Football Federation Australia is coming under increasing pressure to establish a national second division after FIFA threw its support behind a bid from National Premier League clubs to remodel the lower tiers of the game, with some clubs not ruling out a breakaway league.
More than two-thirds of the country's 129 NPL clubs have joined forces to establish the Association of Australian Football Clubs, which wants at least one seat at the expanded FFA Congress, as well as a national second division below the A-League.
A meeting of representatives of more than 80 clubs took place in Melbourne on Monday with the backing of FIFA, which is supporting their push for greater inclusion and influence in the game in Australia.
"Our association is not about trying to repair the past but focused on growing football for the future," AAFC spokesman Tom Kalas said.
APIA Leichhardt, Marconi, Bonnyrigg White Eagles and Sydney United are among the first NSW clubs to join the AAFC and are pushing for a national second division that will sit as the highest division above the existing state-run structures. SD Raiders FC have also formally submitted a application to join the AAFC.
Those leading the campaign from Victoria have held constructive talks with FFA's head of community football, Emma Highwood, about a proposed second tier and representation at the congress level.
The clubs' united push is for a sanctioned national competition that would not involve promotion and relegation in the immediate future to the A-League, but could serve as the basis in the future.
Several clubs are increasingly determined to be part of the national framework and, in a sign of their frustration, have not ruled out forming a rebel national league should FFA reject their proposal. While not their priority, it remains a possibility for clubs unhappy with conditions in the NSW state-run league, including annual participation fees of about $100,000, the restructure of youth development systems and restrictions of player sale prices to A-League clubs.
"It's a necessary evil to engage the disengaged," Sydney United president Sam Krslovic said. "We're hopeful that it won't be a rebel league. We're hoping that everyone will come on board and realise we're part of the family, but if the FFA won't help or endorse it, then what's the alternative? Let's not forget the EPL started as a breakaway league."
Any breakaway competition would not be sanctioned by FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation or FFA. An FFA spokesman said the governing body was seeking more details.