It’s been 1,394 days since the Socceroos last played in Brisbane, so the best response fans can give the FFA is to pack Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
That Football Federation Australia would prioritise money over ensuring the national team actually plays in various cities across the nation will be amply demonstrated when twice as many fans turn out in Brisbane than will show up for Tim Cahill’s farewell in Sydney on Tuesday.
But having signed a multi-million dollar deal with Destination NSW in March 2016 to stage five Socceroos games and six Matildas fixtures over five years in New South Wales, FFA suddenly finds itself trying to sell tickets to a midweek game against Lebanon no one is interested in attending.
Australia has played eleven home internationals since signing that deal, five of which were in Sydney – including both of last year’s World Cup playoffs. Three took place in Melbourne, two were in Adelaide and one in Perth.
The Socceroos last played a World Cup qualifier in Brisbane in June 2012 – when more than 40,000 fans turned out on a cold Tuesday night to watch a 1-1 draw with Japan – so The Courier-Mail’s resident football journo Marco Monteverde is certainly right when he says,“(i)t’s an insult to the Queensland football fraternity that a World Cup qualifier hasn’t been played in Brisbane since”.
But this is the FFA, and it was obviously easier to sign a set-and-forget deal that locked Australia’s third-most populous city out of watching the national team.
It’s not like fans in Brisbane haven’t supported the Socceroos in big numbers before. Australia’s two 2015 Asian Cup games attracted crowds of 48,513 against South Korea, and 46,067 in pouring rain for a Thursday night quarter-final with China.
Even a friendly against Paraguay in 2006 attracted a massive crowd of 47,609.
But despite boasting the best rectangular stadium in Australia, it hasn’t been enough to get the national team back to the state for almost four years.
And it’s not like Queensland has been blessed with an abundance of Matildas fixtures either.
You know the stadium that sits empty on the Gold Coast for at least 30 weeks a year? It might be a decent place to play a high-profile women’s international.
To that end, Tourism and Events Queensland need to get with the program and understand what it actually takes to host a FIFA-accredited international as well.
They were reported to have withdrawn from bidding to host last year’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Thailand over ground signage – presumably because FIFA controls it.
They’re happy to throw money at Jeff Horn fights and even visits from overseas English Premier League clubs, but when it comes to the national team, they can’t pull off something every other city in Australia somehow manages to do.
At least tomorrow night’s friendly with an understrength South Korea is a step in the right direction – and it’s nice to see both TEQ and Brisbane Marketing have been heavily involved in the build-up to the game.
And in the interests of conciliation, I should point out that I recognise hosting an international sporting event is much more difficult than simply writing about it.
It’s a pity South Korea didn’t send down their tough-as-teak midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, since the Newcastle United enforcer spent five years as a student in Brisbane at local high school John Paul College.
I once asked Ki why he’d almost come to blows with Tim Cahill during an Asian Cup game in Doha in 2011, and his answer made me chuckle.
“Because I don’t like him”, was his deadpan response.
Asian football could do with a few more of those sorts of narratives, but for now we’ll have to settle for a high-profile rematch of the 2015 Asian Cup final.
It’s about time Brisbane got another Socceroos game. Now all that’s left is for the city to make the most of it.