Craig Johnston's letter to FFA over grand final debacle

Craig Johnston on Redhead beach with Liverpool fans in 2013 to promote a game in Australia featuring the great English club.
Craig Johnston on Redhead beach with Liverpool fans in 2013 to promote a game in Australia featuring the great English club.

Dear FFA senior officials,

I hope you enjoyed your trip to Newcastle for last Saturday’s grand final.  

My name is Craig Johnston and I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful upbringing playing soccer in the Newcastle region more than 50 years ago.

This wonderful city and the way we were brought up has made us a strong, proud and fair-minded people.

This has given us a desire to leave a legacy for our youth at every opportunity, by trying to put those values mentioned back into the city through the sport that has given us all so much.

To this end, we try to coach our kids, through sport, to become better human beings. We try to teach them how to behave as better people, better teammates and better leaders.

Team sport teaches our kids rules for better behaviour, especially in public.

There are unwritten rules that if you have messed up, made a mistake, or let your team down, you need to own up and admit it.

If those affected feel the gesture is sincere, then all involved can move on with their heads held high.

This is how friendships, team spirit and close communities are made.

On the other hand, when somebody doesn’t bother to make this effort, people may feel robbed, cheated and disrespected.

That is exactly how a lot of people in this City of Newcastle are feeling right now.

Our people are different folk. We are grounded in working-class roots, we are low maintenance and don’t make a fuss. We are also good hosts and good losers as you have probably noticed.

Please forgive us, but what we are not good at is waiting 10 long years for a shot at glory, only to be dudded by administrative bodies who blow into town overnight, take our ticket money and deny us a fair go at winning a grand final, with a flawed refereeing system.

The FFA got the big game horribly wrong. Your referees, your refereeing system and your back-up plan failed spectacularly. This is because you didn’t have one [a back-up plan].

The stadium, the broadcasters, in fact the whole world knew that there were three players standing offside for the free kick.

The only people that didn’t know were the ones with the sole responsibility. You.

This administrative error created an uneven playing field and an unfair contest for the grand final showcase in Newcastle.

24,000 Novocastrians paid their hard-earned money for an unfair and sad end to a potentially glorious 2018 fairytale season.

Mistakes do happen, we get that, but the real issue here is when the administrators at the top avoid taking the responsibility for their mistakes, and don’t apologise to the affected people in the right spirit and don’t even bother or attempt to put things right in some small way.

There is a bitter, ill-feeling here that needs to be addressed by those at the top of the FFA, for your sake and also for ours, and it needs to be done quickly.

A week after the event, it is now impractical to have a rematch or even to refund the ticket money to the people of Newcastle, as has been suggested by many.

As a local boy, and someone who has worked in the game for more than 50 years, I would like to help you by suggesting a meaningful way in which the FFA could take responsibility and show some positive leadership.

That would be to give credit for free registration for all youth players in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Hunter region for the 2019 football season.

For those that don’t know, that is very roughly $150 - $200 per child per registration, a lot of money if you have two or three kids playing the game.

Another option is to give Jets fans [2017-18 members] a credit for membership next season. This would be called a VAR [validated automatic renewal]. A 14-year-old Jets fan suggested this option.

This credit can come directly from the ticket money paid on the night of the FFA/VAR mess up.  

This won’t bring back the chance to win a grand final on a level playing field.

But it would be a sincere and respectful gesture that proves the FFA cares about the mistakes it made and it cares about our city, our kids and their parents going forwards.

For the record, I have already cleared this very worthy gesture with the relevant state football governing authorities.

This motion has now been technically sanctioned, ratified and passed by the very honorable and esteemed Patron of the Northern NSW Football Federation, who is actually me – the author of this letter!

Our kids are watching this situation very closely, as they are keen to learn and grow as players and as people, perhaps even as future administrators – now there’s a thought!

Let’s all prove to them in a practical way how accountability, fairness and appreciation of other people’s feelings are fundamental to good public behaviour.

These are the lessons that only sport can teach us.

So, to our guests from the FFA for last week’s grand final, let’s all hope this practical and sincere gesture can be signed off quickly with grace and dignity.

Then we can all move on as friends, fix the technology and focus on producing the next generation of local and national footballers.

They in turn will all become stronger, prouder and more fair-minded citizens of this great city and great nation of ours.

Isn’t this the meaningful legacy, through the power of football, that we all want to leave behind?

Craig Johnston, May 11, 2018.