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Soccer giant Lowy leaves the stage

Soccer

Modern Australian sport has never known a godfather like Frank Lowy. But on Tuesday, football’s spiritual leader and great reformer passes on one of the family businesses – running the sport – to his son Steven.

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At 2pm (AEDT), Lowy will retire after 12 years as Football Federation Australia chairman.

It is far from his only service to the sport and lifelong love, but his most significant.

The 85-year-old is not a man for reflection but if pushed says he is proudest of helping to change the way Australians think about the world game.

“What we have achieved is transforming the game from an ethnic sport to a mainstream sport,” he told AAP.

He might have added three successive qualifications to World Cups in Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

A move from Oceania to Asia, where both the Matildas and Socceroos have conquered the continent.

Ditching the National Soccer League for the A-League, and adding the unique-to-football FFA Cup.

The Western Sydney Wanderers – a product of league headquarters – winning the Asian Champions League.

Despite the personal blow of spearheading a botched World Cup bid, they are achievements that have emboldened Lowy to declare football has moved up the pecking order of Australian sports.

“I think we were number four and (now) we’re definitely number three, knocking on number two … we are at the ceiling of number two,” he said.

By his reckoning, the AFL still holds the top ranking.

The A-League particularly is Lowy’s creation.

After emigrating to Australia from war-torn Europe, Lowy pursued his interest in football alongside a burgeoning business career that would see him become one of the world’s richest men.

Lowy was a founding father of the National Soccer League in the 1970s as well as providing leadership for his club Sydney Hakoah.

“Every time there was a crisis they called for Lowy,” he says of football powerbrokers’ efforts to get the retailing giant back into a leadership role.

He resisted their calls until 2003, when Prime Minister John Howard was drafted in to get Lowy over the line as Australian Soccer Association chairman with a reform mandate.

With a hand-picked board including Ron Walker and John Singleton, he dissolved the same league he created 30 years previously.

It’s that league he now hands on to his youngest son, who will be elected as chairman of the FFA board minutes after Lowy stands down.

The succession plan has been sharply criticised from several corners; A-League clubs, state federations and grassroots interests.

But Lowy dismisses detractors as “uninformed”.

“The fact is he is the best-suited person in Australia,” he said.

“He lived the game, he has risen to a high level of executive capacity and he will put that to good use.”

Lowy acknowledges he leaves Steven with much to do.

Not least of all is the A-League, which stutters through growing pains as it enters an 11th season.

Crowds and television audiences are static, which Lowy concedes could be due to a lack of star names in the competition.

Lowy confirmed that expansion to 14 teams is still on head office’s agenda but – contrary to reports that a third Sydney team is imminent – adding new clubs is still years away after a the board undertakes a major new study.

“There will be a national grid with plans prepared (to discover) where are the places in Australia for four more teams which can be sustainable and popular,” he said.

“I can’t pre-empt it because I don’t know enough about population trends but that will be the determining factor as to where teams will be located.”

Lowy is proud of where he leaves both men’s and women’s national teams.

During a bumper 2015, the Matildas became the first Australian side to win a knock-out match at a World Cup, and the Socceroos followed in their footsteps by becoming Asian champions.

Lowy reserves special praise for Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, who has become a universally respected part of Australia’s football leadership.

“He arrived to this position at the right time, at the right place, as the right person,” he said.

“He will regenerate the Socceroos to a strong force in the world.

“I told him that I want him to be grey before he leaves that job.”

– AAP

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