Falcons' bid seen as an opportunity for region

SAM PATCHETT
Last updated 11:36 04/07/2014
Nelson Marlborough Falcons
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Action from a Nelson Marlborough Falcons ASB Youth League match at Blenheim’s Lansdowne Park in January.

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Marlborough Football and NZ King Salmon Nelson Marlborough Falcons board member Nigel Thompson believes the Falcons' bid to field a side in New Zealand Football's national league is a great opportunity for football in Marlborough, despite criticism of the venture from Mainland and Nelson Bays Football.

On Monday the Nelson-based franchise, which has a team competing in the national youth league, made a bid to have a senior team in the ASB Premiership, the country's senior national league.

TSF [Top of the South Football] Incorporated, who run the Falcons' franchise, successfully bid for a licence to have a team in the national ASB Youth League in 2012, but have had two bids for a senior team knocked back in the past three years. However, New Zealand Football, who are looking at a league restructure, have asked TSF to submit another application for the national league.

Thompson felt the bid offered a great opportunity for football in Marlborough, as a senior Nelson-Marlborough team would develop the partnership between the two regions.

"[The Falcons] have had a good relationship with Marlborough Football in the two years the Falcons have been running, so we want to continue that on to a full senior level," Thompson said.

Marlborough has produced plenty of talent for the Falcons, with the likes of strikers Carl Connor-McClean, Omar Guardiola plus midfielders Tore Waechter and Taine Swete playing for the youth side, and Thompson believed having a senior team opened up more opportunities for further player development.

"Guys that are going to be too old to play for the Falcons, they could be in the mix for a full, senior ASB premiership side," Thompson said.

"[Marlborough] will continue to push players forward like a feeder system into the youth team, and once they are too old to play for the youth team, if they're good enough they'll step up to the senior team."

Thompson said not only would it provide Marlborough footballers with a more accessible pathway to a career in the sport, having a senior team would ensure promising players stayed in the region instead of leaving for bigger centres to play for teams such as Canterbury United or Team Wellington.

Thompson and Marlborough Football general manager Alan Kelly are backing the bid on this side of the hill, but support for a Marlborough-Nelson senior side isn't widespread.

Mainland Football chief executive Mike Coggan voiced his concern about the Nelson-based franchise applying for a senior licence, emailing a four-page letter to all Nelson and Marlborough member clubs over what "Mainland Football sees as challenges posed by a Nelson-Marlborough Falcons senior entry in the ASB Premiership."

In the letter, Coggan urged clubs to question TSF as to whether it has the financial sustainability, player depth and organisational capability to compete in the national league.

After receiving the letter, TSF board member Alex Reith lodged a complaint with Mainland Football in relation to what he perceived as scaremongering by Mainland staff, although other organisations and figures also raised doubts about Falcons' bid.

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Clive Beaumont, general manager at Nelson Bays Football, said he could not support TSF's latest bid. He said that without an open discussion they could not rule out a negative impact on grassroots football through an increase in subs and levies.

Additionally, the Nelson Suburbs club, who have a team in Mainland Football's Premier League, said they would not support the bid, citing an "understated and not assured" funding model along with insufficient player and volunteer resources as potential issues.

However, Thompson believed the venture was "definitely" sustainable. He said once a team started competing at a national level, it would attract national sponsors, increasing the financial prosperity of a franchise. Additionally, Thompson said club and junior players won't be hit in the pocket.

"It's not taking money from your average football punter. We [TSF] are responsible for funding it, so we're not asking for money from Joe Bloggs who plays on a Saturday afternoon," he said.

Thompson didn't believe there would be an an issue with player depth, although doubted the side would be completely local.

"We're honest, we're not going to be able to field a senior team full of Nelson and Marlborough players. We'll have to get imports, whether it be from Wellington or Auckland, just like any rugby team."

Thompson said the Falcons board was experiencing déjà vu, as people had similar doubts before the franchise launched their youth side, and maintained a lot of planning and organisation had gone into Monday's bid.

"We haven't just thought about this in the last five minutes. There's been a lot of work gone on to answer [doubts]."

Thompson, who has been involved on several football boards throughout the country, pointed out his board position, along with the four other Falcons board members, was voluntary and that they were simply trying to develop football in Marlborough and Nelson.

"We're doing nothing more sinister then trying to grow the code. We're committed to this and we're committed to players only."

A decision to whether or not Falcons will be granted a licence to play in the senior national league is expected by the end of the month. The Falcons youth team will play in the national youth league next year after winning the southern conference in 2014.

The TSF board comprises Thompson, Francis and Aldo Miccio, Mark Sheehan, Reith and Alex Munro.

- The Marlborough Express

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