New Australian Second Division scheduled to launch in 2024

After years of debate, the countdown clock is finally running. This time next year, the Australian National Second Division will be up and running. Anyone greeting the news to the effect that they will believe it when they see it has a certain amount of sympathy. Many of those who are most passionate about Australian soccer have grown impatient with the constant talk and prevarication but lack of action.

There have been false dawns, too – in February 2019, the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) said the Second Division would launch in 2020/21, and four months later, it revised that to 2021/22. Of course, the AAFC cannot be blamed for those dates being missed as wider world events took over. Now, however, March 2024 appears to be set in stone and last month, Football Australia invited interested parties to respond to an Invitation for Expression in Interest in what it is currently calling the National Second Tier.

Give Australian players something to play for

The current framework for domestic soccer in Australia does nothing for the quality of the game or the entertainment value it provides. Put simply, with a 12-club A-league that is closed off with no promotion or relegation, the majority of games have little resting on the outcome. It’s unsurprising that players end up just going through the motions and spectator numbers dwindle.

Beneath the A-league is a bloated and convoluted National Premier League with 94 clubs spread across eight divisions. These are based on the old State leagues, and have their own formats but there is no promotion and relegation to the A-league. Promotion and relegation within the National Premier League varies between the different state systems.

The first thing that springs to mind here is the sheer number of teams. Australian sport has a reputation for punching above its weight on the global scene. But with this sort of infrastructure, where anyone with a modicum of talent needs only turn up to get a game, there is no incentive for the most talented to really fulfil their full potential.

Tempting fans away from the AFL or the casino

It’s not just about the players, either. Running a soccer team costs money, and that has to come from paying fans or sponsors. Without the first, teams won’t attract the second, and Australians have plenty of other competing interests. Soccer is, comparatively speaking, a minority sport, nowhere near as popular as Aussie Rules, cricket or rugby. But that’s only the half of it.

Australians have other interests away from sport. For example, the average Australian spends about $600 on pokies every year. Quite frankly, the vast majority would prefer to spend their time finding the best casino bonus codes and trying their luck with bonus spins on a soccer-themed pokie like Football Star Deluxe or Hot Shots at an online casino. It’s more fun and rewarding than turning out to watch a team of uninterested soccer players going through the motions in yet another meaningless fixture.

Turning journeymen into world-beaters

It is easy to be critical, but compare the current soccer system with Sheffield Shield cricket. Competition for a place in the final XI is fierce, and a player goes into every innings knowing it could make or break his career. It’s tough, it can break players mentally, and it has made Australia into the world-beaters of the cricketing world over the past 30-40 years.

Australia’s national soccer team is decidedly second-tier on the world stage. That’s not a position of familiarity for Australians, but there is only one way the Socceroos will ever be competing on equal terms with England, Brazil, France and the rest, and that is by injecting more urgency and passion into the domestic game.

Adding a second division is not going to be a silver bullet, but it is a step in the right direction. Football Australia has made it clear that while there will not initially be promotion and relegation between the A-League and the Second Tier, this will come into effect once the league has matured. Having promotion and relegation instantly adds meaning for the A-League clubs who are not in the fight for a top six finish and gives them something to play for in the latter stages of the season.  

What teams will feature in the second tier?

32 teams have submitted Expressions of Interest in being part of the new second tier. These include two proposed mergers. One would be a Brisbane franchise called Brisbane United, formed by merging Brisbane Strikers, Virginia United and Wynnum Wolves. The other is a South Australia team called Football SA, formed by combining Campbelltown City, West Torrens Birkalla, West Adelaide and North Eastern MetroStars.

Notable absences are Perth SC and Bulleen Lions. Both explained on their social media feeds that they supported the concept of a Second Division but felt this was not the right time make the necessary investment to really make it work.

Next steps on the path to 2-division soccer

Expressing an interest is only the first step. The next stage, which is now underway, is for the interested parties to provide detailed proposals. They have up till the end of June to do so. The proposals will be assessed by Football Australia with a target for completion around September.

Once the combatants have been confirmed, the next step will be to agree on a format for the season. Two possibilities are currently being considered. Football Australia is eager to pursue what they are calling a “Champions League” format. This would comprise an initial group stage with round robin matches and the top performers progressing to a knock out stage. The AAFC has indicated a preference for a conventional “EPL” style league format, with 12-16 teams playing the traditional home and away format.

New Australian Second Division scheduled to launch in 2024

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