If there were any doubts about the validity and value of the new National Premier Leagues competition they were dispelled in Hobart, where Sydney United took out the inaugural grand final against South Hobart. I was fortunate enough to be there to present the John Kosmina Medal (to Glen Trifiro), and despite some very inclement weather a reasonable crowd turned up to watch a good game of football.

Sydney United were worthy winners, but the locals had them on the ropes on a more than a few occasions. What South Hobart lacked was experience playing against teams of Sydney United's quality, and they couldn’t maintain the concentration or intensity required to get a result. But despite being battered and bruised, they played to the end. Their shape and structure were good, and I could see why they got this far.

The point is they would not have been exposed to this standard of football but for the instigation of the NPL. It is the only way the game can develop at the lower levels, and it’s the only way to close the gap between the A-League and the next tier in each state. Western Australia, Northern NSW and Victoria aren’t involved just yet, but providing Victoria sort out their issues they'll all be part of it in 2014. That will give us a clean sweep (eight) of the states.

To make the top tier better, the underpinning competitions need to be good. It is no good having a decent A-League and then a massive drop in quality and standard at the local level. Hopefully the NPL will narrow the development pathway, and the considerable investment in the coaching and development structure over the past five or six years won't be wasted.

If we really want to become a strength in world football we need more than one level of professional competition. The hundreds of thousands of juniors that are playing, and those that will be playing in future, need to have somewhere to go as they grow older. I dream of the day when there is promotion and relegation in the A-League and we have professional tiers below. You need that survival of the fittest, cut-throat, environment to really hone the edge on a player. A tough NPL in each state is a good place to start.

Which brings me to my next point. Recently I was on the mid-north coast of NSW to visit an old teammate of mine, and we got to talking about the opportunities for kids with talent living in the area. The topic came up because he’s got a teenage son that can play a bit. Ask the kid what he wants to do when he grows up, and straight to the point he says he he wants to be a professional footballer. But he lives just outside Coffs Harbour, which is a long way from the big cities and even further away from the opportunity for recognition. It's a problem for all country kids.

This is an interesting topic. I used to have the odd chat about it with a guy called George Negus, who had a close involvement with the game about a decade ago, and lived in the same area as my friend. At the time we thought Coffs Harbour might one day be able to sustain a team in what was then the NSL. I know it may sound like a bit of a pipedream, but there is no progress without dreams and vision. It's a region that's growing fast and has strong participation rates in football. At the time having a team in a national competition seemed like a good idea. But things have changed. The NSL is long gone, and obviously the A-League is a different story.

Enter the NPL. Coffs Harbour is part of the Northern NSW Federation, who will unveil their NPL next year. But they've only chosen teams from Newcastle. Nothing from the Hunter River to the Queensland border.

Why haven't Coffs Harbour been included? Especially given a team from the region, Urunga Raiders, this year won the NNSW Cup competition - the first time the trophy has gone outside Newcastle. The population of the Newcastle-Gold Coast corridor is constantly growing, and Coffs is smack bang in the middle. A predicted one million-plus people will be living in the region within 30 years. That means a lot of potential footballers, and it also means money because of the economy needed to sustain the population. Certainly enough cash to maintain a semi-professional - if not fully professional - club.

This isn’t a plug for Coffs Harbour. It is about regional development, because there's huge potential in the areas outside the major cities. If you want proof, look at Queensland. Frank Farina, Steve Corica, Wayne Srhoj and Clint Bolton are all from country Queensland (where there exists an excellent regional program), and they've all played at the highest level. Queensland's NPL has teams from Cairns, Townsville, Gold Coast, Rockhampton and Ipswich. To me, that's what the second-tier is all about.

In a country where the competition from rival codes is intense, we need to make sure we don’t miss any opportunities to grow the game. More and more resources are becoming available, so we need to make sure they are spread evenly. Kids from the country deserve to live the Socceroo dream as much as anyone else.

In Hobart, I saw that the dream was alive and well. I was impressed, and encouraged. That's the real potential of the NPL. To bring everyone into the fold.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not reflect those of Football Federation Australia.
Comments (7)
I concur with most that has been said, you can add WA to not having regional football in their initial plans not one club from country regions was given a go, and one regional club who were seventh on the WA Premier League ladder was relegated to make way for a metro club from the 2nd Division.
Dan Tanner  |  
21 Oct 2013 07:15 PM
I agree with what your sentiment regarding regional teams in the NPL. I am from Queensland and involved with an NPL club. The distances involved are staggering, but the reward is worth the effort. kids from under 12 often travel 2 - 3 hours for a match, but they are playing with and against the best quality players, and it shows; lust look at how Qld teams have been going at the National titles in recent years. (the NPL juniors is similar to the JPL that kids have had for 5 years). It is a big tragedy for northern NSW that they are ignoring such a large chunk of the State, especially when they have players that are prepared to drive to the Gold Coast to play in the NPL from there.
FootballFan  |  
18 Oct 2013 06:24 PM
Spot on Kossie. The NPLV debacle in Victoria needs to respond to the needs of football beyond the city also. The alternative model being pushed by the clubs thereby ending the FFV model doesn’t go far enough in responding to this aspect in my opinion. Clubs want a traditional metropolitan football pyramid with a couple of taken regional consortia. The FFV model that is being challenged by clubs seeks to deal with another blight on our game - the obscene costs of participating in football. Again, in my view, big city clubs are crying poor even as less well-resourced regional clubs (or consortia thereof) seem the believe they can make the financial model work in the interests of player development? Finally, another sticking point in the Victorian debacle is the claim by metropolitan clubs that ‘zoning’ them with respect to player recruitment and transfers (through the PPS) will damage clubs. This way of framing 'zoning' clearly prioritises clubs as entities over what many feel should be the PURPOSE of clubs – giving all footballers an opportunity to maximise their potential in the interests of themselves and our game. In my view the metropolitan clubs have some very legitimate concerns about the FFV, but one doesn’t have to scratch too deeply to uncover the fact that the objections of metropolitan clubs are mainly driven by self-interest at the expense of the interests of the game and the development of players. The days of having a traditional, metropolitan focused football pyramid with a ‘silverware only’ mentality must end if this small, young football nation is to make the most of its resources and its ability and become the best football nation we can be.
mahonjt  |  
18 Oct 2013 01:38 PM
John, your promotion and relegation theory is right on the button but may be from the wrong direction.There is too much political and financial differences between the A-League and the NPL for any promotion and relegation to be granted at this time. But what may be more doable is to start promotion and relegation in lower levels of football below the NPL where there is not so much differences between the two levels. Once proven this could then be brought up to the NPL and eventually the A League itself. Only then will we get clubs that should be where they are purely on capability and talent and not on what connections they have in the politics of football. Also this would promote a huge investment in all levels of football. As always keep up your good efforts at trying to keep the buggers honest.
LANCE  |  
18 Oct 2013 10:05 AM
Regions are the way to go you say but how about you push that barrow with FFA. They had the opportunity to push that barrow with various states but didn't do that. Instead they took the easy way out and allowed the various state bodies to make the decisions and perhaps for political reasons those bodies chose not to look at regionality. The NPL should be about clubs earning their spot based on merit not just criteria that the FFA and state bodies decide on. There is a happy medium. Look at the mess in Victoria that could be easily repaired except for the dictatorial attitudes of the administrators of our game. For the NPL to succeed the powers that be, need to consult with the stakeholders of our game and then it will progress. There are many smartb heads out there and a little consultation every now and again may just surprise some people.
Albert  |  
17 Oct 2013 09:40 PM
If we're talking about regional Queensland, don't forget that Mitch Langerak was born in Emerald and grew up in Bundaberg. Football needs to include regional areas, tapping into the immense parochialism that comes with life in a small town. The NPL provides a great opportunity for this. No doubt the people of Yackandandah in northeast Victoria must have felt mightily proud when one of their own sealed our place in Brazil back in June. Is it too much of a pipedream for areas like Albury/Wodonga to have a place in the NPL some day?
Paul  |  
17 Oct 2013 02:03 PM
I like it Kossi and agree with the NPL. I am really hoping the mess in Victoria gets sorted out and resolved for the NPL in 2014. Unfortunately it's now gone to the Victorian Supreme Court so it could be delayed a further 12 months. Once a national team coach is selected and sorted, can you please give the powers at FFA a nudge to get down here to Victoria and sort the whole mess out. Otherwise all the good football people of Victoria will be without the NPL for another 12 months while the FFV and clubs have their party in the Victorian Supreme Court wasting time and risk losing talented young football boys and girls to other codes.
Terry  |  
17 Oct 2013 11:16 AM
How far will Western Sydney go in the AFC Champions League?

John Kosmina

A former Socceroos captain, John Kosmina played with his heart on his sleeve throughout a decorated career which included two championships with Sydney City - as well as a season with Arsenal. A fearless striker, Kosmina scored the first-ever NSL goal (for West Adelaide), going on to score 135 goals at club level, and 25 for his country. Since hanging up his boots, Kosmina has enjoyed a distinguished coaching career with Newcastle Breakers, Brisbane Strikers, Adelaide United and Sydney FC, and has also developed a powerful media profile across newspapers, radio and television.