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Opinion

The A-League: Crusader moment or resurrection?

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Roar Rookie
30th March, 2020
15

In 1453 Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire stormed Constantinople after a bitter siege, putting an end to the more than 1000-year-old Byzantine Empire.

Historians will tell you, however, that this event was the final mopping up of a once-great empire that had fallen into decline hundreds of years earlier. The mortal blow for the Byzantines in fact came in 1204, when a crusader army sacked the Constantinople, devastating the city and dividing up the lands of the empire. Although the Byzantines would later reconquer their kingdom from the crusaders, it was a mortal blow from which the empire never fully recovered, and it limped along before being finally swallowed up by the increasingly powerful Ottoman Empire.

Today we find the A-League at a crisis point. Faced by a one-in-100-year event few would have seen coming, will this be seen as the A-League’s ‘crusader moment’, the moment an ailing competition was dealt a mortal blow, or does this crisis provide an opportunity for resurrection, an out-of-left-field circuit-breaker that can finally jolt the game back to the right course?

FFA CEO James Johnson speaks to the media

(AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

Let’s first look at the challenges. The obvious one is finance. From all angles. Gate takings, sponsorship, membership, merchandise and of course TV rights, with Foxtel rumoured to be itching to pull the plug on the TV deal or significantly reduce it. This isn’t just one body blow; it’s multiple body blows administered with the ferocity of Mike Tyson at his peak.

The game, which had so long turned its back on the fans and allowed itself and its strategy to be dictated by corporate entities and TV corporations, can for the moment not rely on any of those things to save it.

We also have a brewing conflict with Professional Footballers Australia and the clubs over player payment as the ailing game threatens to cannibalise itself. Perhaps flying under the radar too is the mental impact on players and their families of an uncertain future.

Many old school fans, me included, have long since found comfort in the community-grounded teams of the state league, and with access to games being made even easier – a single platform recently launched to live stream games in New South Wales and Queensland – its appeal will surely grow.

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However, all is not lost. In times of crisis there exists opportunity. And there are just enough flickers of hope that our game at a professional level can come through this and hopefully learn from its past mistakes.

The crisis will force a rethink into future structure and risk mitigation in the game. FFA CEO James Johnson has so far made the right noises. This is a man who seems to understand the urgent need to reconnect with the fans. He understands the competition needs to be agile to adapt to its future challenges, and so far he seems to command the respect of the clubs as a mediator in an ever-changing and often poorly defined power dynamic at the head office of Australian football.

It is still too early to see whether he can or will put his words into action, but he has made a good start. His power is of course limited with the new leadership model yet to be fully implemented, but if he can get all parties to work together, there may just be hope in saving the competition.

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Out of this too will hopefully come an understanding that TV revenue, although important, cannot be king. It cannot be allowed to dictate football strategy and direction. Pending too is a general strategy for the game that we are still waiting for and that is long overdue. Let’s hope this crisis is a catalyst to fast track this.

Here is the opportunity to drive football back to the fans. To rediscover that it is the fans, the active support, the atmosphere that makes football tick and is the foundation from which you build all else.

The crisis is a huge body blow for an already ailing league. Football, however, if nothing else, is resilient. The game will survive. In what form? That is the question. For the A-League now is the time.

Will the next few weeks be remembered as its crusader moment, its mortal blow before it limps into the pages of history? Or will it be a moment where it through inspired leadership stands up, rediscovers its roots, redefines itself, clarifies its strategy and uses this as a catalyst to turn its fortunes around and begin the journey to finally fulfil its potential?