Why there is still hope for football in Australia

It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult year for football in Australia.

Adelaide United

Adelaide United celebrate with fans after scoring against Melbourne Victory Source: Getty Images

To suggest these issues haven’t been bubbling beneath the surface for a number of years would be downright ignorant, but it’s only more recently the future of the professional game has been plunged into serious doubt.

Underwhelming television ratings on both subscription and free-to-air channels, coupled with declining crowd figures and the embarrassing intervention of FIFA have revealed that the game’s key stakeholders have quite simply, had enough.

Much of the disenchantment has unsurprisingly been directed at the much-maligned figures that sit perched atop Football Federation Australia’s food chain; Chief Executive Officer, David Gallop and Chairman, Steven Lowy.  

Let me be clear – the aforementioned individuals damn well deserve the criticism they’ve copped from the punters, media, clubs and players alike.

From the governing body’s non-existent marketing of the A-League, the lack of strategic direction, their knee-jerk approach to crisis management and their arrogant dealings with FIFA; the administrative caretakers of the game have been guilty of treating their prized possession like an inconvenient afterthought.   

As a result, chaos ensued and the football community began to eat itself from the inside out, which led to a host of theories being debated publicly to try and determine why the game had become so fractured.

An absence of promotion and relegation, the dysfunctional youth system, exorbitant fees at the grassroots level, lack of big name marquees or expansion plans up until recently have all contributed to the stagnation.

The combination of all these glaring issues has made it incredibly clear, there is no silver bullet.

However, one thing I have long believed to be true, is that if we are to succeed as a code, we need football-minded people employed at the executive level.

Globally, football is a multi-billion dollar business but it is a unique one.

To be equipped with administrative knowledge and financial nous is not enough, particularly when you are making decisions that affect such a complex and diverse range of consumers.

If the game and its challenges aren’t keeping you up at night or getting you out of bed every morning, then we’ve already lost the battle for supremacy in a nation that is spoiled for choice when it comes to the sporting landscape.

The old adage, the fish rots from the head couldn’t be more applicable in the context of this discussion but amidst all of the darkness and the disillusionment, there have been a few glimmers of sunshine.    

The recent round of A-League semi-finals alone had fans witness some of the most remarkable scenes the competition has given birth to in its 13 year history.

Riley McGree’s sublime scorpion kick in the match against Melbourne City and Terry Antonis’s stunning switch from villain to hero in the Victory’s disposal of Sydney FC are moments worth dwelling on.

Further still, the magic and wonderment that has surrounded Newcastle Jets after their revival this season has been beyond glorious to see.

The support for football in the Hunter Region has long been lauded for its passion but it’s been a long-time between drinks and now that the brewery of success has been tapped into once again, the narrative has sold itself.

Something also worth dwelling on here are the reasons why we love the game, because I’ll admit, I have been guilty of focusing solely on the negative, especially in the last six months.

To the fans, players, club administrators and officials who have continued to turn-up every week this season, I want to say thank you because even in the face of adversity, your commitment hasn’t wavered and it’s been a sound lesson for all of us.

So, on the eve of a sell-out Grand Final which will see history redefined, I hope that you will be reminded of the moment you fell in love with football and why those responsible for the running of our game should never define or test our passion for it.

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4 min read
Published 4 May 2018 at 6:39pm
By Lucy Zelic