Football now taking its chances

A year ago today, I started my time as CEO of Football Federation Australia with a mixture of high expectations about what I wanted to achieve and a natural level of trepidation about my new career in a new sport.

A year ago today, I started my time as CEO of Football Federation Australia with a mixture of high expectations about what I wanted to achieve and a natural level of trepidation about my new career in a new sport.

I was like the new kid on his first day in a new school, but in hindsight I shouldn-t have worried a bit. Not only have I been warmly welcomed by football people everywhere, but I quickly discovered my high expectations for my role as CEO could be met and surpassed.

Whenever I hear an A-League coach lament his team-s knack of creating goal-scoring opportunities, but failing to take them, I sense that-s a theme that could apply to Australian football over a long period.

The game had golden opportunities that were too often squandered. There was huge potential, but a frustrating lack of results. Football was like a team that doesn-t take its chances.

Looking back over the past 12 months, it-s been personally very satisfying and professionally exhilarating to see FFA take those chances that have come our way.

On day one as CEO, in an open letter to the football family, I noted that the FFA-s strategic plan was in the right shape, so that my focus would be on execution of strategies, rather than coming up with new ones.

My satisfaction today comes from seeing FFA under my watch take these strategic opportunities over the past year and turn them into tangible benefits for the game by clever and efficient implementation.

Football-s achievements over the past 12 months have made it easy to be the no. 1 salesman, which is the job of every CEO in every sport. I have a great story to tell about football and I really enjoy sharing the good news with the football family and spreading the word to governments, business and the Australian community.

Today, the powerful idea that football could become Australia's biggest and most popular sport is no longer just a dream.

Football is a game on the move. Our best years are still ahead of us. Football is now entrenched in the mainstream of Australian society. We are now an authentic Australian sport, with a broad, diverse following and a national spread that no other sport can match.

We can see the Socceroos becoming Australia's one national team, uniting all Australians.

The game's simple beauty and reliance on skill rather than collisions makes it a natural choice for so many people in so many places. Boys, girls, old, young, outdoor, indoor, parks, fields, beaches.

In short, it-s time to convert our chances and we are doing it.

In relation to execution of our strategic plans, the most visible example of this is the way in which FFA has deployed the new revenue from the broadcast agreement to improve the stability and sustainability of the Hyundai A-League.

To see the annual distribution to each club increased to $2.5 million to match the salary cap is an historic alignment. Likewise, the move to ensure that player salary cap payments are secured under these arrangements is equally important.

As a result, there are increasingly solid foundations underpinning the unprecedented popularity for the A-League. The record crowds and TV ratings, booming digital audiences and unrivalled mainstream media coverage are in large measure the dividends of our investment in stability.

I-d like to think that the salary payment certainty has played a part in allowing players to concentrate on what they do best, which is producing fantastic football every round.

Another pillar in our strategic plan talks about excellence in our national teams. Clearly, something was wrong with the way the Socceroos were performing over a long period. From the time the Socceroos were held to a 2-2 draw with Oman in Sydney in March, the FFA technical staff were telling me that all was not well.

The decision to make a change in the Head Coach position was not a reaction to the two heavy defeats in Brasilia and Paris, but those results and the performances confirmed my view and that of the FFA Board that we needed to urgently proceed with a rejuvenation policy.

The changeover was not without its challenges, but the FFA Chairman, Board and CEO must ultimately take responsibility and make the big calls. The appointment of Ange Postecoglou as Head Coach now gives us fresh impetus to strive for excellence while also giving us the ability to execute our broader plans around the Socceroos and their place in the commercial landscape.

Connecting the grassroots to the elite tier is something that makes strategic sense, but in my view, we needed a sharper operational focus. That-s why I took the decision to create a new Community Football department within FFA-s structures.

I-m delighted that this step has made a huge difference in delivery of the National Premier Leagues model, confirmation of FFA Cup in 2014 and in paving the way for important reforms in grassroots development in schools and introductory programs.

Planning is underway to deliver more value to the football community participants, whether it-s by providing an app to make the National Curriculum easily available or rewarding loyalty by discounts on boots and equipment.

It-s really important that community football gets the same attention as the elite tier.

Another theme on my first day was my desire to make people feel like they belong, whether they play, coach, volunteer, referee, work in the game or just watch football. You-d know by now that I love the ‘We Are Football- mantra.

I-ve tried to get out among the football family as much as I can over the past year and I-m always heartened by what I hear and see.

Not everything is running smoothly in our game, but I sense that today there-s a unity of purpose that-s stronger than ever. It goes to the heart of belonging to something bigger. I will do everything I can to keep that feeling alive.

Two other factors have made my first year memorable. Before I arrived, I knew football was a truly multicultural sporting and social movement. What has delighted me is how football is so often the personal connection between people of different backgrounds and languages.

The diversity is one thing, but seeing how the football community comes together is quite inspiring. Take a look at the crowd at any A-League or Socceroos- game and you-ll see a living testament to this.

Women-s football also makes our game unique in Australian society. Over 20% of participants are female and registrations for young girls and women are rising rapidly.

What I-ve discovered is that when it comes to ambition and passion, the players in the Westfield W-League lack nothing on their male counterparts in the A-League. In fact, I dare say the women bring something extra because they have to work that bit harder to make their mark in our ultra-competitive sports landscape.

The Westfield Matildas- title defence as Asian champions will be one of the highlights of the 2014 football calendar.

The credit for what-s happened in the past year while I-ve occupied the CEO-s chair should be apportioned to many who have made a telling contribution.

The FFA Chairman Frank Lowy and his Board have spent 10 years building what we have today. I thank the Chairman for his faith in my ability and his strong support.

The players in our national teams, the A-League and W-League are the stars of the show. I-ve met many players over the past 12 months and I-m in awe of their skill and athleticism, and I-m just as impressed with their dedication and personal qualities.

In the structures of the game, our State and Territory Member Federations and A-League clubs are building foundations to last. This is where you find the game-s engine room; it-s hard work where only the iron-willed and savvy administrators thrive.

In administration, I see professional staff who are on the mission, day in and day out. Their commitment to the cause is amazing.

And, of course, we-d be nowhere without the legions of volunteers at the grassroots. According to new survey results, we have 1.96 million participants, but without those people selflessly giving up their time and effort we just couldn-t cope. To the volunteers, I salute you.

Thank you for your support on my journey so far over the past year.

David Gallop

Football-s Stellar Achievements November 2012 - November 2013 • New $160 million, four-year broadcast deal • Free-to-air TV coverage of A-League for the first time • Record crowds, TV ratings and digital audiences for the Hyundai A-League • The phenomenon of the Western Sydney Wanderers • Qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil • Sold out Manchester United and Liverpool tours • The inauguration of the Foxtel All Stars • Establishment of new Community Football department within FFA • Second edition of the National Curriculum • Launch of the National Premier Leagues • Confirmation of FFA Cup for 2014 • Retention of status as the no. 1 team sport played by Australians • Renewal of free to air coverage of the W-League