Season 13: Unlucky for some, but not the A-League

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    While Sydney FC fans bask in the glow of their premiership, championship and an unrivalled and stellar season, there are nine other ambitious clubs circling A-League silverware in 2017-18.

    Off-field issues have been the centre of attention over the course of recent months and one would be foolish to dismiss them as merely that. The reality is that governance and the power structure in Australian football is inextricably linked to the highest flight.

    Shrewd financial control of the game provides security to clubs, fans and the ability to attract marquees and imports looking to lengthen their careers, as well as ensuring the survival and sustainability of lower tier clubs all over Australia. Maintaining that football baseline is vital.

    Quality coaching at youth level, clear avenues by which talent can be identified and the difficult task of turning grassroots footballers into attending fans are further issues the FFA must continue to address.

    How free-to-air coverage fits into the mix will be revealed in time and looms as a potential game changer.

    Co-ordinating all the pieces of the puzzle into a lucid and strategic plan that serves the states, clubs, youth development, women’s football and national teams is the task at hand and it intertwines with the A-League in so many ways.

    So what are fair expectations of the national league as it enters its 13th season? Let’s be fair and begin by making note of recent trends.

    The reality is that crowds aren’t growing, salary caps are keeping the talent pool relatively constant and without quality free-to-air coverage a broadening in exposure will only ever be described as a trickle. Throw in some serious questions around parity and there will be a variety of different expectations among the clubs.

    The powerhouses look strong once again – Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers will all make the top six and will accept nothing less.

    Alex Brosque Sydney FC A-League Grand Final 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    It remains to be seen whether Central Coast Mariners coach Paul Okon’s investment in youth and his trust in taking a few steps back – to eventually move forward with a style he prefers – will reap rewards this season. A finals spot would be a wonderful achievement.

    We are also none the wiser as to what the Wellington Phoenix will bring. Finishing just out of the finals in 2016-17 suggests they will feel they can climb higher. And for the sake of attendance figures and their long-term viability in the league, hopefully that is the case.

    Logic says Adelaide and Perth will improve and their supporter bases will expect just that after mixed and directionless seasons where neither seriously threatened.

    If the Brisbane Roar can harness their experienced squad into a cohesive unit they could surprise a few, despite being labelled as something of an old folk’s home. John Aloisi was not happy with the outcome last time around and will accept nothing less than a top four spot as a pass mark.

    Last season’s 10th-placed club have an enormous task ahead under new manager Ernie Merrick. The only way is up for the Newcastle Jets and hopefully the Hunter faithful climb aboard for a ride to the outskirts of the six, which would be something of an achievement.

    The A-League itself will be hoping that both ratings and attendance figures spike. A reasonable and fair goal would be 14,000 per game and if 200-300,000 people tune in to free-to-air coverage on a weekly basis, some measure of success could claim to have been achieved.

    Membership seems to have hovered between 100,000 to 120,000 recently, and it would be pleasing to see that threshold broken. Those clubs dragging the chain will need to begin the season with much improved form in order to see any increase in their figures.

    The Sydney and Melbourne teams will hold up their end of the bargain, however it would be nice to see the Phoenix and Mariners increase their numbers. Last season saw around 8000 new members join clubs and with another small increase, the 120,000 barrier is well within reach.

    A-League fans have adopted European scarf wearing

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    After the orgasmic climax of the grand final, the game experienced unprecedented media coverage. Whether articles continue to creep their way steadily towards back pages or start to slump back into the hidden depths of sporting sections in both hard and soft copy will be an excellent measuring stick.

    It will be tough to gauge numerically, but seeing football represented more positively in the media would please us all. Articles appearing alongside greyhound racing content has been commonplace and, with no disrespect to the dish lickers, if that ends it would be another step forward for the game.

    Another season of goal statistics of around three per game and stern officiating that punishes the cynical and rewards the expansive and skilful would be other barometers of success.

    Some might feel these are conservative goals, however there is one clear objective that is far more extravagant and dreamy.

    Peace on football earth! That’s right. A deal, a conclusion and a united front, brokered in good faith by all interested parties. A blueprint for the future that sees multiple tiers of football, promotion-relegation and protects all involved.

    Small increases in membership attendance, watching a good standard of football and further traction in the media achieved through quality football writing and the new television deal are all realistic goals. If these are combined with football peace, the A-League will be ready to take its largest step ever in this country.

    This season might be another where the A-League treads a little water, however with some luck, hard work and a little peace football might just be positioning itself very well for the future.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.