The grassroots boom in Queensland continues unabated with one former A-League star saying new Queensland teams on the national stage is what the Sunshine State desperately needs.
A national second division, with the working title of “The Championship”, is now on the table with a white paper set to be released.
Added to this is promotion and relegation to and from the state-based NPLs.
This is part of a broader discussion around expanding Australia’s domestic footprint.
And this is great news for a state as vast as Queensland, which has only one A-League club despite being the second-largest and third most populous state in Australia.
Former A-League star Zenon Caravella has set up his own academy in his home town Cairns (the Caravella Football Academy).
It has been a huge success in catering for the explosion of grassroots numbers in North Queensland.
He says it's critical for the game nationally that such a powerful state like Queensland has something to aim for.
“And I’ve always thought players in regional Queensland they’ve got that little bit of mongrel you really want to see,” he told FTBL.
“I’m not sure why, but it’s such a great quality to have in a footballer who is trying to compete.
“There is a lot of naturally gifted players here in North Queensland.”
Caravella, who retired in 2015, says the group he’s been coaching since the age of nine are now 14 years old.
In mid-2018 a youth cup tournament was played in Cairns where squads from across Australia competed.
Western Sydney Wanderers youth coach Arthur Diles attended and he was so impressed with Caravella’s juniors that four were given an open invitation to trial with the Wanderers.
Cairns does not have an A-League club and since the demise of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, the entire state has just one club. Brisbane Roar.
“And yet if you look at the popularity of the game, it’s almost too big for itself,” added Caravella, who has been lauded by the FFA for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the A-League'.
“You’ve got so many young kids trying to play football and be professional footballers.
“But in the state of Queensland, we’ve only got one A-League team with a squad of 23 players [and one W-League squad].
“That has to feed the appetite of tens of thousands of kids.
“It’s very difficult and inevitably you have to leave Cairns or leave the state.
“I guess that’s the way it’s always been.”
The ‘Championship’, a national second division below the A-League, is currently being discussed.
A while paper over the next couple of weeks will outline the roadmap moving forward for a league that’s aiming to kick off in 2021.
Caravella hopes the booming numbers in Queensland won’t have to leave the state to follow their football dreams.
“The game is so big here in Queensland and so popular that in order for us to keep producing young talent and keeping people in the game, you’ve got to give them opportunities.
“If the opportunities aren’t there, then it’s very easy to pack it up and say, ‘what’s the point?’.
“If you have more teams, more avenues on how you can become a professional footballer… the more teams there are the more encouraging it is to stay in the game.”
Caravella’s academy has expanded to the point where they’ve recently moved into new premises at a former bowling club.
“The vision was to create a world-class facility,” Caravella said.
With synthetic pitches, the academy is now able to train players rain, hail or shine.
The academy is for ages 6-14. It’s a tiered structure based on ability. Around 200 players are at the academy.
FFA has called for increased government funding to boost and improve facilities after releasing a report showing participation rates in football had risen by 13 percent in the past year.
For children aged 6-13, the game has a participation rate nationally of 48.7%, making is just as popular as swimming for the most played sport in that age group.
That is replicated in Queensland.
“Football is hugely popular in Far North Queensland for girls and boys. And that’s without an A-League club," said Caravella.
“It’s such a popular sport yet there are so few offerings in terms of professional teams.
“Back in the old NSL, we had 16-18 teams. A lot of teams a lot of kids could come through and put themselves in the shop window.
“I really feel like there’s a lot of young players in the NPL system that are obviously very, very good but just don’t get a look in.
With A-League expansion confirmed for Western Melbourne and South-West Sydney over the coming two seasons, the solution for Queensland could be the Championship.
“In an ideal world you would have a second division but as we all know it comes down to finances."