New season, same A-League in Australia

After 152 days, top-flight league football will return to Australian shores when the A-League returns on Friday night as Melbourne City welcome Brisbane Roar to AAMI Park.

The four-month off-season – which admittedly includes the majority of the FFA Cup (Australia’s national cup competition) – is a mixture of scheduling necessities and pandering to other more mainstream sports on the part of Football Federation Australia.

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The sheer dominance of Australian Rules – both on and off the field – in Melbourne and the number of eyes on rugby league in New South Wales and Queensland understandably makes the FFA nervous at the prospect of kicking off their season launch and media campaign with so much focus on other sports.

So the irony should not be lost on anyone that when the powers that be finally launched the new season for all the media and fans to see, it was the Socceroos who stole the limelight.

Confused? That is understandable if you are not reading this from Australia. You see, the A-League does not stop for international breaks. In fact, its season starts in the middle of one.

In Melbourne’s major newspapers on October 5, 2017, the day after the A-League season launch in the Victorian capital, it was the Socceroos who dominated the petty space afforded to football.

That is because while the A-League kicks off on Friday, Australia will be in the middle of a crucial two-leg play-off tie to keep its hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia alive, meaning not only have the hard-working journalists of Australian football had to (correctly) prioritise World Cup qualifiers over the domestic league, the fans who shell out money to attend these games will miss out on some of the league’s best talent.

That’s one way to start a new season, I guess.

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The FFA gambled on the expectation that a Socceroos team bereft of top-quality talent would easily qualify from a tough World Cup qualifying group which included Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and lost – even if only on goal difference.

To make matters worse, the top-flight off-season was dominated by an ongoing battle between the FFA, A-League clubs, second-division clubs, women’s football and any number of other “special interest groups” with respect to the FFA’s board structure and voting rights.

FIFA has taken matters into their own hands with respect to that after the FFA failed to successfully negotiate a new voting structure which allowed for adequate representation of all the games’ stakeholders.

All in all, it is a pretty underwhelming start to proceedings.

Some, such as Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro, have labelled it downright embarrassing.

By now, disappointment is almost expected. Whether it is failed promises with respect to A-League expansion, a complete lack of connection between the top of the football pyramid with the supporting infrastructure underneath or a season launch, everything just seems off.

I love football and, trust me, I would much rather be inspired by the competitions in my own backyard than consistently disillusioned, but it is hard to even fake excitement – particularly without a club to support since the City Football Group claimed ownership of Melbourne Heart, trashing every identifiable aspect of the club in the process (except, perhaps, the ability to leave its remaining supporters yearning for more).

And I’m not alone. On Twitter this week, the majority of conversations I’ve had with fellow fans have centred on how “stale” the competition has become.

Most of these issues stem from the thinking that football is a different game in Australia to anywhere else in the world and the inferiority complex that permeates through the game’s administration.

Australian football doesn’t need international breaks. Australian football should be played in the summer to avoid competing with other codes. Australian football doesn’t need promotion and relegation.

As long as the game continues to be plagued by poor strategy devised by people with little care for or understanding of the people who fuel the game – fans, players and paying parents – disillusion will remain.

The Author

Matthew Galea

A former full-time journalist who crossed to the dark side of media and communications. Fortunately, football, Manchester United and freelance writing keeps me sane.

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