THE staff at Northern NSW Football were shattered, some in tears, when chairman Peter Moore confirmed the sacking of chief executive David Eland this week.
And while it’s fair to say not everyone in soccer in the region was upset that Eland was gone, most would agree the way he was sacked stinks.
Two directors quit in protest and one abstained from voting, leaving three members of the original six-man board to sack Eland. Moore, as chairman, had the casting vote.
Since news of the sacking broke, Moore and his board have been in lockdown.
The stonewalling combined with comments from Bill Walker, one of the directors who quit, have only fuelled a widely held belief that Eland was axed purely because of a personality clash with Moore and former state ALP powerbroker Face, who is a director but also a former chairman and patron.
Walker said there was no evidence presented of wrongdoing or poor performance on Eland’s part and called the process to remove him, carried out over two surprise meetings, morally and ethically wrong.
The refusal of the board to shed light on the axing since has led to the seven NNSWF zone presidents calling on Moore, deputy chairman Greg Wilson and Face to resign yesterday.
But the Newcastle Herald can reveal that last Friday’s tumultuous meeting to vote out Eland was not the first time a push had come to end his tenure.
Before this year’s season, a meeting of the Northern NSW State League clubs was held at the Exchange Hotel in Hamilton.
The standing committee meeting came after state league clubs were told by Eland that the Jets Youth League side would become part of the competition in 2012 because of a nation-wide Football Federation Australia directive.
The move was not welcomed by some clubs because it upset the balance of the state league and first division competitions, creating a 10-team top division and seven in the second. It also blocked promotion and relegation if the Jets team, which cannot be demoted, finished last.
Sources have told the Herald club representatives at the meeting were informed that Moore did not believe such directive existed.
This led to a motion of no confidence in Eland’s handling of the issue being passed unanimously.
The motion, however, was defeated at board level 4-2.
Eland addressed a regular meeting of the clubs two weeks later and produced the FFA documents outlining the directive. At least one club attempted to rescind the earlier motion against Eland.
The episode highlighted misconceptions in the football community about what role Eland has played in several issues.
Despite popular belief, Eland was not to blame for a drop to a seven-team first-division competition and an increase from eight to 10 in state league for 2012.
The state league standing committee decided to go from an eight to a 10-team competition for 2012 to accommodate the Jets, therefore wiping out relegation this year.
First division clubs voted against bringing in an eighth team that did not meet the criteria for inclusion. In fact, Eland and his staff had been working in recent weeks to find an eighth team.
That included helping Cooks Hill in their unlikely bid to play at the revamped No.2 Sportsground next year, which would allow the club to meet the standard for facilities.
Some were also upset at NNSWF’s Summer Sixes program, which took money-making competitions out of the hands of clubs who had worked to establish them.
However, the Herald has been told Northern’s move to control six-a-side competitions came from a need to meet an FFA directive that all players must be registered online with the national body.
Eland and his staff viewed the Summer Sixes as a way to ensure the registration requirement was met.
A vocal minority have hit out at Eland for not doing enough for women’s soccer.
That has come despite Northern pumping in more than $200,000 into a Herald Women’s Premier League that has lost a club each year of its three-year existence.
Regardless of Eland’s role in decisions, there are some who simply don’t like him.
But you get that, especially as the head of an organisation dealing with some 50,000 members.
It speaks volumes that the people he worked closest too, the staff at Northern’s Hexham office, are devastated at his sacking.
It also says a lot that many who have disagreed with Eland or not got their own way when dealing with him have praised him for his professionalism and work ethic.
Financially, Northern has never been in better shape.
Eland has played a big part in that, bringing in some $800,000 in additional sponsorship since taking over in April 2009.
On a personal level, as one source who worked with Eland put it, the boss could rub people the wrong way.
But as a passionate football person, the source had no doubt Eland was moving the game forward in the region and was the best man of the job.
If, as expected, the wave of support for Eland washes out the NNSWF board, he may be back doing what he does best sooner rather than later.