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James Johnson forgot to mention one key stakeholder: fans

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Expert
16th January, 2020
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Football fans should be hugely encouraged by new FFA chief executive James Johnson’s maiden press conference, although he failed to mention the fans themselves even once.

As far as first impressions go, Johnson’s introductory speech on Wednesday was a good one.

Perhaps the best thing about it was that he sounded like an actual football person, rather than a bureaucrat parachuted in with little understanding of the world game.

That’s probably because he is a football person. A former youth international, Johnson only missed Australia’s run to the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Cup Final in New Zealand through injury.

And having turned to the administrative side of the game after injuries ruined his chances of a professional playing career, Johnson has racked up an impressive list of stops for the resumé, including the Asian Football Confederation, FIFA, and more recently, the City Football Group.

That might be why Johnson speaks in such a polished manner. He certainly sounds like an articulate administrator.

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And the consensus already seems to be that he’s a careful, considerate leader who’s happy to seek input from those around him.

But if there’s one criticism of Johnson’s first press conference – and Football Federation Australia’s decision to stream it should be applauded – it’s that he failed to make reference to fans even once.

Perhaps that’s because Johnson peppered his speech with euphemisms like “stakeholders” and “community” throughout.

Could fans be one of those stakeholders? Perhaps.

But if Johnson wants to break free of the past – and much of what he said during the conference was spot on – then one of the most obvious ways to do so would be to acknowledge that fans have traditionally been the most ignored stakeholders in the game.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest there have been times in the recent past when football fans have been treated with outright contempt.

And that’s not such a problem when Johnson is surrounded by like-minded administrators and journalists who need to cultivate their relationships with him as a source, but who never need to worry about buying tickets to a game or being hassled by stadium staff.

Police at the A-League

Police monitor the crowd at an A-League Sydney derby. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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That’s not to imply Johnson won’t stand up for fans in the future. It’s just that for all the positive rhetoric, it was mostly geared towards an audience of fellow administrators.

Still, that’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and Johnson’s plans to concentrate on transforming the FFA, unbundling the A-League and bidding for the FIFA Women’s World Cup are instructive.

His suggestion that he wants to see the FFA become “a football-first organisation” should be music to the ears of critics who have wondered why there’s been such a concerted effort in the past to chase casual multi-sport watchers.

And the desire to “unbundle” the FFA from the A-League is another development that needs to happen sooner rather than later – for the good of both parties.

Whether the A-League can actually flourish outside of FFA control remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that things can’t keep muddling on the way they have been this season.

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As it stands, tonight’s showdown between eternal rivals Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory should be one of the games of the season, if only to see how the Reds react to Gertjan Verbeek’s spray after last weekend and Victory respond to Marco Kurz’s sacking.

There should be a febrile atmosphere inside what will hopefully be a packed Coopers Stadium for one of the highlight fixtures on the A-League calendar.

No doubt Johnson will be watching on with interest and wondering what sort of role FFA needs to play in the Australian game going forward.

He’s off to a decent start after an impressive performance in front of the cameras on Wednesday.

He should just remember one thing – fans are key stakeholders too.