Green shoots in Canberra

The fire-fighting at FFA head office reminds one of the arcade game “Whack-a-Mole”. As soon as one rogue element is dealt with, the next rears its head.

The fire-fighting at FFA head office reminds one a little of the popular arcade game “Whack-a-Mole”.

As soon as one rogue element is dealt with, the next rears its head, demanding attention.

With Clive Palmer temporarily quashed, it was the turn of Perth Glory owner Tony Sage to pop his head above the parapet, stating last week that he would be withdrawing his support for the Perth Glory Women and National Youth League teams, which was closely followed by rumours that the Hunter Sports Group is also set to review its commitment to the Lady Jets.

The job of pushing this problem back into its hole fell to FFA Head of Leagues, Lyall Gorman, who was quick to confirm FFA-s support for the Westfield W-League.

Workshops run by the governing body are set to commence this week, to discuss strategies for development of the women-s game and why the W-League is important to the overall development of football for women and girls.

Participants will consider the strength of the W-League and the opportunities it provides in order to make this aspect of the sport a viable and ongoing concern.

An interesting contribution will be a case study presentation by the CEO of Capital Football, Heather Reid, who is also the CEO of Canberra United FC.

While Reid and her board run the only W-League club not affiliated with an Hyundai A-League club, she says that with the exception of the Newcastle Jets, the perception that the women-s clubs are largely supported by their male counterparts is incorrect.

“The onus of running the teams falls on the Member Federations. In all cases bar Canberra and Newcastle, the coaches are already on the payroll as head coaches of the national training centre (State Institute and Academy) programs”.

In fact Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar are the only two sides to share even a media manager with the men-s team.

The now-defunct Central Coast Mariners, who withdrew from the competition after two seasons, relied on funding from Football NSW.

In season one, so distant was their connection with the men-s side, that they played their home matches at Parramatta and Campbelltown stadiums.

To say that it was the Mariners decision to fold the side is patently untrue. Football NSW was shouldering the financial responsibilities for the Mariners women as well as providing other support for Sydney FC Women along with the NSW Institute of Sport. Ultimately, FNSW found the strain too great.

For their part, the Canberra United team forms an important part of the core business of Capital Football and from day one, “business” has been the key word.

Canberra has developed a respected brand and everyone associated with the club is committed to the development of the game and the encouragement of girls and women to play football.

Stability is an enviable quality in football clubs and the 2011/2012 W-League champions have it in spades. Almost half their squad is made up of foundation players, the team management, the medical staff and the sponsors have stuck with the club since its inception and in Reid, they have a true “football person” leading the charge.

Yet as much as she may love the game, Reid has ruled with head not heart and from the outset went about ensuring engagement - not just with the community, but also with other sporting teams such as the Canberra Capitals and the ACT Brumbies.

Most importantly perhaps, much emphasis was placed on securing sponsors - including the ACT Government.

For an unknown team, making a debut in an unknown league, it is credit to her and the Capital Football board that the women in green ran out in a strip boasting front of shirt, back of shirt and sleeve sponsors. A shorts sponsor followed in season two, giving the club financial peace of mind.

In their second year, Capital Football were also the first to step outside the NCT- based coaching structure, negotiating a separate contract for then ACT Academy of Sport coach Ray Junna, ensuring that going forward his employment as a coach was with their organisation and thus he was answerable to their board and CEO and not ACTAS or FFA.

Despite all her achievements, Reid is not resting on her laurels, and is now addressing other points in the strategic development of the business.

The nomadic life of the club is first on the agenda, and something coach, Jitka Klimova is insisting is resolved before she returns in September.

Many think having the AIS based in Canberra is a guarantee that teams in the capital will have use of their state-of-the-art facilities.

In reality, the United team can, for a fee, use the pitches but are bumped off as soon as a training camp of any kind requires them. The pool and other facilities also incur a fee for every player using them.

Training for the 2011/2012 season, saw the side move between no less than four fields, some of which had no line markings and - even more of a concern - no goals.

“We are gypsies” says Reid. “We need a home, somewhere to train, do video analysis, store our gear, put up our flag, posters and most importantly the trophy”!

It took four years for Canberra United to secure that trophy, but it-s testament to the hard work that has gone into building the brand.

And the importance of building a brand is something everyone involved in football would do well to recognise.