This past week saw the end of an era of Australian football, as Frank Lowy, chairman of the FFA, stepped down after 12 years in charge.
In order just to see how much Lowy has done for Australian football, we need to first look at just where Australia was before Lowy took the role of chairman. Thirteen years ago, after the failure by the Australian side to qualify for the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea and Japan, several media outlets accused the then head federation Soccer Australia of fraud and mismanagement of funds, resulting in the 2003 Crawford Report which highlighted the issues that were prevalent in Australian football at the time.
This was also around the same time that the domestic league, the National Soccer League (NSL), was on its last legs, having had its TV contract with Seven severed and no channel willing to pick up the rights until SBS picked up the rights sometime after the dissolution of Soccer Australia. As a result of a lack of government funding, Soccer Australia was placed into liquidation, while the Australia Soccer Association (ASA) was formed and received $15 million in funding from the government. This new association had then Westfield chairman and director to the Reserve Bank Frank Lowy at its head, a move recommended by the Crawford Report.
With Lowy at the head of this new association, change was implemented at a fairly rapid pace. By November 2004, the NSL had been dissolved and a new eight-team competition known as the A-League had been formed, with its first season kicking off in August 2005. A desire to grow the league and maintain stability was key and this was clear in the intent shown by Lowy over the next 10 years, as only five new clubs would be added to the league over the course of the first 10 seasons. However, Lowy helped to lay significant groundwork in any future expansion, with his suggestions that the league will one day be expanded to include teams from the likes of Wollongong, Canberra, Hobart and more.
On 1 January 2005, the ASA changed their name to the now well known Football Federation Australia and in March of that year performed the biggest change in Australia’s footballing history. With Australia falling at the final hurdle of World Cup qualification for the past three campaigns due to the difficult qualification process Oceanic nations face, the FFA applied to leave the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and move to Asia, starting with qualification for the 2010 World Cup. The move was approved by the AFC in March of 2005 and was also approved by the OFC a month later.
This move would help shape Australia into the footballing nation it is today as clubs can now play continental football at a much higher level thanks to the Asian Champions League, which was won for the first time in history by an Australian club in 2014 thanks to the Western Sydney Wanderers, as well as raising the standard of competition the national sides face. The move to Asia was one repaid by the footballing community in 2015 when Australia won the Asian Cup on home soil for the first time in history after making the final four years earlier.
The Asian Cup being held in Australia was also a move helmed by the FFA in the years after Lowy took charge. In February of 2008, the FFA announced that they would bid for Australia to host the 2015 Asian Cup along with the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup. This came at a time when interest was high in the national side, as the arguable ‘golden generation’ of players had just started qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they would be hoping to make the World Cup for a third time after qualifying in 1974 and 2006 after that memorable night in Sydney.
In 2010, after some $45 million invested into the bids for the World Cup, Australia pulled out bidding for the 2018 World Cup and instead decided to focus on their bid for the 2022 World Cup. This, however, amounted to nothing as the Australian bid only received one vote and was eliminated at the first stage, with the World Cups going to Russia and Qatar respectively, albeit with a serious amount of allegations of corruption leveled against them. The bid was one spearheaded by Lowy himself and while he insisted that the FFA ran a clean bid free from any allegations of corruption, there is a pending senate inquiry into the allegations and the actions taken by the bid team. Finally, in 2013, Lowy helped to see Australia become a full member of the ASEAN Football Federation, a move that helped to bridge ties with Asia and help Australia develop their players more.
Frank Lowy as head of the FFA has guided Australia through its most difficult and most rewarding period in its footballing history. In the 12 years he has led the FFA, we have seen Australia qualify for three World Cups, become champions of Asia on both a domestic and international level, create a stable league that slowly but surely is gaining respect in the international community and bid for two World Cups and an Asian Cup, finally allowing Australia to host a major footballing event for the first time in 2015.
It is very fair to say that without people like Lowy, Australian football would be nowhere near as well off as it is today and he deserves all the praise he has been getting this past week. With his son Steven Lowy taking over the role of FFA chairman, we now all must wait and see as to how the next chapter of Australian football plays out without Lowy senior at the helm.
© 2015 Outside 90 | This article first appeared on Outside 90 on 20 November 2015.