NNSWF Refutes SMH’s Unfounded & Misleading Football Development Claims

April 13th, 2017

Northern NSW Football refutes SMH’s Mike Cockerill’s unbalanced and misleading “analysis” of football development.

Northern NSW Football (NNSWF) strongly refutes the representation of football development in the State as ‘rotten’ as portrayed in Michael Cockerill’s “Analysis” in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) of April 7. For many years, the governing body in Northern NSW (NNSW) in collaboration with our Member Zones has dependably led, implemented and funded a range of programs and services throughout NNSW, which have aimed to identify talented players and to assist them to reach their potential. NNSWF utterly rejects the unfair assertion that the governing body has overseen “generations of neglect”.

This is not the first time Mike Cockerill has seen fit to unfairly criticise NNSWF. The latest article follows a similar “analysis” by Cockerill in late March 2015, which also started as a critique of the Newcastle Jets’ performance in the Hyundai A-League and quickly transitioned into a broad-brush swipe at the governing body. On both occasions Cockerill failed to provide NNSWF with the basic principle of a right of reply, instead relying on unjustified, off the record statements from “people on the ground” and other anonymous sources.

Cockerill’s approach to this article, which is ironically branded by SMH as “Analysis” clearly breaches the Sydney Morning Herald’s Code of Conduct which requires journalists to “….strive for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. They will not suppress or distort relevant facts. They will do their utmost to offer the right of reply, and they will separate comment from news.”

This time round, Cockerill principally targets a purported lack of talent emanating from youth development programs and NNSWF’s lack of interest and investment outside of Newcastle. Ironically the criticism coincided with the commencement of the Youth Identification Camp at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility attended by 46 young, aspiring players from NNSWF’s four Regional Zones and the departure of two squads of Emerging Jets girls, which included seven girls from Regional NSW to the US to compete in the prestigious Dallas Cup against some of the best young female players from around the world.

The sheer magnitude of our sport and the vastness of our region present a number of challenges principally associated with the tyranny of distance. We accept that it’s reasonable for our stakeholders to expect that NNSWF’s programs and services are readily accessible, but we can’t be everything to everyone and we do our best to deploy our limited resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.

We can always improve and do more, however the assertion that “The interest, resources and money’ effectively runs out within a 100 kilometre radius of Newcastle.” is simply unfounded.


View a comprehensive overview of the myriad of strategic initiatives, programs and services implemented by Northern NSW Football in the area of player development to help build generations of successful national teams.


The ’handful’ of development officers in the “bush” identified by Cockerill are engaged by NNSWF to deliver community football activities. The truth is that three of NNSWF’s four Regional Member Zones have full-time Technical Directors who oversee a myriad of talent identification and development initiatives led by NNSWF’s Technical Director, Michael Browne, who holds the UEFA Pro Licence Coaching Diploma.

The statement by an anonymous “coach at the pointy end of the program” that “there’s no real budget for scouting” is also untrue. NNSWF responded to the recent resignation of Football Far North Coast’s (FFNC) long-serving Technical Director by appointing a part-time Talent Identification Scout who will work closely with local clubs and the recently established Liverpool International Academy (LIA) to identify and monitor young players in the furthermost corner of our vast state.

The foundations of NNSWF’s commitment to player development in the “bush” is the implementation of licensed Skill Acquisition Programs (SAP’s) in Football Mid North Coast (FMNC), Northern Inland Football (NIF) and North Coast Football (NCF) for boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 12. FFNC also implemented a SAP for many years until the LIA was established last year. The SAP’s comprise twice weekly training sessions and monthly development tournaments, which on three occasions in the year are integrated with the SAP’s in the Hunter Region and the Skill Acquisition Phase of the Emerging Jets.

The SAP’s are complemented by talent identification activities including the NNSWF SAP State Championships for boys and girls, which along with the Boys and Youth Identification Camps principally identify players from Regional NNSW who have the potential to represent NNSW Country in the FFA National Youth Championships, which have been conducted and hosted by NNSWF in Coffs Harbour for the past 12 years.

Players who graduate from FMNC’s and NCF’s SAP’s are encouraged to transition to the Member Zones’ respective squads which compete in the youth divisions of the NNSW PS4 National Premier Leagues (NPL), which are vital components of the talented player pathway for Regional Players. It’s important to note that Cockerill failed to declare that NIF was also admitted by NNSWF to the NPL in 2017. Regretfully, NIF withdrew in February when it became clear that they could not secure the level of commitment required to sustain their participation.

It is NNSWF’s sincere hope that the Regional Zones’ participation at youth level facilitates participation in the senior grades of the NNSW NPL in the future. The SAP’s and the squads that participate in the NPL Youth are in effect the “hubs” which according to one of Cockerill’s unnamed sources “We probably need but we don’t have the money.” The establishment of elite “hubs” in major regional centres throughout NNSW, which mirror the Emerging Jets is a commendable aspiration, which I am sure will gather momentum as the PS4 NPL Youth matures and more advanced coaches enter the system.

The introduction of the ground breaking NNSWF Homestay Program provides opportunities for the most talented players, both boys and girls from Regional NNSW to join the Emerging Jets on a full-time basis. Four young, talented players from FFNC and FMNC are currently benefitting from what NNSWF understands is the only program of its type in Australian football. The introduction of the Homestay Program is consistent with NNSWF’s philosophy that players in the Game Training Phase should at every opportunity train and play regularly with their peers in a collective elite environment.


Turn to the ‘Winning’ section of NNSWF’s 2016 Annual Report for an overview of what was accomplished in the area of player development


NNSWF’s investment in youth development goes beyond players. We are committed to providing regional coaches with the opportunity to complete advanced coaching accreditation courses such as the C Licence which was recently conducted in Port Macquarie. Regular professional development opportunities for coaches are also central to player development. As recently as last week, NNSWF’s Technical Director delivered a Coaching Masterclass in the Northern Inland and oversaw a local coach’s C Licence Assessment.

The truth is that NNSWF’s 2017 Budget indicates that approximately $250k will be expended on the above programs, and this investment does not include the salaries of the relevant executive and staff which could be appropriately apportioned, or the investment of the Member Zones. We can always do more and demand for resources will always outstrip supply, but our investment is a far cry from the rhetoric in Cockerill’s article.

Cockerill’s criticism in relation to the perceived lack of talent emanating from the youth development program requires a response on behalf of the hundreds of talented and committed young players who train up to four nights a week yearround. The anonymous coaches who state that “there’s precious little coming through” and the “cupboard is bare” are of course entitled to their opinion. What I can quantify is that three boys attended the FFA Centre of Excellence, 7 girls were selected for the Young Matildas, 5 girls were selected for the Junior Matildas and 3 boys represented the National U/17’s in 2016. The Emerging Jets and Jets Youth, despite playing against older and stronger players was the most consistent performing “club” in the NNSW PS4 NPL and were highly competitive against Sydney FC’s and the Western Sydney Wanderers’ Academies during the inaugural Academy Friendlies played at the end of 2016. It would be far more constructive if the anonymous coaches “at the point end” and people “on the inside” who contributed to the “analysis” focused on developing the current crop of players and stopped searching for excuses.

NNSWF and our Member Zones have done an enormous amount of “heavy lifting’ to lay the foundations of what is widely recognised as one the most comprehensive youth structures in Australia. NNSWF welcomes the Jets’ willingness to take full responsibility for the Emerging Jets and Jets Women, which NNSWF has also managed and largely funded for eight of the nine years since the inception of the Westfield W-League. The club’s commitment will enable NNSWF to evaluate its strategy and redeploy our limited resources accordingly throughout our vast state.

NNSWF flatly rejects the unfair assertion that the governing body has overseen “generations of neglect” and that “The interest, resources and money, effectively runs out within 100-kilometre radius of Newcastle.” The truth is that by any measure the game in NNSW is healthier than it’s ever been.

I once again encourage Cockerill to pick up the phone, or schedule a meeting to openly discuss his ongoing criticism of Northern NSW Football’s stewardship of the game.

David Eland
Chief Executive Officer
Northern NSW Football


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