David Gallop says football’s ticket to the big-time depends on grassroots
There was something presidential about FFA chief executive David Gallop’s “State of the Game” address in Sydney on Thursday, a US-style declaration of national goals achieved and those still to be kicked.
It was also a City Hall tub thump aimed at his rivals in the middle of their finals, an “up yours” to the NRL, the game that sacked him, and the AFL, the code he seeks to overtake as No.1 in the country.
The gaunt Gallop’s speech was not quite Abraham Lincoln; more akin to the slim former US Senator Trent Lott who once said that uniting all his fellow Republican Senators in a vote was “like trying to load bullfrogs into a wheelbarrow”.
Gallop has done what Lott could not – unite soccer’s once-warring factions.
Significantly, it was he who made the speech, not Frank Lowy, the FFA chair.
When Gallop left the NRL two years ago, it was primarily because he suspected he would be merely a chief of staff for an ego-driven ARL chairman, John Grant.
The irony that Gallop’s predecessors at FFA, Ben Buckley and John O’Neill, complained they were not CEO’s but chief of operations for a billionaire autocrat, was presumably assuaged by Gallop swapping his $300,000-a -ear job for a $1 million one.
Yet none of the above transpired. Grant has withdrawn, allowing the limelight to shine on his chief executive, Dave Smith, while Lowy has stepped aside for Gallop to deliver Wednesday’s “National Plan for Whole of Football”.
Lowy, after all, has only a year left before mandatory retirement age and unless the shopping-centre czar anoints son Stephen, Gallop is in a position to fulfil his dream of eclipsing the AFL and NRL.
(Gallop, who once worked for Rupert Murdoch, would be aware of the tricky intersection between big business and family politics. As North Korea’s Kim Jongs and the Clintons have also demonstrated, succession planning can be an all-in-the-family affair).
But Gallop had his eyes on his code rivals on Thursday, saying soccer’s opportunities “can only happen in a game based primarily on skill, not those based on collisions”.
Ten years ago, his code was No.4 in the pecking order of the national football, described by Gallop on Thursday as a “sport [then] on its knees”.
The Australian Sports Commission initiated reform via the Crawford Report, which recommended stripping away state and ethnic loyalties.
Gallop acknowledged this, indicating more has to be done. He said, “It’s fair to say that the game’s governance structures have been a work in progress since the reform process of the Crawford Report in 2003, and the inauguration of the FFA under the leadership of Frank Lowy in 2004.
“Frank Lowy and his board have done so much – starting new national competitions, qualifying for World Cups and joining Asia.
“Our chairman’s energy and commitment is a source of inspiration to so many people and I want to personally acknowledge his guidance and wisdom.
“FFA could not have done this in a decade without the support of so many companies, broadcasters and governments. There are too many to name individually, so you’ll see our acknowledgement on the video screens.”
Not recorded in actual words was crediting the ASC which, in consultation with then prime minister John Howard and federal sports minister Senator Rod Kemp, handed over $25 million for the reform process.
The Crawford Report did not address the governance problems of the grassroots and its alignment with the professional game – a whole-of-game approach that will be announced at the conclusion of summer’s AFC Asian Cup in Australia.
Gallop told Thursday’s audience, “The first phase of the national plan is to listen to the game’s key stakeholders – clubs at all levels and their members, our state and territory member federations, sponsors, broadcast partners, governments and stadium managers.”
But how much money will Gallop extract from government for this purpose?
As deputy chair of the ASC, Gallop must know his code has had more than its share of the public purse, as, indeed, has AFL.
He began his speech by stating: “Everywhere you look at the moment, you can see that Australian football [or the ‘beautiful game’ as he also called it] is enjoying a golden period.”
Your sport has joined the big boys now David. Time to dig your own gold.