‘National scrutiny will drive standards’ – Johnson’s pledge as NST core clubs are unveiled

Football Australia CEO James Johnson believes the eight foundation members of the new National Second Tier – plus up to four more clubs to be added – will drive an instant rise in quality on and off the field, once the NST kicks off in 2025.

Announcing the eight clubs who will form the core of the new competition, Johnson made clear he expected the clubs to “think differently” as they rise to a tier being pitched midway between the A-Leagues and the National Premier Leagues.


•              APIA Leichhardt FC (NSW)
•              Avondale FC (VIC)
•              Marconi Stallions FC (NSW)
•              Preston Lions FC (VIC)
•              South Melbourne FC (VIC)
•              Sydney Olympic FC (NSW)
•              Sydney United 58 FC (NSW)
•              Wollongong Wolves FC (NSW)

Another two to four clubs will be added in the coming months as FA aims to launch a competition with either 10 or 12 teams, playing home and away and then a final series.

The new name for the competition will be announced early next year, but Johnson promised that strong regulation would be in place to make sure clubs live within their means, and also operate as fully professional businesses.

The eight foundation clubs – all based in NSW and Victoria – will play in the NPL next season but are already making plans to broaden training loads and sign players to longer contracts in anticipation of the NST’s kick off in March or April 2025.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson with Head of Competitions Natalie Lutz

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All have been obliged to provide bank guarantees of $500,000 each, on top of the participation fee, and Johnson said he expected all eight to drive standards up “immediately”.

“This group of clubs, they’re the outstanding clubs that are playing in the NPL (currently), so I think they’re ready to make that jump,” he said.

“Part of this strategy and the process we’ve gone through is to put eight clubs together and make sure that they’re thinking differently.

“They’re thinking like they’re competing with each other, both on and off the pitch and that’s going to lift the standard even further.

“It’s no different to players. You get the best players from across the country on the same pitch, they’re going to grow, they’re going to develop, they’re going to get better and that’s what we’re focused on with this group.

“It’s a national competition now. So there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny when you’re playing at national level.

“So things like contractual stability, this is bread and butter stuff at this level but I’m confident these clubs will get this part right.”

Though the precise detail has yet to be worked through, Johnson promised a structure of regulation to ensure the competition is sustainable, and that clubs operate within defined budgets.

“Before we jump into what that regulatory mechanism is, I think there’s a conversation on what’s the objective of the regulation,” he said.

“For me, the starting point is that it needs to make sure that we protect the clubs’ financial well-being and there’s different ways you can do that.

“There’s financial fair play like in Europe, there’s profitability and sustainability regulations as in the EPL – the things that Everton are going through at the moment.

“There’s a salary cap, there’s a luxury tax, so there’s all these different mechanisms we can introduce.

“But ultimately, the starting point is, what regulatory instrument will protect the financial stability of these clubs.”

Though FA are seeking a broadcast partner Johnson said he is not expecting the televising of the NSD to make the clubs or FA revenue in the short term – instead he predicted revenue streams including national and club-specific sponsorships plus ticket sales would underpin the clubs.

“Part of this process that’s coming in is that they’ve put a significant bank guarantee on the table and that’s designed to give us comfort that if there is a hiccup – and we’re not expecting there would be – but that we can dip into those funds if required.

“That was a condition of getting to this stage today.”

Sydney Olympic President Damon Hanlin and CEO Lawrie McKinna with James Johnson and Natalie Lutz.

Almost 20 years after he helped to create the Mariners as the Gosford’s club’s inaugural head coach, Sydney Olympic CEO Lawrie McKinna said he would draw on some of those experiences as Olympic plan the transition to being far closer to full-time professionalism across the club.

“Obviously, we’d planned to be in for next year (before the start was put back to 2025), so we’d started putting things in place already,” McKinna said. “Traditionally the NPL clubs train three nights a week and we’ll start to look at moving to four.

“An extra session a week is getting closer to full time but we’ll actually go to some morning sessions as well.

“It’s a bit like the first year of the A-League, we had a lot of boys at the Mariners who couldn’t give away their jobs (outside football) so we had a balance in that.

“We’ve already spoke to the players who are currently in the squad for 2024 and they’re keen, they’re buzzing about the opportunity to train in the morning.

“I think our level this year in the NPL will lift as well because of what’s anticipated next year, because they’re all playing for contracts and they’re not just playing for one-year contracts, which is standard for NPL.

“We’ll be able to tie in players, you heard James Johnson, clubs will be able to get transfer fees for players. So we’ll be tying players in longer building squads rather than (having them) in and out every year.”

The timing of the NST is in part designed to allow fringe players at A-League clubs to go on loan to the NST clubs and get more game time – something applauded by Sydney United head coach Zeljko Kalac, who was recently in charge of the academy at Macarthur FC.

Sydney United President Mark Ivancic with head coach Zeljko Kalac.

“I don’t think the gap (in quality)’s massive, honestly, and what this will do is give young players more opportunity,” he said.

“So the ones who aren’t getting game time in the A-League, they won’t be scared now to drop down to the second division because they know people will watch, they’ll get games there and they can jump back up.

“At the moment some are frightened to come down to NPL level because they think it might be hard to go back to the A-League – which isn’t actually the case – but this will actually make that gap much easier to adjust to.”