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Opinion

Why shouldn't Cairns be home to an A-League club?

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Expert
21st March, 2021
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On the back of a historic weekend for football, it’s probably time we started asking ourselves what we want our competitions to look like in the short term and years to come.

First things first, congratulations to Adelaide United for smashing the W-League attendance record for a standalone game.

Some 5159 fans filed through the gates of Coopers Stadium on Sunday afternoon to watch the Reds record an impressive come-from-behind 3-1 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers.

It looked great on TV and it kept Adelaide’s W-League side – historically one of the least successful teams in the competition – in the hunt for a spot in the finals.

There weren’t quite as many reasons to celebrate at a rain-drenched McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, where the heroes of the day were surely the ground staff who managed to ensure the pitch was playable.

Brisbane Roar had to dig deep to grind out a 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix, although the Kiwi side were aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty deep in stoppage time.

Riku Danzaki’s handling of Tom Aldred’s hurried clearance was deemed accidental, but it’s hard to see how the Roar didn’t gain an advantage from Danzaki’s unplanned intervention.

Brisbane Roar fans

(Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Adelaide’s men’s side then smashed the Newcastle Jets 4-1 in the second game of an unprecedented double-header, with all four of the Reds’ goals coming in the first half.

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It was a forgettable performance from the Jets, who are fast filling the shoes the Central Coast Mariners used to wear.

That’s what happens when clubs are allowed to wither on the vine due to a lack of investment.

Newcastle might be one of the most parochial cities in Australian football, but the fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the past couple of seasons.

However, one of the things the A-League hasn’t done particularly well is develop a culture of match-going attendance regardless of a team’s form.

Some clubs fare better than others, but it only takes a defeat here or there for many fans to decide they’ve got better things to do.

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Which begs the question of why the A-League shouldn’t start to consider admitting teams from cities boasting genuine community support.

Like Cairns, for example.

I’ve just spent the week up in the far north, and not for the first time it was abundantly clear exactly how much football culture exists in the city.

From Edge Hill United’s latest FFA Cup run making the nightly sports reports on the commercial networks to the FQN Northern Premier League actually getting write-ups from the Cairns Post, it’s a city crying out for some top-flight football.

There are historical links too, with clubs like Mareeba once among the most feared in Queensland. And in the 15,000-capacity Barlow Park, there’s a venue that could play host to A-League football with a rudimentary amount of investment.

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So why don’t we discuss cities like Cairns when we talk about A-League expansion? Lack of imagination, for one thing.

Which is why, following the introduction of Western United and Macarthur FC, we now have three teams each in Sydney and Melbourne and none in cities like Canberra, Wollongong or Auckland.

In his new book Code Wars: The Battle for Fans, Dollars and Survival, Dr Hunter Fujak of Deakin University suggests that globalisation and the spectre of the English Premier League make it tough for the A-League to ever establish itself as a genuine drawcard.

Yet I would argue the chance to watch live football up close and in your own home town is how the A-League should have positioned itself all along.

There’s no reason that shouldn’t include cities like Cairns somewhere along the line, even if it’s in a national second division.

Yes, there’s the question of who pays for it. But how is that any different to what we’ve got now?

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