Perhaps the saddest thing about Steven Ugarkovic’s collector’s item of a goal at Coopers Stadium yesterday was the sobering reminder it might be the last one we see for a while.
Talk about your surreal rounds of football.
Sunday’s late kick-off in Adelaide was played in front of a funereal atmosphere at Coopers Stadium, and the Reds put in a worthy performance as they simply failed to turn up in the 3-0 defeat.
It was one of Newcastle’s most impressive wins of the season, and it may well have all been for nothing given the uncertainty surrounding the A-League.
I spoke to an official on Friday who admitted that some clubs would do it extremely tough financially if gate receipts weren’t factored into their ongoing budgets.
But that’s the situation we’re looking at – although this is clearly a rapidly developing story – if clubs are forced to play games behind closed doors because of the coronavirus.
And that may be the case if host broadcaster Fox Sports insists games are played as a means of creating some content for what would otherwise become a gaping hole in their schedule.
The coronavirus is bad for business for everyone in the game, but if fixtures continue then Fox Sports and its streaming service Kayo might actually see an increase in viewership.
It’s hard to see how that happens, though, if travel bans are strictly enforced and clubs like Wellington Phoenix are factored into the equation.
Before yesterday’s early clash at Westpac Stadium, both visitors Melbourne Victory and hosts Wellington Phoenix were assured they’d be fine to play the fixture in the Kiwi capital before flying back to Australia.
Yet by the time the game had finished the Department of Foreign Affairs had apparently changed their tune, insisting the returning players would now have to undergo a compulsory 14-day quarantine period.
That prompted Professional Footballers Association chief executive John Didulica to lash out in a statement after the match, blaming the Australian government’s “ad-hoc decision-making” for the revised advice.
Victory striker Ola Toivonen was similarly nonplussed, tweeting that Victory had been promised by the Australian government “there would be no ramifications returning to Australia on Monday.”
Unique/bizarre situation here in NZ. Friday we were promised, by the Australian government, that there would be no ramifications returning to Australia on Monday. Looking at 14 days quarantine now ????
— Ola Toivonen (@OlaToivonen20) March 15, 2020
The swirling claims and counter-claims and ever-changing information was a reminder that much of the way we’re dealing with this potentially fatal disease is being made up on the fly.
And we can’t pretend to know how much of a strain coronavirus is placing not only A-League players but also all the other staff employed by clubs, not to mention the league itself.
Which is why, assuming the A-League does return to normality at some stage, this whole crisis should probably lead to a reckoning in the way we consume our football.
Because things were starting to change even before coronavirus hit.
Fox Sports commentator Simon Hill is routinely regarded as the voice of the A-League, but how difficult is it for him to call games off a studio TV screen instead of inside the stadium?
And what happens if Fox Sports decides they can’t afford to pay marquee commentators at all? Do those who work in the game suddenly shift over to Optus Sport for less money?
What about a Toivonen or a Milos Ninkovic, Diego Castro or Adam Le Fondre? Do they stay in Australia for smaller salaries than what they’re currently on now?
And how about the clubs themselves? Some of them are already run on virtual skeleton staffing. How much leaner can they get?
Perhaps a self-enforced break will help the A-League get its ducks in a row and prepare to come back bigger and stronger than ever.
Or maybe it will force the competition to the wall.
At some point we might have to prepare for both scenarios.
Because if an utterly surreal weekend of football taught us anything, it’s that the A-League could all just disappear in front of our very eyes.