Thumbs up for new league format
Melville technical director Sam Wilkinson has welcomed changes to the national and northern leagues set to start in the new year.
From 2021, the national men’s league will consist of two phases, run from March to December, and be contested by existing winter clubs.
In a structure quite similar to the 1993-95 superclub championship, the first part of the season will consist of northern, central, and southern conferences with the top teams from each conference advancing to a national championship.
Teams will be required to include two under-20 players in their starting line-ups and will only be able to field up to four foreign players plus an additional player from another country in the Oceania Football Confederation.
“I’m generally please with the new structure,” Wilkinson said. “I have advocated a club-based league with promotion-relegation for some time now, and the new rules and restrictions probably play to our strengths at Melville as well.”
A major change is the structure allows developing players at least a potential path to top level without having to leave their existing club.
Wilkinson said that while Melville had often topped up their squad with a couple of Welsh imports, the bulk of the squad had always been “local lads”.
“And the U-20 rule will not affect us. Three to four of our U20s are among our best players and would be starting anyway.”
However Wilkinson did add the caveat that the code had to be very mindful about imposing restrictions – and how they were enforced – on a flagship league.
“We don’t want to have clubs overdoing it and forcing youths to play who are not ready, just to tick a box.
“But I don’t have an issue with the objective of developing players.”
In taking a broader look at the changes, Wilkinson said Auckland City and Team Wellington had a right to be disappointed, insofar as they were perhaps the only properly functioning entities in the existing “closed” national league.
But the restructure was being made out of a wider necessity.
“I don’t think anyone could look at the existing league and say it was thriving and meeting all the requirements.
“If you took your franchise hats off you would admit that having summer and winter competitions, and a season overlap, with no promotion-relegation and no proper pre-season was not the best arrangement. People will eventually see that.”
Within the Waikato environment Wilkinson was uncertain how the changes would affect the traditional rivalry between Melville and Wanderers Sports Club, which contests the existing national league, but did wonder whether the changes would lead to a more equitable financial landscape.
“The league changes won’t affect Wanderers too much, because they have a fully functioning winter club, though it may draw them closer to clubs like ours in terms of funding, with less justification for them to land big grants.”
Wanderers succeeded in securing over $440,000 in community grant funding for their national league operations alone in 2019, according to annual financial returns.
That’s impressive, but Wilkinson said it should not be the defining feature.
“Ultimately we should be focused on development rather than tapping into funding.”
# Melville U20s will host Fencibles U20s at Gower Park on Saturday (December 5) at 12 noon. The match is part of the ongoing U20 league formed by leading northern league clubs in the absence of a national youth league.
Melville drew 3-3 away with East Coast Bays last week and are so far unbeaten with one win and four draws. Melville came from behind with goals from Ryen Lawrence (2) – looking good for the first team squad in 2021 – and Legga Legz, after having a player sent off early in the second half.