Feature

FFA Cup shocks add weight to promotion-relegation push

On back-to-back nights, the FFA Cup delivered two of the great all-time shocks in Australian club football.

Redlands

Source: Getty Images

After only one victory by a lower league team over A-League opposition in two seasons of the FFA Cup, we’ve had two in 24 hours.

Green Gully and then Redlands United have added their name to the glorious list of “giant-killers”, taking down Central Coast and then Adelaide United on successive nights.

Both matches had the A-League sides leading 1-0 before a dramatic equaliser, giving the underdog a sliver of hope. Green Gully's injury-time winner from Liam Boland, beamed around the nation, will live forever - and the Red Devils' extra-time winner will be talked about just as fondly in Queensland.

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Such was the national interest in both results, I was hardly surprised to see Channel 10 dedicate a large chunk of their nightly sport segment to the Cavaliers’ win - not least that goal from Boland. And to think the A-League is lucky to get a peep more than twice a week.

In some ways, that wasn’t a huge shock. The Mariners’ are the A-League’s weakest team and Green Gully are a well-resourced club with history in the top tier and several Victorian championships. Still, few could have predicted it on the night.

Yet nobody could have foretold that in eerily similar circumstances, Redlands would pull off an even greater shock against the reigning A-League champions.

The grand old club will celebrate their 100-year anniversary in 2018 and it will be hard to remember a bigger night than this in the club’s history.

This was their first dip at the FFA Cup proper, and in downing the Reds, the Cleveland-based club have landed what might be the biggest upsets in the history of Australian football. It's real Roy of the Rovers stuff. 

I love these stories. Not just for the underdog factor. But they confirm what we all know - the gap between the first tier and the rest isn’t so big that it is insurmountable.

While it does exist, obviously, the gap will only widen as the A-League clubs grow richer and more powerful. That is the FFA’s aim and it is understandable. They want it to be a reliable, competitive league and dependable cash cow for the game as a whole.

Yet I can’t help but feel we’re missing something. Something very obvious.

Football has been afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do what all the sports in this country can only dream of - a promotion and relegation system that links up all tiers of the game.

The gulf in quality between the state and national leagues of the AFL and NRL means it can never be done there. But football, perhaps by virtue of having much smaller squads, spreads its talent wider and deeper.

The history of football in this country means the second and third tiers of the game are fundamentally sound, if in need of a lick of paint.

Critically, Australia cannot become a great football country without fully functional promotion and relegation system.

It is an essential part of driving standards that, at the moment, are too low in the elite tier. It needs to be jolted back to life.

The danger lies in trying to strangle the grassroots to death and leaving the top tier as the only option. But it doesn’t work. The theory is too flawed.

The fact is our grassroots are booming. The FFA spends thousands of dollars trying to work out how to convert that participation into rusted-on A-League fans.



Again, are we missing a trick?

We need to find more ways to harness the power of our grassroots participants and their clubs.

Instead of shackling these clubs and their ambition, we should be giving them reason to dream. The FFA Cup has already sent a lightning bolt of excitement through the game below the top tier.

It’s wonderful that both Green Gully and Redlands had their moment in the sun. But I think both are entitled to ask for more than their 15 minutes of fame. 

Only by opening up our game will we be able to realise its full potential. After all, we want more nights like these, not less.


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4 min read
Published 4 August 2016 at 8:43am
By Sebastian Hassett