Here we look at what, perhaps, the future of the game and, in particular, what the State League sides may have to look forward to in the future and is the vision of a well respected gentleman within the code and should be seen as no more than just a personal view of what might happen and not be regarded as a radical proposal of reform for the game.
Approximately 18-months ago Blacktown City Demons consciously embarked on a youth program they feel will be incumbent on many clubs in the coming years as they see the present state of the way football is heading. Coach Ken Schembri puts it this way: ?I see the State League becoming more of a development league for the national code, the A League, in the years ahead and with financial restrictions being placed on clubs it is the youth we are looking to.
?This season has not been too good for our younger players as they have been thrown in at the deep end, so to speak, due to the injury list where we?ve even had players we drafted in to the squad going down with long-term injury. However, it?s my belief that all clubs should be about producing the next crop of stars that will go on to grace the national league and beyond and that is what we are trying to do.?
Many feel the financial constraints in place are making it harder for the Telechoice Premier League sides to maintain a highly paid first grade team with minimal return; ?Over the years it has become increasingly difficult to amass a top grade squad and keep things ticking over. It?s almost at the point of not being feasible to do so and why we are looking at producing talent more than bringing in higher profile players and the cost that comes with them, although you cannot have a team made up entirely of youngsters at this level.
?The State League should begin looking at producing players that will go on to take the next step and, hopefully, beyond and this is the way we are thinking the game is evolving and that is why we made the conscious decision to head in that direction,? says Schembri.
The Demons are, in a way, in no-mans land this term and the reasons for this are well documented but the side would most likely have been more competitive but for the set backs they have endured and it has proven a very steep learning curve for the guys, little more than kids most of them, that have been thrust into the sharp end; ?With more confidence the team would have, and still will, do better. We had 20-contact players but at one stage we could only field eight from that roster, hence the younger lads.
?It should be a great experience for them and they will learn from this season but it is heart-breaking to see them losing by the odd goal week-in, week-out. That is down solely to a lack of experience at critical times in pivotal moments of the match and something that cannot be taught and has to be learnt.
?Self belief is the key. Confidence! With six-matches to go they still have time to get back some respect for the club and, more importantly perhaps, themselves.?
Schembri?s vision would see the State League working closely hand-in-hand with the A League in producing what could almost be classed as a ?feeder? league for the top flight and is a concept more in common with the world leagues that in Australia but is one that could benefit the State and National codes.
The problem increasingly comes from the standpoint of less finance coming into club coffers and so less to spend, produce, prepare, kit-out and manage teams unless a particular club has a wealthy benefactor with bottomless pockets.
It is a scenario that has been seen in many countries around the globe and is finally, in some eyes, making its way to Australian shores.
But is it inevitable and unstoppable?
From the top echelon down the line to the clubs themselves things seem fairly well organised and ?if it?s not broke, don?t fix it? would be the appropriate adage to insert but what more can be done to heighten the State League competitions?
There appears little on no exposure for the code in much of the media, electronic and/or print mediums for example, and maybe this is one way to address many of the shortfalls. In America, as a point in case, not only are the national league competitions shown on prime-time television, or pay-per-view of course, but the ?College? competitions also ? American football, Basketball etc. This is paid for mainly by advertising and so a percentage of those revenues go to the colleges in question ala TV rights etc. for Premier League clubs in England and various others around Europe.
That may be a long term view of the writer wearing rose-tinted glasses but is a notion that we may well consider in the fullness of time. The important thing to remember is that it is the exposure of the code, the product, which brings about desired results although all sports have their peaks and troughs at various times.
When Ken Schembri speaks it opens the mind to the endless possibilities, dreams and concepts which some may scoff at, other openly laugh aloud but generates the belief that after all these years he is still as passionate about the game, the code and league as he was a decade ago and rather than sit back on well credentialed laurels, is looking forward to the next ten-years and beyond.
If it gets you thinking it cannot be a bad thing surely?
-By Micky Brock