Here is a revelation for you: I am a member of the Parramatta Eels. And instead of cultivating an us-versus-them mentality, it might be time the A-League reached out to Australia’s multi-sports watching community.
I’ve been an Eels fan all my life. Born in Westmead Hospital, I grew up not far down the road and one of my earliest memories is of my Dad watching the try-less 1986 Grand Final on TV.
Next Friday night I’ll be at Parramatta Stadium to watch the Eels go around against the Panthers. There’s nothing unusual in that, except for the fact I live in Brisbane.
For my troubles, the NRL ensures I can buy tickets exactly one week before the game.
I’ll miss other fixtures this season because the NRL only releases the draw five rounds in advance to accommodate TV schedules.
That’s a TV schedule which has the Brisbane Broncos playing Friday night football every single round of the season to date, mind you.
Every year since I can remember, the only internet presence Parramatta’s merch store has carried is the tagline, “new online store coming soon.” I look forward to reading it again next year.
I could go on and on.
It makes me laugh when I hear A-League fans complain about having an ex-AFL administrator in Ben Buckley in charge of Football Federation Australia, because it could be so much worse.
He could be an ex-NRL administrator.
There is no doubt in my mind the NRL is the worst-run of Australia’s four professional ‘football’ codes.’
Just two rounds into the new season the NRL is already grappling with inconsistent judicial rulings, the mid-season poaching of players from rival clubs, injuries to two of its most recognisable stars, problems with expansion and creeping doubts over its next TV deal.
Back to back defeats mean the Eels, South Sydney and Cronulla can expect attendances not much larger than A-League crowds, the Titans should be renamed the Titanics so fast are they sinking, the Panthers have priced their once-loyal fans out of the market and the Roosters are likely to remain as unpopular at the gate as ever.
Despite many legitimate gripes, A-League fans have plenty to be thankful for.
But an issue which has nagged me since day one is the divide and conquer mentality of some sections of A-League support towards other codes.
It seems a Sydney thing more than a Melbourne one – down south it’s accepted many A-League fans invariably support an AFL club as well.
But when A-League supporters label NRL watchers fans of “thugby league” and list the endless parade of rugby league’s indiscretions ad nauseam, it does nothing to bring us closer to the wider sports community.
And that’s a problem in parochial towns like the one I reside in, where crowds (generally) go gangbusters when local teams are winning.
Take a look at the crowds at Suncorp Stadium last weekend.
The Broncos got over 43,000 for their home game against the Cowboys. The Reds attracted more than 34,000 for their bruising win over the Rebels. And less than 11,000 turned up to see the Roar draw with Adelaide United.
What are the Roar doing to attract those Broncos and Reds supporters simply eager to turn up at sporting events and watch entertaining contests?
Nothing, so far as I can tell – and I don’t think our attitude towards other codes helps.
Where I went to school, most kids watched the English Premier League as often as they did the NRL, but I doubt many have been to an A-League game.
And unfortunately the “We Are Football” slogan and its prevailing attitude preaches to the converted.
We’re reminded “we are football” when we’re already at A-League game, yet none of this marketing is getting out to the people we need to do more to embrace – namely general sports fans.