So the first Big Blue of the season is here, and with it yet again comes a lot of controversies.
I’m not sure if Football Federation Australia (FFA) was ever seriously pondering moving Sunday’s elimination final between Gold Coast United and Melbourne Victory down to Victoria. But I do know it’s a good thing for the integrity of the A-League that Skilled Park got the nod after Tuesday’s pitch inspection.
It seemed a lot of the hype around the issue of moving Sunday’s clash to Melbourne was media generated, triggered by Andy Harper’s suggestion on Foxsports after Friday night’s A-League game.
But it must be noted the FFA left the door open with their ‘subject to pitch inspection’ sub-clause which they attached when they released the A-League finals week one fixtures and dates on Sunday.
And they never outright said the fixture wouldn’t be moved to Melbourne, even if Brisbane would’ve been a sensible second option.
In my opinion, it’s a blessing in disguise that Skilled Park passed the FFA’s pitch inspection, because moving the fixture to Melbourne would have been a farce. It would have raised questions about the integrity of the FFA and the A-League.
There’s no doubt there would have been a certain commercial attraction about moving the fixture to Melbourne, given the stark contrasts between Gold Coast and Victory’s crowd figures.
In fact, plenty of fans on online forums were all for such a decision and not just Victory supporters.
But the reality is this is a decision where commercial interests should take a low priority (if any at all).
To the FFA’s credit they acknowledged this when chief executive Ben Buckley said on Monday: “We’ll make a decision once the inspection’s complete. But we wouldn’t be making the decision for commercial reasons because that does present an issue and I think it’s unfair to the fans.”
Along with the fans, it’s also unfair on the Gold Coast players and coaches who worked hard all season towards finishing as high as they could on the A-League ladder and they deserve to enjoy their rewards for that.
To deny them their hard-earned privilege of home ground advantage in a sudden-death final would undermine the integrity of the competition. United finished fourth, Victory fifth; it’s simple. They were the rules at the start of the season, you can’t change them now.
Of course, if the pitch wasn’t up to scratch you could understand a decision to move the fixture (perhaps to Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium) but it’s one thing to move the match to a neutral venue and another thing altogether to gift the home ground advantage which one side has rightly earned to their opponents.
It would have completely undermined the previous 30 matches which Gold Coast spent earning fourth spot and a home final.
And I personally would’ve supported Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer’s threat earlier in the week to boycott the fixture if it was moved to Melbourne. It would’ve been a farce.
What makes all this the more staggering is the fact the FFA recently moved three re-scheduled A-League fixtures from Brisbane (two games) and Townsville to Skilled Park, suggesting the surface wasn’t previously seen as an issue.
Suddenly, though, it had become one, with the FFA announcing their pitch inspection.
This is mere speculation but maybe commercial interests did enter the FFA’s collective minds at this point?
Maybe they’d have been better served at this point by putting to bed all the rumours of a Melbourne switch? Surely if they were going to move the fixture it would’ve been to Brisbane, but the FFA never publicly stated this.
Skilled Park’s recent heavy workload was highlighted as a reason for the need to perform a pitch inspection.
But Gold Coast United have been in line for a home final for the past two months at least, so surely there must have been some forethought by the FFA when re-scheduling the aforementioned games to Skilled Park, which has had its surface issues well publicised this season.
In my opinion, the whole issue wasn’t handled well by the FFA.
There’s been a lot of questioning of FFA decisions in recent times and this whole episode hardly helped their image, even though the right decision was made at the end of the day.
The reality is there will be a far smaller crowd at Skilled Park on Sunday than there would have been if the fixture was played in Melbourne.
But the Gold Coast United players and coaches earned the right to host the final and that’s how it should be for sake of the integrity of the A-League.