A-League needs to play hard ball over grounds

It is a fact of life that beggars cannot be choosers and the A-League clubs that do not own their home grounds must put up with sub-standard pitches.

Suncorp Stadium

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Source: Getty Images

It is a peculiar problem that exists in such places as Australia where football is not the number one sport.

One of the most common aspects of the Australian game is the cringeworthy sight of a big game being played on a cow paddock of a surface.

It has been happening with embarrassing regularity since the inception of the A-League 12 years ago.

And the bad news is that it is not likely to stop until clubs are masters of their own domain.

So until this pure fantasy becomes reality the clubs which pay handsomely for the privilege of trying to play football on impossible surfaces will have to take it simply because they are not in a position to leave it.

Some grounds are better than others but all clubs and Football Federation Australia need to put their foot down and demand a reduction in fees whenever they are asked to perform on a disgraceful pitch as was the case on Friday night when Brisbane Roar entertained Western Sydney Wanderers at Suncorp Stadium.

Not for the first time, Brisbane's main football arena left a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of its pitch.

The Queensland government, which owns Suncorp Stadium, wanted a Coldplay concert to be staged at what it sees as a multi-purpose venue on December 7 and, apart from a relaid section of the pitch, bare patches were seen everywhere when the A-League came back to town.

The state of the pitch on Friday was an insult to the players, the two teams, the paying customers and the game itself.

"Ordinary, very ordinary," Wanderers coach Tony Popovic complained later.

"It's so difficult to play on that. You could see it was a scrappy game.

"There were two good footballing teams that wanted to play (but) didn't have a chance to play today. In the end we both adapted ... that was all we could do."

His depressing sentiments were shared by his Brisbane counterpart John Aloisi.

Australian football has learned to live with the disregard - there are no two ways about it - with which some venues or the governments that own them treat the game.

We seem to accept this as something that has been forced upon us by the special circumstances that prevail in Australia. The misguided mantra appears to be: 'C'est la vie' and there is not much anybody can do about it.
But frustrated fans are now saying enough is enough.

I am not privy to the separate contracts the A-League clubs have with the grounds they play at.

I also am not sure if clubs can be bullish enough over their demands of a better service for their money since they do not have too many adequate alternatives where to play.

And I'm not sure either if clubs would be prepared to take their games to suburban grounds, get smaller crowds and forfeit the chance of making money from corporate boxes that exist only in the larger venues.

But what I do know is that in a pretty efficient country like Australia if you buy something and the object you acquire turns out to be faulty you would be entitled to a replacement or your money back.

By the same token clubs must be given the moral or legal right to refuse to pay top dollar - Brisbane are believed to pay Suncorp anything between $140,000 and $200,000 a game depending on its appeal - when they are forced to host matches on poor surfaces.

It should be remembered that it is not only the quality of the game that suffers ... there is also plenty of collateral damage a match like Friday's can cause.

Will all the spectators or television viewers be just as inclined to watch more matches at or from Suncorp or any other venue with similar surface problems if they knew what level of football they can expect?

Will FFA be able to keep selling television rights to the A-League abroad when some of the games are played on such poor surfaces that they make good football practically impossible?

There certainly is more to this problem than the bounce of the ball.

And I think it's about time the A-League and FFA examine their basic rights and explore their legal options.

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4 min read
Published 26 December 2016 at 5:05am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS