Top to bottom, the A-League’s doing it tough
They say a week is a long time in football – they’re not kidding. This week has to go down as one of the longest in the A-League’s short history.
Dramas with refereeing decisions, last season’s champions bottom of the ladder, players unpaid, clubs on the brink of financial collapse, falling attendances, controversy over simulation and FFA’s match review panel - the list goes on, and none of it makes good reading for Australian soccer fans.
It started in week five and the outcry surrounding two contentious refereeing decisions over acts of simulation – or diving as everyone else calls it. Before all the roundball-haters open their yaps, let’s just say that no one who watches soccer supports diving. Neither do most players, come to that – but there are always those who will take advantage of the situation.
Neither case was very clear but both sparked outrage, not only at the perceived acts but also the official reactions. The clubs – Central Coast Mariners and Perth Glory – then expressed their own outrage at FFA’s handing down of a two-match ban in each case without any course for appeal and both were on the brink of court action.
Personally, I think the bans were harsh but they certainly send out a message that diving won’t be tolerated. No one has a problem with that but the clashes with clubs again highlighted FFA’s lack of flexibility and unwillingness to listen to its stakeholders.
Then came news of Newcastle Jets players going unpaid for two weeks, just one sign of the severe financial distress the club is in. The Jets have issues paying for stadium use on matchdays and suffer a fractious relationship with the Knights, but Newcastle has long been one of the nation’s footballing breadbaskets. You have to wonder how the club could be allowed to get to this state in the first place.
Owner Con Constantine has poured millions into the Jets, just as FFA have done with North Queensland and Adelaide, but they seem frozen into inaction by the Jets’ troubles. Frank Lowy is in Europe and Ben Buckley apparently in China. It seems the Socceroos and the World Cup bid remain priorities but who’s looking after the problems on our doorstep first?
Then there are the attendances… The standard of football we’ve seen in the opening six weeks of this season has been the highest of the A-League’s short life – but either no one knows or cares. Almost 7k at the Mariners on Friday, just over 4k for newcomers Melbourne Heart, an awful 7558 for Sydney FC, 7k for the Jets and a slightly better 10k for Perth.
We know that finals series in the major codes always has a negative impact on A-League attendances but it’s hard not to get disheartened by these numbers. Again, what is FFA doing? There clearly has to be some improvement in connecting clubs with the fabled millions out there playing the game every weekend. We’ve heard all the stats on participation – but where are they all come Saturday night? And don’t get me started on Sydney’s performance against Adelaide…
This isn’t being over dramatic, it isn’t a crisis – yet, but everything points to a game that needs a lot more love and attention. Football can break new ground as a major player in Australia but for those in charge, this should be a wake-up call: there’s more to life than the big money of the Socceroos, and there is still a great deal of work to do.
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