Confessions from an A-League debutant fan

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

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    England's Emile Heskey. AP Photo/Tom Hevezi

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    On Saturday afternoon I attended my very first A-League game, the encounter between Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets, headlined by the presence of international stars Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey.

    Football, or soccer as I still occasionally call it, is not my first love. Let me be upfront and honest about that straight away.

    It’s not that I hate the game, it’s just that I have basketball in my blood, am a self-confessed cricket tragic, love both rugby codes, and enjoy AFL. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to dedicate to other sports, especially when a pesky job is thrown into the mix. Oh, and a wife.

    As such, despite playing the game in my youth, I’ve never gotten ‘into’ football, let alone the A-League. Sure, my geographical allegiance means I hope and want Sydney FC to do well. And the fact my best mate’s brother is assistant coach at the Central Coast Mariners ensures I have a soft spot for that club. But, otherwise, my interest in the A-League is limited to watching highlights and knowing who won the competition.

    However, the allure of watching Del Piero and Heskey proved too great to resist, even for this non-believer. So I attended the match on Saturday, arriving at the game via the greatest transport of all: the bandwagon.

    Many thoughts raced through my head before, during and after the game, and while it’s impossible to discuss them all, I did arrive at six overall observations from my debut A-League game:

    1. Del Piero is worth the money

    Even to this untrained eye, Del Piero is a genius. His command of the game is amazing, and it’s clear he’s a few steps ahead of everyone else, especially his teammates. Whether his new friends lack his class, or there is unfamiliarity that may improve later, several times his deft passes were too good for his teammates.

    But the man is clearly a footballing freak, and that’s without even taking into account his magnificent goal from a free-kick. For our rugby league and rugby union fans, the perfect analogies or comparisons for Del Piero at this stage of his career are Jason Smith, Cliffy Lyons or David Knox; he may not be quick anymore, but he has superb skills, patience, vision and class.

    He was a joy to watch.

    2. Emile Heskey was no support act

    Heskey was just as impressive as Del Piero. Perhaps even more so.

    If I’m honest, Heskey was a bigger drawcard for getting me to the game than Del Piero, as I have watched him play many times for England, and had un-affectionately nicknamed him ‘The Slug’.

    However, it would have been inappropriate to yell that at him, for several reasons, but primarily because it’s clear he is not here for a holiday. He looks fitter than I’ve ever seen him, and his hustle and effort was top notch.

    He also seems, at this stage, to be in greater sync with his teammates than Del Piero, and it’s safe to say he’s going to have a great season.

    3. The crowd was absolutely sensational

    Loud, passionate, knowledgeable, appreciative and, most importantly for the A-League, large.

    35,419 people packed out the stadium and made it one of the greatest sporting atmospheres I’ve ever experienced. A special mention goes to The Cove, who make other sports’ fans look positively pedestrian.

    4. Sydney’s defence was terrible

    On more than one occasion, a Sydney FC defender left an attacking player who actually had possession of the ball. It was bizarre to witness, and enabled a strike on goal or an un-pressured cross to a teammate.

    I’ll allow more experienced football fans to comment in more detail, but I would guess the Sky Blues will be working on their defence at training this week.

    5. Remember this name: Craig Goodwin

    I had never heard of Craig Goodwin, but after 20 minutes I said to my friend, “That blonde guy is good.” Not the most insightful analysis, I grant you, but the Jets player caught the eye early and often.

    I had to ask the fan beside who he was, and I then googled him. The fact I did both should give you an indication that he stood out. And now I know he’s just 20 years old, I would suggest it is a name we’re going to hear a lot of in the future.

    6. Marquee players have a tremendous impact on the game

    That headline is probably the runaway winner for the ‘most obvious comment’ award for 2012, but the importance of marquee players needs to be stressed.

    Far and beyond their talent, it’s their star power that gets people through the gates, with yours truly as the prime example. We’ve see the impact it has had on the A-League this year, and cricket’s Big Bash provides another case study for how international stars can generate interest for a fledging competition.

    Other sports, in particular basketball, can learn from the A-League. It’s also interesting that Tim Horan says Super Rugby clubs should be taking note.

    Marquee players generate added interest, which generates additional revenue, which can be spent on recruiting even more marquee players. More marquee players generate even more revenue, which… well, you get the picture, and that not-so-vicious circle is now in motion for the A-League.

    So, am I convert?

    The Del Piero versus Heskey sub-plot was the reason I went to the game, but that obviously won’t be repeated unless the two teams meet in the finals. However, Del Piero himself did enough to pique my interest in attending another match during the season.

    Does two games qualify me as an A-League fan? Perhaps not, but it is two more games than I attended last year. Or ever.

    And it’s important to remember that all passions have an origin…

    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.

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    The Crowd Says (101)

    • October 16th 2012 @ 2:40am
      Johnno said | October 16th 2012 @ 2:40am | ! Report

      Ryan this brings back memories of the halcyon days of the NBL. I am seeing some very striking similarities. Marquee foreign imports having a huge impact on the marketing and promotion of the A-league like the NBL eg Del Peiro at Sydney FC, and husky at Newcastle.

      I have not seen the same type of foreign improt hype since the halcyon days of the NBL and the Sydney Kings star imports former NBA player “D-Mac Dwayne Mclain “, Kenny Mclarey, and Leon Trimingham.

      Very similar the hype it is great to see. Dwayne Mclain in the early 90’s was the hottest ticket in town everyone in Sydney knew him, and Rodney-O would chant D-train.

      Del Piero is having that similar effect and impact he is now the hottest A-lister in Sydney, a true world celebrity comes to Sydney town and is now the hottest ticket in town.

      • Columnist

        October 16th 2012 @ 10:45am
        Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        Certainly does remind me of the D-Train in the 90’s, Johnno. For those that don’t live in Sydney, or are too young to remember, it’s hard to fathom just how big basketball was in the early 90’s in Sydney. Dwayne McClain was everywhere, and appeared in commercials for McDonalds, Sydney Rail and Reebok, amongst others.

        It’s early days, but Del Piero certainly has the potential to have the same impact, but probably larger.

    • October 16th 2012 @ 6:25am
      Bondy. said | October 16th 2012 @ 6:25am | ! Report

      I’m glad you enjoyed your time Ryan and mate you dont have to go out and get Sydney FC tatts “just your wife” Lol . Ryan you suggest your not the biggest fan and the likes of Cricket ,Nbl the Rugby codes AFL all of those sports you have a greater value for but have been accesable on a FTA platfrom since your birth football/soccer is and has been nowhere,I can totally understand your non activity in the game its never been part of the sporting landscape and some would suggest is still not.

      Nearly all of the sports you have a greater appreciation for are those that have been accesable on a free tv platform “its not a cheap shot”,. I can relate to your Cliff Lyon analagy Ryan very good, I just dont know how many smokes the Alle chuffs on a day. Lol.

      It was a gripping game Sydney fc didnt look like winning the match but didn’t look like they were going to lose it either until the final whistle. I hope you come back for more Ryan and the cheeses and kisses at your leisure.

      • Columnist

        October 16th 2012 @ 10:47am
        Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        It’s true about FTA, Bondy. Perhaps the A-League can push for FTA coverage on their next broadcast deal.

        • October 16th 2012 @ 11:26am
          Punter said | October 16th 2012 @ 11:26am | ! Report

          Ryan, I’m a Rugby fan, not a addict, I attend mainly Wallabies games (though have attended a couple of Waratahs games but not many). However big enough fan (longevity as well) to remember how numb I felt when that Irish forward (Gordon someone) scoring against the Wallabies with minutes remaining in the 1/4 finals in the 1991 WC. Now I would be interested in Brian O’Drisscoll playing for Waratahs, but how many non Rugby supporters (ie people from Vic, WA, SA) would know who he is. This is the difference, I remember when the Lions made it a home game in Melbourne in the 02 tour.

          • Columnist

            October 16th 2012 @ 11:40am
            Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 11:40am | ! Report

            Punter, point taken about the level of awareness for Brian O’Driscoll in Vic, WA, SA, etc. However, I think rugby, especially the Waratahs, need to win back some rugby fans. And I think O’Driscoll could help do that.

            • October 16th 2012 @ 11:54am
              Punter said | October 16th 2012 @ 11:54am | ! Report

              Ryan noted & I agree. O’Driscoll is an outstanding player & seems to be a decent bloke as well.

              • Columnist

                October 16th 2012 @ 11:57am
                Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 11:57am | ! Report

                Let’s just hope Tana Umaga stays away from him!

              • October 16th 2012 @ 12:29pm
                Punter said | October 16th 2012 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

                Like I said, not an avid follower of Rugby, unlike football, where I can watch even my team or my country not playing, i don’t watch alot of Rugby outside WC time not involving the Wallabies, so that comment abit lost on me.

              • Columnist

                October 16th 2012 @ 2:36pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

                Sorry Punter. Tana Umaga spear-tackled O’Driscoll in a Lions match a few years ago, and put him out of the series through injury

    • October 16th 2012 @ 6:33am
      Punter said | October 16th 2012 @ 6:33am | ! Report

      Thanks Ryan for that insightful article on being a first time A-League live viewer, as I’m sure there were many in the crowd on sat arvo/night. I too took a first timer, a staunch AFL fan & though didn’t understand the finer details of the game, he too was very impressed by the crowd (both passion & size) & the skills of both marquees.

      As far as Marquees go I think it would only work with Basketball, maybe cricket, in the sports you mentioned, the other sports already have the best in the world playing in our country week in week out.

      I think your last sentence has alot of relevance, ‘And it’s important to remember that all passions have an origin… ‘, now I don’t expect every first timer, especially those who prefer their Ronaldo & Messi to their Malia & Powell to now instantly be A-league fans, but with football there is always that possible teaser (a Beckham or Barcelona visit) to get the non fan along to a game that doesn’t really occur in other sports in Australia apart maybe from Basketball.

      • Columnist

        October 16th 2012 @ 10:48am
        Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        Hey Punter,

        Brian O’Driscoll, the brilliant Irish centre, has been mentioned in NSW Waratahs circles. I think he would be a big drawcard for Super Rugby.

    • October 16th 2012 @ 7:24am
      nearpost said | October 16th 2012 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      Interesting insights Ryan.

      Agreed its very hard to follow all sports with any degree of intensity and knowledge. I only follow football – no time for others in a busy life but catch the scores and highlights on the news etc.

      Perhaps the best thing about this season and the game on the weekend is not that guys like you are instant converts but merely that you and others are able to respect the game (not saying you didnt but know a fair few who have)…”yeah the A-League is okay, has some good players, good Aussies as well.”

      That would be a nice position for the game to be in…guess we’ve made it.

      Curiously Brisbane has been producing higher quality football than anything you saw on Saturday for a number of years. Did you know? Have you ever watched them?

      • Columnist

        October 16th 2012 @ 10:49am
        Ryan O'Connell said | October 16th 2012 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        Hey mate, yes I know all about the Brisbane Roar and their dominance. I actually named them one of the ‘teams of the year’ last year. And I caught a bit of their goal-fest on Saturday night at the pub after the Sydney game.

    • October 16th 2012 @ 8:08am
      Q said | October 16th 2012 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      I enjoyed your recount of the game, honest and well written. I also agree, Curtis Good has a good future ahead of him.

      • October 16th 2012 @ 9:07am
        Brick Tamlin of the Pants Party said | October 16th 2012 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        You mean Craig Goodwin?,Goodwin definatly impressed on the weekend.The other game i remember him being the stand out player in was the Melbourne Derby so he’s not shrinking violet either.Hopefully he keeps progressing.

        • October 16th 2012 @ 9:43am
          whiskeymac said | October 16th 2012 @ 9:43am | ! Report

          Good certainly does – at a big EPL club – but the article mentioned Goodwin as Brick pointed out.

    • October 16th 2012 @ 8:12am
      TC said | October 16th 2012 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      Welcome to the club Ryan.

      We soccer fans welcome all newcomers.

      TC

      • October 16th 2012 @ 11:23am
        Minister for Information for the Democratic People's Republic of Football said | October 16th 2012 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        Spokesperson for us again Cat?
        Let’s clarify…TC is Aussie Rules through and through. Not too many fans of our game on here still call the game “soccer”.
        I might have to make myself an ambassador for AFL every now and then Cat like you and “welcome” new fans to the “great Australian game” on the AFL threads like you do. 😉

        • October 16th 2012 @ 12:19pm
          TC said | October 16th 2012 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

          You have my full support.

          TC

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