Home Australia This team has the greatest striker in A-League Women history. So, why is it at risk of folding?

This team has the greatest striker in A-League Women history. So, why is it at risk of folding?

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Canberra soccer players celebrating.

The uncertain fate of Canberra’s only professional football team is being talked about in the news headlines and in local coffee shops.

The talk, which has been brewing for some time, reached a crescendo when Canberra United signaled it might not survive beyond this season.

This is despite the “Matildas effect” still playing out in Australian football clubs.

So what’s going on with the national capital’s A-League women’s team?

Who is in charge?

Capital Football is the governing body for football in the ACT and organizes local competitions from youth leagues to the National Premier Leagues.

Capital Football is also responsible for Canberra United.

More than 15,000 Canberrans participate at different levels, making football the largest participation sport in the ACT.

The majority of Capital Football’s funding comes from registrations, but the ACT Government also contributes.

Capital Football chief executive Samantha Farrow took over the top job in February after the organisation’s former boss Ivan Slavich resigned over a board decision to ax the Canberra United Academy program and teams.

But that is another story.

Why is Canberra United at risk of withdrawing?

Capital Football is the only state or territory organization to run its own A-League Women team, and has done so since the inaugural women’s season in 2008, 16 years ago.

The other 11 A-League Women clubs are privately owned by shareholders and consortia who run the teams alongside an A-League Men team.

When the A-League Women competition began in 2008, formerly known as the W-League, it had eight teams and the regular season consisted of 10 rounds.

Today, the competition has 12 teams and 22 matches, with the number of matches almost doubling since the 2020-21 season.

Capital Football said the expansion had “significantly increased the cost of running a full-time professional team” and had placed “significant pressure” on its financial situation.

Farrow said Capital Football had pumped more than $2.5 million into Canberra United over the past two seasons and had doubled the club’s annual budget since 2020-21.

But Capital Football’s finances haven’t been in great shape.

At the end of 2022, the organization reported a deficit of more than $850,000.

Its annual report pointed to the financial impact of COVID-19, investment in specific growth opportunities and unforeseen costs as reasons why the organization was so far in the red.

Capital Football’s 2023 annual report is expected to show another deficit, but the organization has not yet released figures for last year.

Basically, Capital Football needs financial help.

Earlier this week, Farrow issued a statement addressing the future of Canberra United.

“We are aware that events are at a critical stage and that players, coaches and fans want clarity, as do we,” Ms Farrow said.

“Capital Football continues to explore all avenues to ensure Canberra United takes the field for Season 17, seeking new sources of investment,” he said.

It is important to emphasize that Capital Football’s dire financial situation is not a reflection of the popularity of the team itself.

Canberra United is seeing its best ever crowd and membership ever.

The star power of the best forward in league history, Michelle Heyman, is certainly a draw.

Canberra United striker Michelle Heyman is in great form after a standout performance for the Matildas.(Supplied: Canberra United/X)

Would it help if Canberra had a men’s A-League team?

Yes and no.

If Canberra were to introduce a men’s A-League team it would help maintain the presence of elite football in the region.

But it would also cause current costs to skyrocket.

There have been several bids for a Canberra men’s team, most recently in March last year.

And the Australian Premier League (APL) has named Auckland and Canberra as the next cities in line to have a men’s team ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Canberra’s bid is led by Michael Caggiano, who was also the face of failed bids in 2018 and 2020.

Caggiano’s job was to find an investor to fund the license before June of last year but, as far as anyone knows, his efforts have been unsuccessful.

Auckland, however, obtained a license four months ago after American millionaire Bill Foley financed the club.

The Canberra public still doesn’t know where the men’s A-League bid stands.

ACT Sports Minister Yvette Berry says a potential men’s team would have to be viable alongside Canberra United.

“We support a men’s league team in the ACT… however it cannot be at the expense of a women’s league team,” Ms Berry said.

In March last year, APL chief executive Danny Townsend confirmed as part of negotiations that the APL would discuss separating the club from Capital Football and making it a private company like all other women’s clubs.

Farrow said the government had offered an advance of 50 per cent of its existing annual funding to help with Canberra United’s running costs.

To kick off this season, the ACT Government doubled Capital Football’s funding to $250,000 a year in a two-year deal.

Berry insists he is doing everything he can to help.

“(The players) are in a situation where they can’t speak out for fear of upsetting their team and current or future players,” Ms Berry said.

“I’m very concerned and I feel very frustrated for (the players) and I guess that’s why I’m trying to do everything I can to ensure the certainty of their professional careers now and in the future,” she said.

“Would this happen with the Raiders and the Brumbies? I don’t know, I don’t think it will happen,” he added.

What’s next for the players and the coach?

The short answer is that no one knows yet.

Canberra United head coach Njegosh Popovich said he and the players would like to see the uncertainty resolved.

He told ABC Radio Canberra on Thursday it was out of his control at the moment.

“I went and bought a lottery ticket this morning… I hope I can buy a Powerball tonight and all our problems can be solved,” he said.

“But you know, it is what it is.”

He admitted that players and staff “wouldn’t be human” if they weren’t thinking about their future at the moment and acknowledged that the caliber of the team’s players would attract interest from other clubs.

“(Canberra) definitely has a big place in my heart. Being born and raised in Canberran… and Canberra United has a very rich history,” Popovich said.

“I think most of the local players, in particular, have the same feeling and even the girls who come from interstate owe gratitude to the club for being able to have the opportunity to play.”

Has a women’s soccer team ever folded?


The Central Coast Mariners withdrew from the 2010-11 season due to financial reasons.

The team rejoined the league this season thanks to financial backing from a network of insurance brokers, but that came after more than 10 years out of the game.

Hopefully that won’t be the story for Canberra United.

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