Populate or perish: writing is on the wall for A-League

The A-League has reached a level of such sameness and inertia that Football Federation Australia have no other choice now but to give the club scene a facelift and set up a second division as soon as possible.


FFA chief executive David Gallop Source: Getty Images

No ifs and buts. It is the only way to rejuvenate a stagnant competition that has become so stale despite a respectable playing standard that dissatisfied supporters across the board are up in arms and clamouring for change.

The vast majority of the game's stakeholders are tired of the competition that is gasping for fresh air and want a second division with consequent promotion and relegation. More so than the mooted expansion.

FFA have said they will consider the merits of expanding the A-League from 10 teams to 12 in the next two seasons but they have poured cold water on the demand for a second division from the football natives that are becoming more restless by the week.

Headquarters has given several reasons for its reluctance to make club football more representative of the wider football family's needs and aspirations. Unaffordability is one of them.

Perhaps it is too hard but the suspicion remains that FFA fear that they would be taking the game back to its 'dark old days' by inviting former National Soccer League clubs back into the fold in the form of a second division.

In their bid to appease an unforgiving and unsympathetic mainstream media, FFA have become paranoid about fans' misbehaviour and the bad publicity it generates and they will not gamble after 'cleaning up' the game's image. 

A second division that includes promotion and relegation would add much needed interest in the club scene, apart from giving aspiring footballers greater opportunities to show what they can do.

By the same token, I am not entirely convinced that the battling A-League is ready for promotion and relegation.

Getting the A-League's house in order should take prominence over such 'fanciful' ideas as a national second tier. First things first, right?

The problem however is the A-League is in serious trouble with falling crowds and audiences and it has no other alternative but to take a step forward and gamble in a bid to eliminate an alarming state of ennui that has gripped our game.

'Populate or perish' was a post-war political slogan that urged Australians to reconsider the country's attitude towards immigration.

It could easily be applied to the A-League because failure to do so could spell the end of the competition as we know it.

FFA, who are seen in some quarters as being more interested in their own survival than that of the game they are supposed to govern, have a massive responsibility.

Former chairman Frank Lowy did a great job of salvaging what was left of the old soccer and turning it into a new football, however there is very little faith in the current leadership across the football community.
Frank's son Steven, who took over the chairmanship in controversial circumstances, in a short time has alienated himself to most of the game's stakeholders while CEO David Gallop's popularity continues to plummet.

The clubs are unhappy with several issues, many disillusioned players can't wait to move anywhere abroad, the frustrated fans have been made to feel irrelevant and, last but not least, main broadcasters Foxtel are getting very nervous about a declining product they have paid considerable money for the privilege of showing.

If Steven Lowy really loves the game, he and his maligned board have to do something pretty fast to save it from terminal decline.

And one way to appease the exasperated clubs, the disgruntled fans and the disillusioned media is to give them what they want: a second division with promotion and relegation.

FFA say they cannot afford it. Many would say FFA cannot afford not to.

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4 min read
Published 4 March 2018 at 12:26am
By Philip Micallef