Given all the excitement surrounding Melbourne Victory’s clash with Sydney FC on Saturday night, it’s easy to forget four other A-League games take place this weekend.

Football Federation Australia probably wishes it wasn’t controversy-riddled Newcastle Jets kicking things off at Ausgrid Stadium, although the furore surrounding Branko Culina’s sacking will dissipate over time.

Culina’s dismissal will invariably have come as a shock to all concerned, but the fact is as head coach he has the final say on player recruitment, so signing a completely crocked marquee who also happens to be his son was never going to please the notoriously testy Nathan Tinkler.

At any rate, Culina’s dismissal takes some of the heat off Melbourne Heart coach John van’t Schip, who is probably relieved the season is finally upon us so he can try and win over his critics with some positive results.

A couple of weeks ago, former Socceroos captain Ned Zelic wrote an excellent column for the new-look FFA website, stating we should expect better from our imports in both the playing and coaching departments.

Aside from the insight, the column was notable for three things: firstly, the FFA and all ten clubs now have revamped websites; secondly, former players with obvious “old soccer” connections are starting to find a voice within the game and lastly; it seems we’re no longer expected to tiptoe around negative opinions for fear it might ‘damage the brand.’

In other words, the A-League finally seems to be growing up and for those of us who have followed it from day one, it’s about time.

The fact more than 10,000 fans turned out at Belmore on Monday afternoon to watch Sydney Olympic beat Sydney United in the NSW Premier League Grand Final is testament to how popular the game truly is in this country.

There’s a latent base of football fans out there who haven’t always been turning up to fixtures, so the key for the A-League is try and unlock this potential and encourage more of every type of fan to file through the gates.

And with players of the calibre of Brett Emerton, Thomas Broich and Paul Ifill on display, not to mention a certain Harry Kewell, there’s no reason to expect the quality of football to be anything but the same high standard set last season.

It’s impossible to ignore the buzz of optimism surrounding the new A-League season and it’s a positive energy the football community would do well to embrace.

We’ve been guilty of cannibalising our supporter base at times, but there’s hardly a better opportunity to talk up the attributes of the A-League and hopefully that’s reflected in attendance figures across the weekend.

The competition needs as many fans inside grounds as possible to better sell itself to potential advertisers and help attract new players to our shores.

Hopefully this weekend’s matches live up to all the hype, although the state of the pitch in at least three venues may prove somewhat of a hindrance.

This is no time to gripe though, with the weekend every football fan has been waiting for finally upon us.

It’s now or never for the A-League – a competition that has been knocking on the door of mainstream acceptance for the best part of six years now.

This should be one of the biggest rounds of club football in Australia in years, and for once, A-League fans across the country and beyond have every reason to be genuinely excited.

Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and was a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008 to July 2014.
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