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Opinion

Why does the A-League keep playing afternoon games in mid-summer?

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Expert
2nd February, 2020
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The two most entertaining games this weekend both kicked off in the evening, so why does the A-League continue to punish players and fans by persisting with afternoon fixtures?

Let’s start with the positives.

Perth Glory’s 2-2 draw with Melbourne Victory was the most entertaining fixture of the round, with Glory twice fighting back to salvage a point thanks to a belated first start and goal of the season from Nick D’Agostino.

It’s amazing what young Australian players can do when given the chance in their own national league.

But when Ola Toivonen and Bruno Fornaroli score the sort of goals they rattled home on Saturday night, it’s hard to argue that foreign imports don’t bring a touch of quality to the A-League.

Sadly, quality was in short supply on a weekend that produced some dismal optics.

Do Melbourne City know how to defend? They were dreadful at the back in their 3-1 defeat to Adelaide United, in the only other fixture that produced much entertaining football.

And you know what the two late games on Saturday had in common? Neither of them kicked off in the blazing heat of mid-afternoon.

Who could possibly have predicted Newcastle’s clash with Western United at McDonald Jones Stadium – where temperatures nudged 41 degrees Celsius before kick-off – would have finished scoreless?

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Visiting coach Mark Rudan criticised the decision to start the game at 5pm, as did Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich, but as usual nothing was done because no one appears to be in charge of the A-League right now.

At least viewers tuning in on the ABC were spared having to watch the whole 90 minutes, since by all accounts the broadcast cut out before the game had even finished.

And exposing players and spectators to the hottest part of the afternoon is now just par for the course for a competition that has apparently lost the plot.

That must be why yesterday’s clash between the Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers kicked off at 3pm in Gosford, when every other Sunday this season has featured a game kicking off at the more practical time of 5pm.

Perhaps A-League officials and broadcaster Fox Sports were mindful of going head to head with the Australian Open, but it meant once again that a fixture started in searing mid-afternoon heat.

And the high temperatures and energy-sapping humidity ensured the game was played at the same plodding pace that plagues most fixtures played over the height of summer.

A few weeks ago I wondered whether a winter season in the A-League would even work, but it’s hard to see how kicking off at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon in February is a smart decision either.

Then there’s the finicky, overly-officious refereeing we see every week.

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Let’s call a spade a spade: the penalty awarded to Sydney FC in Kogarah on Friday night looked like one of the softest decisions of the season.

But one of the changes VAR has had on the game is ensure that referees are happy to blow the whistle at the slightest transgression, safe in the knowledge that if they’ve made a howler, their decision will be overturned on video replay.

What was Scott Neville supposed to do when Adam Le Fondre blasted the ball at him from a metre away? A-League officials will claim Chris Beath merely followed the letter of the law, but Neville’s second yellow card left the visitors to battle on with ten men for more than 35 minutes.

It all evened out in the end, because the Sky Blues were denied another cast-iron spot-kick minutes later when Kosta Barbarouses strayed offside by the width of a fingernail.

This is what football is now.

It’s more frustrating than fun – especially when even the spectators are sweating through it.