallying cry of the prospective bidders.

A member of the Order of Australia for her work in women’s football and gender equality, Reid told dailyfootballshow.com that, though expansion of the W-League is something that needs to be planned for, it shouldn’t necessarily follow along the lines of A-League expansion.

Elaborating further, the FFA’s deputy chair said that she believed that the introduction of a full W-League home-and-away season, and not the introduction of new sides, should be the priority.

“My personal preference is that the W-League must have home and away before we have any expansion,” Reid clarified.

“If the funding is there for full home and away, and it can also include another club to make it an even number of teams participating in the W-League, then that’s certainly something to be considered.

“I think we need to basically open up the entry for the W-League and the expansion of the W-League to a couple of pools of interest.

“Certainly, we would like to see the Mariners put their hat in the ring but the new teams in the A-League might also have great plans for such participation.

Matildas’ legend Lisa De Vanna is one of few national players to remain in Australia during the W-League offseason, playing with South Melbourne in NPLW VIC – Photo Credit: South Melbourne | Cindy Nitsos

“And I’m particularly thinking of another team from Queensland or perhaps a Northern NSW.

“(It’s) very early days, I don’t want to sort of, sound one club out over the other because my view is always, first, let’s get full home and away.

“Because the current structure and the structure that’s been in place is not a level playing field because you don’t play anyone twice so if you don’t get out of the blocks early it’s very difficult to play catch up at the end of the season.”

Reid then went on to elaborate on her thoughts surrounding potential standalone W-League sides.

“I think it’s a very real possibility,” she said.

“The costs are a big factor but is there a base in the North Queensland? An area that strongly supports a very good basketball team out of Townsville. The Townsville region seems to be quite strong at.

“It sort of surprises me, with the sheer numbers of players in Queensland, that we haven’t looked at a second team and maybe there is an option or an option or an opportunity for a regional team or maybe even another metropolitan team.

“I personally, as I said, see maybe another team from Queensland. But we have to go through a process of applications to see what comes in, just like we’re doing with the A-League.

“I wouldn’t like to think that new A-League teams automatically means there’d be new W-League teams.”

Reid also gave her thoughts on what could be done to improve outcomes for female players at a WNPL level.

“The first thing we need to do is put together the research into what is actually happening in every capital city in regards to WNPL,” she outlined.

“There’s a very inconsistent rollout of the requirements to be in an NPL environment as it related to women’s competition.

“I’ll be bold enough to say that I think, whilst many clubs in capital cities have been focused on ensuring that the boys and the men’s pathways through the NPL has been developed over the last few years – including getting coaches that are qualified, having technical directors, having the right kinds of facilities etc. –  I think the women’s competition has suffered a little bit.

“There is a big gap between premier level competition and W-League competition and that’s something we have to address.

“I would like to see or understand what’s actually happening for the development of the talented players in each of the cities.

“I know a little bit about what’s happening in NSW and the ACT, of course.

“In Canberra, there is a Canberra United academy, teams from 12s through to 17s, that play in competitions every week.

“But there’s also pressure on Capital Football for those players to not be in that academy environment but instead to be playing in a Premier League environment and that to me is not appropriate.

“They have to be training three times a week, apples against apples and also with high-level coaching and training facilitates and everything else that goes with an understanding of what it would be like from that level then to the W-League level.

“There’s inconsistency across the country, we need to understand what’s happening in each city.

“Some places like Newcastle etc. don’t have the WNPL and we need to find out why and what else can be done for their point of view.

“You (also) can’t lose sight of that fact that we want kids to play as much as possible and enjoy themselves.

“If you look at some of the stuff that former Matilda Joey Peters writes about, she’s somebody who is not an advocate for specialisation; she believes that kids should be able to play lots of different sports and not have to focus on one particular pathway.

“So you don’t want to have them channelled into an elite pathway or an advanced pathway too soon but definitely, when the NPL kind of kicks in at 12s or 13s the clubs have to be ready for that.

“They have to have the funding, they have to have the wherewithal to set around coaches and facilities to be able to provide a quality service.”

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