The OzSoccer Articles

Caught in a rip

After rumours arose of a Rugby League takeover of Marconi this hypothetical was put forward to mirror the events which were perceived to have occurred barely a year earlier to the Newcastle Breakers.

Hmmm that's an interesting scenario, lets delve into the hypothetical a little further.

Marconi has some financial problems exactly the same as nearly every other NSL club.

NSWSF decides it will lodge an application to take over Marconi's NSL licence. Peter Gray states this is just a back-up plan just in case Marconi don't make it over the line. Interestingly, under the plan, Marconi's youth program which had often been the cause of disagreements between the federation and Marconi, was to revert to being under the umbrella of the federation.

Interestingly enough it emerges there is a businessman backing this plan who has very close connections to the Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club.

Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club has just been informed by the powers that be it's application for $65 million to upgrade Panthers Stadium hasn't got a hope in hell of succeeding as the stadium is deemed to be solely for their use. Of course, if the stadium was suddenly to become a "multi-purpose" centre then the application for the $65 Million would be looked at in a more favourable light.

The NSWSF application is lodged well before Marconi's fate is to be decided therefore SA now has two applications for the one NSL spot. One from a club with financial problems and one from a new entity promising a cash injection into Western Suburbs Football.

It is also worth noting that there is currently no vacancy in the NSL and anyway applications for this seasons NSL closed months ago. Despite this, SA do not refuse the application. Despite Marconi achieving the following during the prior season.

1) A 48% increase in attendance at their NSL games.
2) An improved financial situation at the end of the season compared to the beginning.
3) The club narrowingly missing the top-6 playoffs

Of course this new entity will have no debts however Marconi's creditors and investors will be left holding the bag despite supporting NSL football since 1977.

Suddenly SA announce an investigation into Marconi's financial situation. This investigation is not conducted into any other club despite two other clubs being placed under administration in the past 6 months and SA knowing that another big spending NSL club is in serious trouble.

The new entity, which presently appears to consist of one man with considerable other business interests, appears confident of being able to take it's place in the new NSL season which begins in a few weeks. This is despite having no administration staff, no coaching and back-up staff and no players. For some reason it appears confident that the Marconi playing and coaching staff will all sign-up with the new entity. This confidence is rather strange as it would be unethical to have discussions with players and coaching staff already under contract to an existing NSL club wouldn't it? Anyway the new entity has no staff to conduct these discussions.

Interestingly, it emerges that the players and coaching staff have been meeting with an official from the Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club. Remember, this new application to replace Marconi in the NSL has the backing of the local federation.

Rumours begin to emerge that senior coaching and playing staff from Marconi have been offered seriously upgraded contracts if they can deliver the bulk of the Marconi team into the hands of the new entity. Of course these are only rumours.

During the off season the players are paid a few days late a couple of times. Whilst understanding this would be upsetting to the players, people are still surprised when the PFA calls for SA to make an urgent decision regarding Marconi's participation in the NSL. This is despite players from other clubs still being owed substantial amounts from last season and other clubs eventually paying their players reduced wages. Interestingly, Marconi issue a statement that while they can understand the concern of the players they wish to point out that the players wages are paid in advance, a fact the PFA never disputes which is not surprising seeing the never once inspected Marconi's wage records despite being invited to do so.

It is interesting to note that one of Marconi's senior players is on the PFA executive.

Marconi's business plan is accepted by SA however, SA move the goalposts and new conditions are imposed. These new conditions are not imposed on any other NSL club.

In an attempt to satisfy these new conditions, Marconi obtain a new backer and submit an amended business plan which once again is accepted by SA. However, moving the goalposts once again, SA impose further conditions which, once again, are not imposed on any other NSL club. These conditions would involve the payment of an extra $750,000 to SA on top of the normal affiliation fees etc. Of course this is impossible for a struggling community football club.

The question is asked if SA itself could afford to payout an extra $750,000 on top of it's budgeted expenses. Of course, this question is never answered.

The new backer, realising the futility of attempting to reach an agreement with SA, walks away in disgust after already losing over $250,000 in the venture.

Three weeks before the start of the new season, the Marconi players as a unit, walk away from their contracts with the club. This is considered a bold move as at this time NSL clubs have finalised their playing roster for the new season and it would be expected that the majority of the players would not find a new team for the season. Of course it would have been completely lacking in ethics for any other body to have discussed terms with players already under contract to an existing NSL club. Seeing the new entity also seeking entry to the NSL was backed by the local federation it would be impossible to conceive that they would indulge in this type of behaviour. Especially considering that these negotiations would have been conducted by the Penrith Panthers Rugby League club. Nobody could possibly believe that a federation would allow, even tacitly, any of it's member clubs be undermined by a rival football code. Especially when the federation itself is involved in the bid.

The reason for the players terminating their contracts is given as non payment of superannuation. In fact almost 12 months later the following is still on the PFA's Website:-

"All players of the former club validly terminated their contracts due to the club's failure to make compulsory superannuation contributions and meet the conditions of entry, resulting in Soccer Australia's decision to exclude the club from the competition for the forthcoming NSL season."

The original complaint of late or non-payment of wages is never mentioned again. The PFA has still never felt the need to expect the clubs wages books. Most reasonable people are left wondering how walking away from your contracts will assist in regaining the superannuation anyway. Whilst in no way disputing that the superannuation payments should be made, people do wonder why a 20 year old player would walk away from a NSL playing contract over a few hundred dollars in super that he won't see for 40 years anyway. Questions are asked whether the remaining 15 NSL clubs are completely up to date with their superannuation payments and if not are their players about to terminate their contracts also. Once again, these questions are never answered.

Interestingly, as the season unfolds, a high profile NSL club, known to have been in serious financial trouble for quite some time becomes unable to meet it's commitments. The PFA releases the following statement:-

"The players haven't been paid since October 15, more than eight weeks ago. As far as cost-cutting measures are concerned, the proposal includes the possibility of new player contracts, the writing off of a substantial superannuation debt and the potential, if necessary, for the players to take a pay cut of up to 15 per cent. PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab subsequently issued the following statement, on behalf of the players: The overwhelming feeling emerging from the meeting is that we, as players, must do everything within our power to keep the football club alive. Although a number of deadlines have now passed, we believe the survival of the club is so important that we must continue to strive for a solution"

Of course most Marconi supporters are perplexed at this statement considering the hardline the PFA took with Marconi especially over late superannuation payments.

Surprisingly, less then two weeks before the start of the new NSL season, SA meets with this new entity. By the end of the week it is announced that the new application has been accepted by SA and the new entity will compete in the new NSL season. This announcement is made at Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club. People are amazed by SA being able to make this decision in less then a week considering they dithered over Marconi's application for months. Of course everybody understood that there was no way that SA would have even read the new application until Marconi's fate was final. To even consider a new applicant until the incumbent's application was decided wouldn't be fair. After all, no other NSL club's position was judged against any other application as SA had not invited applications on those lines.

People are extremely surprised that SA would accept a new entrant into the NSL as the incumbent clubs have been advised that at least two clubs will be culled at the end of the current seasons and all clubs will be required to meet stringent entry requirements before even being considered for acceptance. This new entity consist of two rugby league supporters with a mobile phone each and a bit of cash. One of whom already has strong financial ties with Penrith Panthers Rugby League club. The other, later to become the club's general manager, turns out to be the brother of one of the Penrith Panthers Rugby League club's coaching staff and admits "not a soccer lover before joining the organisation , but I am a soccer fan now he laughs". Neither person has any track record in running a football club.

Purely by coincidence, the very next day a meeting of various state and local government representatives, the trust responsible for Panthers Stadium and Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club is held. That evening the Mayor of Penrith is seen on TV that evening announcing that an application is to be made for $65 million of taxpayers funds for the upgrade of the now "multi-purpose" Panthers Stadium.

The new entity is confident of being able to take it's place in the new NSL in two weeks. Football fans are surprised as the new entity still has no administration, coaching staff or players. People are less then surprised when the majority of players and coaching staff who walked away from their contracts with Marconi suddenly sign with the new entity. Of course, the players who up to now apparently had no idea where their future playing careers was to lead them were relieved to find that suddenly out of the blue they had somewhere to go.

In less then a week, arrangements for ticket sales, sponsorship arrangements and corporate box sales emerged. People were shocked to find that Penrith Panthers Rugby League club were generously supplying support for this new entity.

Despite alienating Marconi's long-term and passionate supporters and moving to an outdated stadium that was totally unsuitable for NSL football and leaving a stadium purpose built for football to rust into the ground, people were happy that Penrith Panthers Rugby League club have found someone to share Panthers Stadium thus not only assisting the Penrith Panthers Rugby League club in defraying some of their fixed costs in operating the stadium but now making the stadium "multi-purpose" and therefore boosting their chances of having their application for $65 million of taxpayers funds to upgrade the derelict stadium accepted.

Long-term Marconi supporters questioned the benefits of moving to a stadium with outdated facilities and a disgraceful pitch which made quality football impossible. However, they were dismissed as radicals despite their predictions coming true as the team plummeted to last place on the NSL ladder.

Of course, Marconi FC now left with debts and a stadium, purpose built by it's members, to maintain had it's main source of income completely cut off. As the club was now unable to meet it's debts the directors had a duty under Australian Corporations Law to declare the club insolvent and call in an Administrator. The Administrator immediately recognised that without the income generated by the football team the club was unable to meet it's commitments and placed the club into liquidation. This allowed the clubs detractors to justify the action. The fact that if you yanked any companies source of income the same outcome would be inevitable was never mentioned.

Naturally the above is all fantasy and could never, I repeat NEVER, happen in Australian Football in anyone's wildest dreams.

Just ask any Breakers supporter.