Why do we watch football? Is it to follow our team’s exploits on the pitch, or to understand what goes on behind the scenes?
It seems like a relevant question to ask going into an important round of A-League action, with around 50,000 spectators expected to file through the gates for Saturday night’s Sydney derby.
It’s a measure of the A-League’s success that a fixture with an anticipated attendance mirroring some of the largest in Australian sport has flown largely under the radar.
That’s because much of this week’s media has been focused – rightly – on the political machinations of Football Federation Australia, and the oft-mentioned prospect of an independent A-League.
A standalone A-League has been warranted for years, but it shouldn’t be forgotten just how far we’ve come in a little over a decade.
Following the game during the dying embers of the National Soccer League, few could have predicted a ten-team league drawing huge crowds and yielding impressive results in Asia could possibly even exist in Australia.
Yet, much as the Sydney derby will attract the lion’s share of attention from this weekend’s round of fixtures, the question remains whether that’s enough to focus our entire attention on the football?
Or to put it another way, can we trust the FFA to run the domestic game effectively and still do the right thing by its constituent clubs?
That’s essentially the question put before some chastened FFA officials this week, who belatedly and perhaps begrudgingly look like they’re finally going to cede some power to the clubs who do the bulk of the work to fill the coffers.
And it’s not just A-League clubs who want a greater say in how the game is run, but the State federations and players’ unions as well – and no doubt plenty involved at the grassroots level too.
That’s exactly as it should be, as far as I’m concerned, because the state of inertia around the A-League is detracting from the football on the pitch, and leading to commercial opportunities being squandered in the face of newly-arrived summer rivals.
But when it’s all said and done, does the average football fan even care? Or think it’s important?
I often ask myself such questions when I sit down to write, not least because some readers insist that only positive news will help the game, or tell me that what football needs to succeed is to present a united front.
To that I would say I’m about as unlikely a cheerleader as you could ever hope to meet – and besides, writing an independent column means I’ve never felt especially beholden to anyone.
I would rather write about topics I feel will produce a lively debate – even if that reflects negatively on the A-League, or focuses more on what’s going on in the boardroom than in the stadium.
Perhaps I’m in the minority though, and the only topic I should be focusing on this weekend is the action on the pitch.
I hope that turns out to be the case, because too often this season I’ve worried that the leaders in charge are not doing enough to adequately showcase the product.
And that’s something that needs to change.
As an aside, I’d like to extend my best wishes to The Roar’s departing Managing Editor Patrick Effeney, who celebrates his final day in charge today.
In his three years at the helm he has always accepted my late-night filing, steady stream of scurrilous emails and stubborn refusal to even countenance copy suggestions with good grace, gentle humour and, dare I say it, a steady editorial hand.
And while I know there are plenty of others working just as hard behind the scenes, it would be remiss of me to let the day pass without saying farewell.
All the best, Paddy – it’s been a pleasure.