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Without fans, football is nothing - Let’s get this game right


Let’s start with the on-field stuff. It’s my opinion that the competition continues to provide good value.

We’ve seen some exciting youngsters emerge in the shape of Garang Kuol, Nestory Irankunda, Lewis Miller, Lachie Rose, Nishan Velupillay, Jordie Bos, Callum Talbot, and Phillip Cancar. That players such as Mo Toure, Kye Rowles, Keanu Baccus and Cancar still attract interest from overseas shows there is talent here in abundance.

There are some really good games – the Melbourne derby for one, the Mariners against Macarthur is another one that springs to mind. There are also some poor games of course – and is it the standard of the Premier League? Of course not. But nor are many games of football in leagues around the world … and indeed, some games in the Premier League are poor too.

In my view, the perception of the A-League being of poor-quality stems from two off-field things. The lack of emotional connection to the clubs, and the age-old problem of stadiums that are often too big, sometimes the wrong shape, and are all too often home to other codes of football. That sense of belonging, of identity, remains elusive. If you’re not connected, you tend to make comparisons.
Western United can set the benchmark here with the construction of their new stadium – it should be the catalyst for others, and you’ve already heard Milos Degenek say in our show that the number of football-specific stadiums in the MLS is a big reason why that league feels like it is on the up.

Western need to make it happen … and if it doesn’t, they need to be held to account, because our champion club cannot be nomads wandering around the country every week.

In the interim, it should be incumbent upon every club to up the ante in terms of bums on seats next season. Better ticket offers, freebies for kids who already pay to play the game, and a much better match-day experience … bouncy castles and face painting do not a match-day experience make.

Match day should be about the club, the game, immersing people into a football culture. I’d like to see KPIs set for each club to get fans through the gates. It not only looks better, feels better, sounds better, and makes the players play better in my opinion, but also provides a better viewing experience on TV, which leads to my next point.

There is no doubt there are problems with the Paramount Plus app. They need to be fixed. You will understand that as an employee of that company, I am somewhat limited in the discussions I can have on this subject – which in itself is a problem for the game. There are simply not enough independent journalists holding the power brokers to account.

This is unlikely to change in the short-term – and so the game has a responsibility to not only allow, but encourage critical debate on the issues, even from those who are working inside the tent so to speak. This is easier said than done – and at times this season, there has been blowback from clubs, and indeed, Football Australia, at perceived slights. This is indicative of an immature game – and the fact we have gone backwards in terms of media coverage does not reflect well on our leaders.

Of course, it is also indicative of a media industry that is dominated by News Corp, a company who have now divested themselves of most of their football content, and offer little coverage as a result. This is the way media has gone… a landscape dominated by business interests rather than journalistic integrity. It’s bigger picture stuff – but we knew it was coming, and that was why Keep Up was such an important part of the puzzle.

Sadly, Keep Up has not yet fulfilled expectations either. It is not easy to navigate, hard to find, and offers much overseas content… a laudable aim to try and tap into the interest in overseas football. But at the moment, it is serving neither effectively. Perhaps the focus should be on the Australian game for now?

Marquees have been mooted as a potential solution to generate interest – kind of surprising when in the wake of the Silver Lake deal, Danny Townsend said on our show the APL would not be going down that road. That appears to have changed – and fair enough. They can be a part of the solution if not the panacea.

But as the Daniel Sturridge experience showed, they need to contribute – and not just on the park, but off it too. Sadly, Sturridge did neither. A proper strategy on marquees is necessary and they need to be replaced on a regular basis with players of similar stature too.

The league needs a strategy for expansion as well. The integrity of the league is called into question when 12 teams play 26 games, playing some twice, others three times. We need 14 teams ASAP, and a full home and away season for the women’s comp too, as a matter of urgency. Is the next phase of expansion in progress behind the scenes? Who knows?

The Second Division remains a work in progress, with four models to be presented this month for consideration. Good - but at some point, the talking must stop, and decisions made. Either do it, or put it on the back burner for a generation…it can’t just be a talking shop forever more.

And yes, if it works, promotion and relegation needs to be part of that equation. Time for action. The same applies for a National Youth League, now in abeyance for three years.

In closing, it’s fair to point out that Covid wreaked havoc with the season just gone. That couldn’t be helped. The league did well to get the games played and the season finished, but the anticipated turnaround in fortunes didn’t happen. If anything, we went backwards. That cannot continue.

This league has now been in decline for several years – but it’s easy to apportion blame. The way forward can only be achieved by working together – and too often in this sport, we eat each other instead.

Let’s get this game right. Focus on the football, and first and foremost, the fans. Without fans, football, at least at the professional level, is nothing and we’re in danger of heading that way. Next season – as always – is key.

Let’s hope we’re not having the same discussion in 12 months’ time.

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