Socceroos and A-League players have united in their resolve to secure A-League player payments following the refusal of Football Federation Australia (FFA) to honour player contracts at North Queensland Fury and concerns over the financial viability of some A-League clubs.
Players expressed their dismay at FFA’s treatment of Fury players at a series of meetings recently held in Melbourne by Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).

“FFA’s handling of player contracts at North Queensland has appalled A-League and Socceroos players and greatly undermined player confidence in the security of an A-League playing contract.  There seems to be a view that players will want to play in the A-League despite the conditions.  However, this is inconsistent with FFA’s stated aim to not only make this competition a success but to make it the preferred sport for elite Australian athletes,” PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said today.

“It is essential that FFA ensures that no other player will have his contract or his career cut short in the manner that has occurred in North Queensland,” Schwab said.  “Otherwise, players will be very reluctant to commit their playing futures to the A-League.”

Schwab fully endorsed the public comments of former Fury marquee player and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, who described the treatment of the players as “disgraceful”.

“Players went to North Queensland in reliance of FFA’s decision to expand the A-League in Townsville.  Yet, even though FFA’s plans fell apart within 12 months, FFA felt free to turn its back on the players who had committed themselves to driving the A-League’s expansion effort.  The same players left secure jobs, relocated their families and placed their children in local schools.”

The PFA finds it remarkable that Acting Fury CEO Archie Fraser is not prepared to apologise to the players or acknowledge that things could have been handled differently.  The PFA also firmly rejects any suggestion that FFA had no option but to tear up player contracts in order the keep the Fury alive.

“The handling of the situation at Fury reminds me of the worse times of the old NSL,” Schwab said.  “The situation is simply indefensible and has greatly hurt the goodwill of the A-League, both at home and around the world.”

Among the players’ complaints are:
in early March when FFA moved in to take over the Fury licence, players were advised that they were free to seek alternative employment because of the uncertainty over the club’s future;
shortly afterwards, players were told they were contracted and bound to the club;
the players were then told that all player contracts would be honoured if a rescue package could be put in place by March 31;
on the eve of the March 31 deadline, FFA decided to support the Fury’s continued participation in the A-League but not honour player contracts.  This was unprecedented, as FFA supported all player contracts when supporting Adelaide United and Perth Glory’s continued participation in the A-League;
FFA refused to negotiate collectively with the players, despite them being determined to stay together as a group and contribute to the club’s survival.  Instead, FFA unilaterally determined who would go, who would stay and on what terms, resulting in a number of leading players having no option but to sign with other clubs;
FFA refused to bargain with the PFA over its financial proposal which indicated all 16 player contracts could be honoured at 85% of the salary cap provided an agreement was reached with Robbie Fowler who, as marquee, sat outside of the cap.  The proposal would allow the Fury to spend about $85,000 on average to complete its playing roster;
FFA kept many players in the dark for weeks about their playing futures, including Robbie;
FFA refused to contract injured players;
FFA told injured players they were to be responsible for their own medical expenses;
FFA refused to expatriate foreign players or to manage the legal issues associated with their VISAs; and
FFA publicly criticised some Fury players as being overpaid or unworthy of A-League contracts.
“Following extensive negotiations, every player has either now found employment or received partial compensation.  However, the whole process has taken over 3 months and caused a great deal of anguish to A-League players,” Schwab added.

The PFA will be pressing for FFA backed security for player payments when the current A-League Collective Bargaining Agreement opens for renegotiation later this year.