Altruistic but not all-embracing: Australia’s National Second Division will be nothing more than a South-East Coast League

The light at the end of the tunnel for fans of Australian football over recent years has been the committed move towards a men’s National Second Division.

Without such an entity, the game would simply remain fractured and unable to eliminate the chasm between the traditional clubs still competing at NPL level and the A-League clubs, some of which have only existed for relatively short periods of time.

Sadly, Football Australia’s hurried planning of the NSD and subsequent announcement of its commencement early in 2025, fails to deliver on the spirit of precisely what the competition should be.

Based on the information leaked and available thus far, the new league will essentially be an ‘East Coast’ one, with the vast majority of the clubs rumoured to have been granted acceptance into the NSD emanating from New South Wales and Victoria.

The worst-kept secret in football is that the new competition to be officially announced next week will feature ten teams, three from Victoria, five from New South Wales, one from the Sunshine Coast and a team from South Hobart.

Whilst the Tasmanian presence is a wonderful addition to the Australian football landscape at a higher level, ideally, a second-tier would include clubs from across the nation more broadly.

Of course, each club deserving of entry into the competition must come with a decent supporter base and the medium-term financial backing required to hang on long enough to eventually live the dream and be given the chance of advance to the top tier and then give the A-League a real shake.

Yet, a NSD without a Western and South Australian presence is simply unacceptable, especially considering that all the clubs involved, like their A-League counterparts, will not be making any money at all.

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Moreover, the long-term good of the domestic game through an altruistic lens should be the all-encompassing ambition behind the institution of such a league, with everyone battling to stay alive in the short term a simple reality and the clubs, just like their A-League counterparts, struggling to make a buck.

In fact, they are all certain to lose plenty.

The travel and logistical realities of the new competition make Football Australia’s entire venture into the space as nothing but altruistic in nature, with absolutely little to do with numbers and viability.

The clubs brave enough to hitch their wagons to the governing body should be applauded for their courage and integrity in doing so, despite the fact they will all be well aware of the difficult road to be hoed ahead.

However, if altruism is indeed the underlying motivation and the profitability of a National Second Division closer to a joke than reality in the short term, why on earth would Football Australia not seek to present something more nationalistic and less east-coast centric to football fans across the nation?

With the majority of the teams rumoured to be invited based in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as one of the most consistent and historically significant clubs residing in Wollongong on the south coast of New South Wales, the competition looks frightfully like more of the same.

Five teams within two hours of the Sydney CBD already exist in the A-League competition and fine competitors they are. However, along with three Victorian-based teams, they comprise two thirds of the competition.

If not for the Reds in Adelaide, Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar and our friends from across the ditch, the A-League competition would be essentially a state of origin battle between New South Wales and Victoria; something the rest of the nation is simply sick of and bored by.

A first @IsuzuUTE A-League hat trick for Oskar Zawada ????????

It was made even sweeter for @WgtnPhoenixFC fans as it helped fire his side to their best ever start in the competition ????

The Polish star has 19 goals in first 29 Isuzu UTE A-League matches ????#ALM #WellingtonPhoenix

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) November 5, 2023

I would suggest that the NSD in the form rumoured to be announced next week is nothing more than an extension of the security football feels in the two most populated cities in the land and far removed from what will advance football in the long term when teams begin moving between competitions in the medium term future.

It will not be advantageous for the A-Leagues should promotion and relegation eventually see teams from Perth, Brisbane or Adelaide replaced by east coast mobs. That, by definition, does nothing for the game in Australia.

For years, people involved with football in Australia have longed for a second tier below the ever-improving A-Leagues, in order to build a sustainable pyramid that will eventually see the game secure itself as a dominant code.

The solidity of the pyramid depends on making the game financially sustainable right across the country and not just in Melbourne and Sydney, where admittedly, the task of surviving financially has been a little easier than in other parts of the country throughout the history of the A-League.

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Whilst a second tier is a wonderful idea, I’m not sure the announcement to be made next week is precisely what the domestic game in Australia needs. Admittedly, it might just be the best we can manage at this point in time.

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