Blast from the past: The Sydney NSL clubs handed route back to the A-League

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Sydney United 58 and APIA Leichhardt are a step closer to one day playing in the A-League Men after being announced among eight foundation clubs for Australia’s long-awaited national second tier.

In a blast from the past, Football Australia on Monday also named five other former National Soccer League clubs – Sydney Olympic, Marconi Stallions, Wollongong Wolves, South Melbourne and Preston Lions – alongside Avondale, who won the Victorian NPL title for the first time last year.

An additional two to four clubs will be chosen in time for a 10- or 12-team home-and-away competition to start in March or April 2025, in line with the winter NPL and grassroots season.

FA chief executive James Johnson said that while all eight of the initial foundation clubs are based in NSW and Victoria, outfits from other states and territories could be selected in the next stage of applications to ensure “a sustainable and diverse composition of clubs”.

“We made a conscious and deliberate decision to ensure that the standard sat somewhere between the current NPL and also the A-League,” Johnson said. “So, ultimately, the first priority was getting the best clubs as we could together.

“There are some very strong bids from outside NSW and Victoria, and we’re very excited to see where those two to four clubs will be when the competition kicks off in 2025.”

Men, women and children of all ages were part of the 16,000-strong crowd at the Australia Cup final.Credit: Getty

The league’s name and branding are expected to be unveiled in early 2024.

The foundation clubs were chosen following a months-long application process to assess their financial, operational and commercial readiness.

The announcement has come after years of discussion at all levels of the game about how to fix the domestic game’s structural problems, most pertinently its lack of a competitive pyramid including promotion and relegation.

Johnson said promotion and relegation will for now not be introduced immediately, with sustainability to be prioritised, but that the long-term goal would be “connecting” the pyramid.

“What is important is for clubs that would like to hold on to players, sign contracts for longer periods, which means an increase in value of the transfer value of the squad,” he said. “There may be ways to align through transfer windows so the players can effectively make loans between two tiers.

“There are no immediate plans to connect the NPL to the second tier, but I think one day there certainly will be.”

Johnson said FA will encourage state federations to allow second-tier clubs to continue to field sides in their local NPL competitions. He also foreshadowed a Champions League-style competition for both the NPL men’s and women’s may also be introduced in 2025.

Sydney United were sanctioned last year by FA last year and life bans issued to two spectators for making Nazi salutes during their Australia Cup final loss to Macarthur FC.

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