While many death knell the A-League, others simply enjoy it on face value. The modern reality of sport being a product means that some will always attempt to assess value.
So where is the A-League after 12 rounds and on the cusp of a new decade? Expectations were high pre-season, and if the negativity around the competition in the less-than-supportive mainstream media is pushed aside, an opinion can be formed.
Prior to the season, there was much excitement around some of the quality foreigners arriving and Robbie Fowler’s second foray into coaching.
It seemed likely that Perth Glory and Sydney FC would be formidable with Adelaide, Western Sydney and Melbourne City the likely improvers. Fans were intrigued by the inclusion of Western United and hopeful that Alen Stajcic’s impressive start in Gosford would continue and return Central Coast to respectability.
Most felt Melbourne Victory would rear their head at some stage of the season, yet many feared for the plight of the financially restricted Newcastle Jets and a new-look Wellington Phoenix that had seen much of their best talent leave.
The normal negativity around so-called recycled players and attendance metrics lingered and some still held serious concerns over the general competitiveness (or lopsidedness) of the competition.
With an important period of time ahead for the Olyroos after stand-out performances by some of Australia’s best young talent in the FFA Cup, there were also hopes that the next wave of Socceroos would take another stride forward and become more than merely promising players.
What has transpired over the first three months of the competition both confirms and/or allays much of the above. The arrivals of Alessandro Diamanti, Daniel Lopar, Panagiotis Kone, Ulises Davila and Javier Cabrera have been impressive to say the least.
The youth has indeed announced itself en masse. Al Hassan Toure, Samuel Silvera, Reno Piscopo, Tom Glover, Denis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe have all made their presence felt and demanded the continued attention of Graham Arnold.
The level of parity in the competition has been pleasing. Aside from Sydney FC careering into the distance, a mad rush of Boxing Day sales’ proportion is taking place behind them.
Separated by just ten points, the remaining clubs have jostled continuously, all still hopeful of finals play. Despite sitting 11th on the ladder, Newcastle have picked up points in half their matches, as have Brisbane.
The tightness in the six where Perth, Adelaide, Wellington and Western Sydney are engaged in a weekly game of musical chairs will only increase as Melbourne Victory snip at their coat tails after a slow start.
The overall standard has been pleasing. Sydney FC and Adam le Fondre have been outstanding and a pair of A-League recyclables are in the race for the golden boot.
Jamie Maclaren’s early goal production was nothing but astonishing and Besart Berisha returned by reminding us all of the talented and hungry competitor he is. The rebirth of Nikola Mileusnic appears complete after a frustrating period of injury and Adelaide are also enjoying the rise of Riley McGree.
Mitchell Duke has been the heart and soul of the Wanderers’ attack, former Socceroo Scott McDonald has provided Mark Rudan with exactly the experience and poise he needed in Western United’s first season and Gary Hooper looms as a popular draw card for Wellington once at full fitness and form.
Frankly, it has been fun.
The naysayers were quick to jump on early attendance figures. Journalist Will Swanton referred to the A-League’s early crowds as being akin to an own goal in his piece in The Australian on November 17.
It was, in fact, nothing more than a predictable swipe at the A-League and an effort to concoct a seasonal code war. The NBL is drawing around 6900 per game, a terrific achievement and a solid rise from last season.
Swanton’s summation was that the A-League was sinking in comparison. Yet if he was to dig a little deeper, he would now uncover some interesting statistical realities.
After labelling the A-League as floundering, he may be interested to know that fans have returned to Western Sydney. Attendance is up 80 per cent on last season’s average. Brisbane Roar, despite their lowly position, have seen an 11 per cent increase, as have Melbourne City (six per cent) and Central Coast (11 per cent).
Adelaide and Perth crowds have been slugged by heat and hazardous conditions, which have drawn concerns from supporter groups. Yet with both teams pushing for a top-four position, it is likely those numbers will improve considerably in milder conditions.
Victory started poorly yet a familiar run is looming and their fans will be there to see it. With another 15,000-plus at Kogarah this weekend for Sydney FC’s match against Adelaide and Wellington’s base becoming incredibly excited about their team’s current form, both will be tracking on or above 2018-19 averages very soon.
If Western United’s home matches are removed from attendance data – they are a new club we knew would struggle to draw impressive crowds until they gained traction in the local community – the result is curious.
The average of 10,881 fans per game is astonishingly close to last season’s final figure of 10,877. Not too bad, all things considered.
It has been a tough summer for many, with a scar placed on much of the country by oppressive heat and fire. All the while, the A-League trucked along as it always does, maligned yet resilient.
That is football in Australia.
Happy new year to you all and have a great 2020.