Melbourne Knights have declared that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis represents Australian football’s moment to unite and move forward.
In a ‘letter to the footballing public’ posted on their website, the former NSL Champions and current NPL Victoria side became the latest in a string of high-profile voices to call for football to use the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as a platform to assess its preferred direction and how it intends to get there.
In the letter, Knights, whose favourite son Mark Viduka headlines the FFA’s recently announced ‘Starting XI’ advisory panel of Australian football legends, make clear their wish to see Australian football use the ongoing crisis as a chance to pull in a unified direction for reform and express a desire for the Sunshine-based club to be a part of that.
"@MelbKnights, Melbourne Croatia - that was my dream." ❤️⚽— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) April 20, 2020
Mark Viduka defends the old NSL clubs 💪
The FULL #StateOfFootball special 📲 https://t.co/Y90xYL8QP1#OptusSport #GoSocceroos pic.twitter.com/CAnU37jkLP
It’s the latest in a string of releases put out by the club seeking to contribute to the discourse surrounding the direction of the game, with Knights having released its own, alternative Whole of Football Plan in 2015 and a response to the National Second Division Working Group’s white paper in 2019.
“This break has given us all time for pause and reflection,” Knights’ letter reads. “Even amongst those in the highest offices in the sport, it is unanimously agreed that football in this country has reached a crossroads.
“We believe we all want something fairly similar: a united game, pulling in the same direction, pushing for new heights.
“The silver lining to these difficult months is that all of us in society have realised what we can achieve together is far greater than what we can achieve divided. Put simply- we will never fulfil our potential when we remain so disconnected.
“Should we continue with our existing approach – stalemated and inward-looking as Australia’s only major truly global sport – there is no chance of progress. As a game, it is clear that every inch of energy has been exhausted and the A-League which has taken up the overwhelming majority of that energy has nonetheless ground to a halt.
“Disappointed as much as the Melbourne Knights have been to have been excluded from the pinnacle of the sport for almost two decades, we still aspire to be part of the movement that re-energises not only the A-League but the entire Australian football ecosystem.
“For that to happen, clubs like ours want to and need to start giving again to Australian football. Our history and culture is well-documented and we are thrilled that our contribution is being recognised within the court of public opinion. But now, we want to help lead and deliver, more than ever before.”
Founded in 1953, Knights – then known as Melbourne Croatia – joined the NSL in 1984 and secured back-to-back championships in 1994/95 and 1995/96. Since the collapse of the competition, the club has resided in the Victorian State Leagues; winning a Dockerty Cup in 2014 but yet to reascend to the summit of a state they won three titles in before joining the NSL.
Though still one of the most famous names in Australian football, national exposure for the club has in recent years been restricted to the FFA Cup, with Knights knocked out in the Round of 32 of the 2019 iteration by eventual champions Adelaide United in front of 4087 fans at Knights Stadium.
The club has made no secret of its desire to return to the Australian football national scene; providing one of the loudest voices in support of the introduction of a second-tier below the A-League and the eventual introduction of promotion and relegation into the ecosystem.
It's a theme that continued in their letter.
“Only when our football ecosystem is fully connected, and each club allowed to participate on merit, will we have a fair system that allows us to heal, come together and advance as one,” Knights letter states.
“We know the A-League will be de-escalating cost bases dramatically next season to manageable levels. With it comes the opportunity for us all to re-connect our leagues.
“Ultimately, we must create the building blocks of a sport that doesn’t live TV deal-to-TV deal, but thrives – sustainably and responsibly – on the strength of its people. It is unrealistic in a nation such as ours, with so many professional sports, to be so dependent on a singular source of income from a media industry struggling to survive. If we rebuild with sound foundations, all that will come back, and so much more.
“Under the leadership of FFA Chief Executive James Johnson, we believe the opportunity has arrived for the A-League to break free of its artificial constraints. By fostering a National Second Division in the near and immediate future, and with a subsequent timetable for an orderly, sensible transition to promotion-relegation, the wheels of progress can finally start turning again.
“We believe, along with thousands of others – that once that transition comes to fruition, we can all start doing what we love: getting to games, supporting our team, buying memberships and being part of the sport that has all given us so much.
“The colour and life of Australian football will come flooding back, as will a whole new generation of fans, drawn to a thrilling spectacle that can’t be replicated in other sports.”