Before moving to Tasmania from Sydney, I didn’t realise how little of the Tasmanian football scene I knew. I didn’t realise that in a predominantly AFL owned state that football is the highest participation sport in Tasmania.
Tasmania possess all grades of football ranging from your average under six local team to those which participate within the elite Victory League, which is almost at completion of its inaugural season. Now with a new major sponsor in Melbourne Victory, and the excitement of the upcoming FFA cup, Tasmania’s football scene has never looked this healthy.
In fact, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to sit down one on one with the Football Federation Tasmania’s CEO Mr John Boulous, the man in charge of over seeing the growth of football in Tasmania and ensuring that Tasmania plays its part in strengthening football in Australia.
During my one on one with Mr Boulous, I had the chance to talk about football pathways for the youth in Tasmania, The FFA Cup, the A-League and the upcoming pre-season friendly in Hobart on the 29th September between Melbourne Victory and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
John Boulous, for those who don’t know you, can you briefly introduce yourself and how you became the CEO of Football Federation Tasmania (FTT)?
I was at Football Australia from 2005-2010 in a national game development role. There was a CEO role available on an interim basis, which I came to Tasmania for. I thought (the job) was only for 3 months. I ended up liking it and loving the challenge of opportunity in helping the sport progress to new levels. From here I went for the job full time and was lucky enough to be appointed in August 2010. I have now been in the role for the past three years.
Please tell us a little about Football Federation Tasmania and how many leagues and clubs are affiliated?
We have 3 clear regions – The first of which is North West Coast region including, Devonport, Burnie, Somerset and Ulverstone. The second region is the north of the state, which is Launceston. The final region is the south, which is Hobart. This was the inaugural season of the Victory league, the Major partner of that being Melbourne Victory. It’s a state wide league and it’s the first time a state wide league has been in existence in 13 years. We went through an application process in line with the criteria for the National Premier League and picked the 8 best clubs that suited that criteria. The breakdown of those 8 clubs is five  in Hobart, two  in Launceston, and one  in the North West coast region. We also have a Northern Premier League that consists of 9 clubs and a Southern Premier League which consists of 11 teams, plus their NTC (National Training Centre) program, and 7 junior associations. We have a good flow of players who range from 6 through to adults and cater anyone who plays for a sense of community spirit, to the more professional aspirations.
The inaugural first season of the Victory League is about to come to an end. Have you been happy with it and has it lived up to expectations?
Yes, ecstatic! In terms of a new competition, the clubs have bought into the concept and the competition. We all need to improve, from the clubs to the FFT, to continually raise the bar. From a media point of view we have to put football on the map in Tasmania, in regards to online media and reviews on television. What the Victory League has done is shown us that there is an elite level of football here in Tasmania. That there is a pathway, that a kid can join to play football, get into the Victory League and potentially be picked up by an A-League club.
Are there plans for a football ground and facilities to be built in Tasmania, solely for the purpose of football or maybe in conjunction with the other square pitch codes?
That’s a bit of a difficult question. We are very supportive of a number of different applications. More recently we had allocated more than a million dollars to develop and produce an all-weather surface in Devonport, which is a key area.
We are looking to do a similar thing in Launceston which we are trying to work with the local council on. In terms of a rectangular pitch, that’s not in the immediate picture. The current plan is still to use the existing grounds, some not ideal for a football atmosphere but the best that we have at the moment. Would we love a rectangular pitch in conjunction with the other square pitch codes such as rugby and rugby league? Yes, but it’s still a work in progress. We have a number of venues that we are constantly improving but as far as a rectangular stadium, that’s probably someway off yet.
Since moving to Tasmania, it has become apparent that AFL has a strong hold on the state though I have noticed that football is played by quite a large number of children. At what age do they tend to depart football and is there a common trend for this? What are some of the things the FFT are doing to keep the youth in football?
Yes, in perspective we are the largest participation sport in the state. Of the 13500+ members, 9 thousand of those are between 6 and 12. It’s at the ages 12 to 13 they tend to drop out. Our primary schools throughout the state are heavily aligned to soccer, which means they act almost like their football club. So when they finish primary school its almost like their club ends. We need make sure the kids are converting into a club set up straight after primary school. In terms of combating it, we are looking into the relationships of clubs to the kids and the schools. These are all things being drawn into club contracts now and we are working ever so hard to ensure a seamless and continuous pathway so the kids, whole teams and coaches know exactly where to go for their under 13 and above football.
There are a couple of Tasmanian’s such as Jerrad Tyson and Jeremy Walker who are now very active profiles in the A-League. Do you see more Tasmanian’s in the near future?
Yes I do. We have pathways in place now. We have our state programs and our National Training Centre (NTC) program in place where kids have been in that system for four years now. Jeremy Walker is the first product of that. He joined at the age of 12, moved to Hobart from the North West Coast, and then came through the NTC program, into Melbourne and then into the Melbourne Heart.
Now with our connection with Melbourne Victory we see our pathways as a feeder for them, as they are tracking players from a young age. This is where we see the Victory League as important to this pathway. As kids come out of the NTC program and into the Victory league, where we pick a squad from 17-19 year olds that are in the shop front window of Melbourne Victory’s set up.
David Gallop has stated on numerous occasions that expanding the A-League isn’t in the immediate thoughts of the FFA. Is it a focus for FFT still? Is Tasmania pushing for a team and do you see it as a real possibility?
Long term there is something on the agenda through a group called Tasmania United who are a group of people set up to keep working away at building a foundation for a team. However, there is a very clear vision and philosophy through the state government, the FFT and FFA, and that is to create a partnership with an A-League club, increase the A-League content in Tasmania, and to grow the brand of football to a point where improving and bringing better outcomes to football in the state. That’s the very clear vision for the short to midterm future. I can’t see us sustaining an A-League team in the short to midterm and we have a great partnership with Melbourne Victory that will allow us to develop, grow and increase the A-League content. More importantly we need people to support the A-League, to come to games, attend Victory League games, and increase the football culture in Tasmania. We need to make sure the local game is strong.
Have you been informed about the new FFA Cup tournament starting in 2014? How will this possibly look for Tasmania?
Yes, definitely we will be included. We have one spot confirmed by the FFA into the FFA cup. The winner of our Milan Lakoseljac Memorial Trophy which finishes in June 2014 will be our representative into the FFA cup final round of 32 or 16 (yet to be devised by the FFA), but the FFT have one reserved spot. Whether or not they draw an A-League club or a state league team from another state, it is going to be a tremendous experience for football. The fairy tale that you can join a cup competition here in Tasmania, win and go onto a national stage will unite the A-League communities around Australia, and really give people and teams a clear dream.
Do you know why the A-League or Melbourne Victory moved the regular season game to a pre season friendly to Hobart?
We have always had a preseason game here in Tasmania. Previously it has been at the Aurora stadium for the past 6 years. During the last few years, Melbourne Victory have always had one extra game which allowed them to bring that game to Tasmania. This year they don’t, so they have existing commitments and contract’s to fulfill with AAMI park and Etihad stadiums which have made it not possible. The relationship with Melbourne Victory has two very clear purposes, one is to create pathways for Tasmania, and another to create and expand the reach of Melbourne Victory, a key part of which is games in Tasmania. This is the first year officially of the FFT and Melbourne Victory partnership and that partnership is with the whole of the state, so the opportunity came up to move the game to Hobart.
The double header in September is a great showcase of local and Australian football. How are tickets sales progressing? Also how did the double header concept come about?
Normally the preseason games have been earlier in the year. Previously they have been played in August. Because of how late it is, playing a double header would ensure the best possible preparation for the regular season which starts almost two weeks after. A part of the agreement was to allow them to play a Tasmanian team and an A-League team. Last year they played the Tasmanian team in Hobart and attracted 4000 people. Then they played Adelaide United up in Launceston. With it being close to the start of the season, the idea was floated to not travel the team and to play both games in Hobart, providing the best preparations and opportunity to both clubs. The thought was to play at the Kingston Twin ovals, which provides great playing surface and viewing for spectators. Ticket sales are steady. Obviously we need everyone who knows it’s on to come along. We are starting a TV and radio promotional campaign that starts on Tuesday. The message to all football fans get your tickets. Get in early and avoid queue’s. Get behind your local football.
ADULTS – $15.00
CHILDREN AND CONCESSION – $7
Tickets available through:
Yes Optus Stores – Hobart (Elizabeth St Mall), Rosny Park (Eastlands Shopping Centre) and Launceston (St John St).
Football Federation Tasmania Office – KGV Park, Grove Rd Glenorchy.
Kingborough Council – Channel Hwy, Kingston.
Or you can purchase over the phone by calling the Football Federation Tasmania offices on 03 62733299 (Phone bookings will incur a $1 postage fee).Google+