In spite of the continuing and significant COVID-19 realities presenting themselves in New South Wales, Football Australia has released its domestic match calendar for 2021-22.
The calendar encompasses the period between October 29, 2021, a day before the A-League launches into action on the much anticipated Ten Network/Paramount+ platform and October 28, 2022, just 13 days after the newly positioned FFA Cup final.
In between, it brings football together in a more effective manner than has ever been achieved in Australia.
With a certain freedom gained after the severing of ties with the previous major broadcast partner, FA CEO James Johnson’s dialogue with the APL, member federations and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) has informed the document, which has been met with almost universal positivity in the hours since its release.
In what is a logical and well-informed decision, the A-League returns to its traditional place on the calendar, running from October to May. The W-League will begin in late November and culminate in a grand final in the early days of April.
While the NPLW will continue to run entirely out of step with the still limited top tier of women’s football in Australia, thus providing the opportunity for the best young talent in the country to play all year round, one of the major innovations is the increased focus on the men’s NPL competition.
In 2022, the NPL will begin in late February and is scheduled for completion in early spring, with a designated finals weekend on September 11. A fortnight later, the NPLW will experience the same exposure on September 25.
The aim is obviously to lift the profile of the NPL and NPLW competitions, particularly after Australian fans witnessed first-hand just how much young talent existed in them when it was called upon throughout the pandemic-affected 2020-21.
Notably, FA and the APL have managed to navigate the challenging waters surrounding the issue of transfer windows and formed an exciting agreement, which stands to benefit the Australian game.
For the first time, both leagues will break during the FIFA men’s and women’s international windows, despite a caveat in the agreement that appropriately cites the continuing concerns of COVID-19 and an always present need to be flexible and agile should the situation deem it necessary.
Johnson cited a continuation of much of the work he and his team had already done, labelling the new calendar as “the next phase in the evolution of the Australian football landscape towards more aligned football competitions and a more connected Australian football pyramid.”
Danny Townsend, managing director of APL, perhaps expressed the broad support for the new structure most emphatically in the statement he made to coincide with FA’s release of the calendar.
“The Domestic Match Calendar is the framework for the whole pyramid of football – this announcement is demonstrative of the determination of Football Australia, APL and all the other football stakeholders to achieve outcomes that serve the whole game.”
Perhaps most compelling is the inclusion of a placeholder period of play, alluding specifically to a national second tier competition, beginning in late January and running into May.
There are limited details as to the exact shape and form of such a competition, yet for Australian football fans who have craved the installation of promotion and relegation and more severe consequences for the A-League cellar dwellers, it will be music to their ears.
In another reshaping of competitions, the 2022 FFA Cup will be finalised prior to the launch of the 2022-23 A-League season. That will provide Australian football’s most prized knockout competition with some much needed clear air and coincide nicely with the culmination of the NPL season.
In essence, the FFA Cup final becomes the final match of the season, before the A-League carnival begins all over again in late October.
Frankly, and in spite of the challenges in constructing such a visionary plan amid the existing health concerns on the east coast of Australia, FA has produced a document that outlines the most potentially connected football pyramid that Australia has ever seen.
No doubt, its imperfections will be pointed out in the days to follow. However, Johnson has clearly shown both an awareness of existing flaws and the need for change in the domestic game.
With future tinkering and adaptation, this initial step in the right direction could well become the blueprint for long-term success.