A-League prosperity needs clubs to offer more than just football
Wellington Phoenix continue to surge in the A-League but have struggled for crowds (Image: AFP)
As the A-League season moves towards the end of the regular competition rounds, those in power will no doubt be planning for next season. Top of list needs to be building the clubs.
They must endeavour to become more than just football clubs if the game’s potential is to be realised.
This was the season that was meant to re-ignite the A-League after a couple of disappointing years, with Socceroos stars Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton returning home to spearhead the competition. 25 games later there have been signs of progress, crowds have risen, talented young players have continued to be unearthed, and the standard of play has improved.
These should be welcomed, however it has not been all good news. The Gold Coast United debacle has exposed the cracks in the competition. Chief among these is the relationship between club owners and Football Federation Australia.
While Clive Palmer’s grievances with the governing body have been well publicised, the bigger issue is the relationships fans have with the clubs they support.
In the space of seven years the A-League has done well to establish a loyal, passionate and informed fan-base that is the backbone of the competition. But if it wants to bring in more fans and satisfy the existing ones, more should and could be done.
For this to happen A-League clubs have to be ambitious. They need to evolve into more than a club, they must attempt to become woven into the cultural fabric of the regions they represent.
Sounds a little abstract, but doing so is achievable.
The first essential element is an identifiable playing style and philosophy. Fans want to feel part of something special, just as they have at Brisbane Roar.
In an age where fans are more knowledgeable than ever before, they will not settle for mediocre football. They want to be entertained. They want to feel connected to a way of playing, to take delight in it, and to feel pride in what their club represents.
How can fans feel connected to a club that appears to have no clear beliefs about how the game should be played? A philosophy allows supporters to buy into a way of playing, and helps to create a unified identity.
The classic example of this is Barcelona, but there are countless others, such as Swansea City, who have shown how powerful a well established philosophy can be in uniting a club and its fans.
While there may not be huge cultural differences throughout Australian cities, they do exist, and A-League clubs must become better at embodying the unique identities of the communities they represent.
A key part of this is the promotion of local talent; supporters take great pride out one of their own making into the first team. Matt Simon, when at Central Coast, was an example of this, with supporters taking delight in how a local lad had risen to the top.
With the establishment of A-League academies moving closer, the promotion of local talent will become easier.
Supporters will be able to see young players come through the ranks, track their progress and take pride in how their club is benefiting young local players. Academies also offer a real opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to their local community while also welcoming many more people into the club.
The A-League has indeed come far, but if it is to take the next step and cast off doubts around its long term prospects, clubs must work even harder to become focal points of their local communities.
The competition has the ability to become the nation’s biggest, but for this to happen, clubs must embody more than just a football team.
Follow Beau on Twitter: @beaubusch