Sydney United 58, the historic football club that drew criticism last year after some of its fans were caught performing Nazi salutes at the 2022 Australia Cup final, has been chosen as a foundation club in Football Australia’s inaugural National Second Division (NSD).

United is one of eight clubs that were announced by FA at a media conference on Monday, joining APIA Leichhardt, Avondale, Marconi Stallions, Preston Lions, South Melbourne, Sydney Olympic, and Wollongong Wolves.

Between two and four more clubs are expected to join the competition before the first season kicks off in March or April 2025.

Supporters of a soccer team wearing red, white and blue wave flags and hold banners after a game

Sydney United were punished by Football Australia for their fans’ behaviour, with sanctions carrying over into the first NSD season in 2025.(Getty Images: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire)

The foundation clubs were chosen following a months-long application process that assessed their ability to afford the costs of a national competition, including travel, accommodation, and professional player wages, in addition to their operational and commercial readiness to become the connecting tier between the current state-based National Premier Leagues and the top-flight A-League Men competition.

While some fans expected the new competition to start next year, 2025 has been chosen to give selected clubs a “longer runway” to further develop their strategies around marketing, commercial partners and sponsorship, merchandise, match-day and ticketing processes, and other fan engagement activities.

However, promotion and relegation will not be introduced immediately, with FA CEO James Johnson saying the new league’s stability and sustainability will be prioritised ahead of the introduction of a system by which A-League Men clubs can be relegated and NSD clubs can be promoted, “connecting” the pyramid that most other footballing nations currently work within.

Two competition formats are currently under consideration, with the final number of rounds dependent on the final number of clubs: a 10-team home-and-away season plus a finals series, or a 12-team home-and-away competition plus a finals series.

Due to the heavy representation of clubs from New South Wales and Victoria in the foundational eight, it is expected that clubs from other states or territories will be selected in the next stage of applications, which begin in early 2024.

The ABC understands that clubs that have a demonstrated commitment to youth development will be looked upon favourably, with a potential “loan” option for young A-League players to the NSD part of the broader calendar and Australian Professional Leagues (APL) co-operation strategy.

The NSD will also be included in FA’s broadcast and media rights package, in addition to the men’s and women’s national teams, which the governing body is already in the market for as its current deal with Channel Ten and ViacomCBS winds down.

“Our goal is to ensure that the national second tier not only enhances the competitive landscape, but also embodies the spirit and aspirations of Australian football at all levels,” Johnson said.

“This is more than just a competition; it’s a cornerstone in our mission to fortify the foundations of our sport.

“The national second tier will be instrumental in nurturing talent, engaging communities, and elevating the overall quality of football across the country.”

United sanctioned for fans’ behaviour

Sydney United 58 were sanctioned by FA under the National Code of Conduct and Ethics last November for the behaviour of their fans, and were issued with a number of punishments including an initial $15,000 fine and several suspended sanctions that will be carried over into the NSD’s first season in 2025.

Those suspended sanctions include further fines, significant points deductions, and potential suspension from the Australia Cup for the next two editions.

Those sanctions will be triggered if the club fails to comply with specific requirements from FA, including ongoing volunteer work with the First Nations and Jewish communities, compulsory anti-discrimination education and training, compulsory First Nations cultural competency training, the implementation of cultural initiatives within the club, and prescribed standards of behaviour for its supporters.

All founding clubs will sign the CPA, which means they must abide by strict requirements set by FA for on and off-field conduct leading up to the competition’s start in 2025.

If a club violates that agreement between now and the opening game, there is the possibility it could be removed from the new league altogether before it begins.