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Giving the A-League Premiers Plate the respect it deserves

Melbourne Victory have led the way in the current A-League fan crisis. (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Roar Guru
27th April, 2015
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On Sunday evening Melbourne Victory hoisted aloft their third Premiers Plate – the most premierships of any team in the A-League – and took the club’s trophy tally to five after two grand final wins.

This equals Brisbane Roar’s record of five trophies, however their mixture is an inverse of Melbourne Victory’s – they have two premierships and three grand final championships to their name.

There is an intriguing question for the philosophers as to who is the most successful team in A-League history depending on how much weight one gives each trophy.

Naturally, the answer is rather subjective.

There was a noticeable difference in how this premiership was celebrated compared to past premierships, however.

The plate was once treated as a sideshow presentation on the side of the pitch at the beginning of a finals game. This was a reflection of the mindset that derides the Premiers Plate as the ‘minor-premiership’.

The Premiers Plate is rather synonymous with the issues over dugouts over the years. It points to the differing mindsets of many in the football fraternity steeped in the norms of football’s international culture and that of the administrators of the sport, who are steeped in the culture and norms of the Australian sporting landscape.

For years football fans have derided the ridiculous sight of garden chairs instead of dugouts at FFA’s insistence.

Even when dugouts are belatedly introduced the roofs are taken off, leading to ridiculous scenarios of Graham Arnold struggling with an umbrella in the rain. The dugouts are more than just a practical seating device, they are seen as an international football icon that distinguishes football from other Australian sports and connects it to the international football fraternity.

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A similar issue can be seen with the Premiers Plate, Australian administrators are used to being involved with national-centric sports where the grand final is the big show piece and the top ladder position effectively meaningless outside of securing a favourable finals position – hence the ‘minor premiership’ tag.

It’s worth noting that given the finals are an FFA event from which they generate a not insignificant amount of revenue, there are some understandable commercial reasons for this.

Not to mention the headline event publicity that is generated from a grand final, plus the fact that finals places are awarded to six out of ten teams in a league with no relegation, which helps to sustain interest and talking points.

Given the season was also relatively short in its inaugural years they may just be able to justify the blatantly second class treatment of the institution of the Premiers Plate in comparison to the championship trophy awarded to the grand final winners.

However, as we reflect on the inaugural ten years and look ahead, it’s worth recognising that the Premiers Plate needs to be given more respect.

The Premiers Plate is a recognition of finishing top over an extended period of time, through the tough slog of blazing heat and intense hail, which is quite an achievement elsewhere in the world where football seasons last for three-quarters of a given year.

The grand final, however, allows for teams that have been off the pace and mired in mid-table mediocrity to potentially be granted the title as champions.

Thankfully the Premiers Plate is slowly being given the respect it deserves.

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The beginning of the end of the FFA’s agenda to keep the institution of the premiership down began to unwind when the AFC decided to award Australia only 1.5 spots in the AFC Champions League for the 2013 AFC Champions League.

What was most telling was that they completely undercut the FFA’s narrative by awarding the full spot to the premiers and the half-spot to the grand final winners as “cup competition winners”.

As big a nod to the Premiers if there ever was one.

The grand final is rife with the potential for some excellent publicity generating attention for the sport. Thankfully, though, the drama of Western Sydney winning the Plate in their inaugural year helped those at the FFA to appreciate the unique drama and publicity that is inherent in an elongated title chase.

One only has to look at the masses of Victory fans staying back and the celebration of the players to know that despite the attempted FFA repression the hardcore membership universally understands the measure of what finishing top in a football league means.

A just reward for those who are willing to put their money into dedicated season tickets.

The grand final will never be able to quite shake off the tag of glorified League Cup among some in the football fraternity. The next step is to ensure winners’ medals begin to start being cast as is the case for grand final winners.

The belated introduction of the FFA Cup also opens the door for the eventual phasing out of the grand final. The FFA Cup final can in time replace the grand final as the showpiece event on the football sporting calendar.

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This may actually help the FFA in the longer term.

I have written a previous article about how the league should become autonomus and handed over to the A-League chairman to diffuse potential owner/FFA tensions in the future.

Run as a private competition it will be attractive to private investment where the revenue from TV rights is fed back into the league clubs equitably – to assist in professional tier infrastructure development and ownership most importantly.

The other side of this coin once again is to make the FFA Cup a substantial dual competition to the A-League (and state level leagues) comprising group stages and the TV content and revenue generation that goes with it.

This is much easier to justify revenue going directly to the FFA as is the case currently with the finals and then using that money to fund women’s, youth and other grassroots programs.

In the long term the Cup Final trophy and league trophy can truly stand as clearly defined twin pillars in football, rather than the confusing two and a half pillars at the moment.

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