Many still held hopes that the A-League would begin on October 30th, yet the lingering realities of COVID-19 have eventually forced the briefest of delays and Australia’s top flight of men’s professional football will now kick off on the 19th of November.
Just six rounds of matches have been announced and most of the excitement around the fixtures published by Australian Professional Leagues lies in the involvement of Network Ten and Paramount+ and the promising start that the host broadcaster has made in its contribution to Australian football.
Simon Hill and Andy Harper have been superb in the commentary box together and Georgia Yeoman-Dale, Mark Milligan and Alex Brosque have brought immense knowledge and credibility to the matches Network Ten has covered thus far.
Quite frankly, it has been a breath of fresh air and a far cry from the disinterest displayed by previous broadcast rights holder Fox Sports in the dying days of its contract with Australian football.
In fact, until recent days it was hard to imagine anything putting a dampener on what loomed as a season of redemption and recovery for the A-League.
However, while it might be tempting to blindly laud the new season and embrace the return of unlimited crowds, those fans desperate to get back to football matches, the lack of fairness and equity within the recently published draw does raise serious questions.
With future interstate travel remaining a tenuous issue and high COVID-19 infection rates in Victoria and New South Wales still the norm, Rounds 1-6 have been created with specific regions and their current or predicted future restrictions in mind.
Thus, the draw is presented to us as a conference-based one, where teams will play others within their state or region depending on the demands of the jurisdictions within which they are based, before the competition eventually opens up to something that resembles the usual to and fro of home-and-away play.
The messaging from head office will be quite clear in that while there may be a little misfortune or good fortune across the early rounds, the swings and roundabouts of professional sport will see justice well and truly applied by the time the final throes of the season arrive in autumn.
That is what the designers of the draw would have us believe. However, I call BS!
Most double-vaxxed A-League fans may well be too hyped and enthusiastic to even notice the atrocious inequity built into the opening rounds.
No matter how happy fans are to see football back in full swing, nor how hopeful they are of their team’s pending season, supporters of Perth Glory should be furious for the second season in succession.
Richard Garcia’s team will once again suffer the most difficult of starts to an A-League campaign. In 2020-21, the battle was an inability to actually play games thanks to border issues that saw the men in purple destined for far too many games in far too few days later in the season.
Despite a run that had finals play well within their grasp, it all fell to pieces for Glory, with multiple wins each week proving far too much to achieve, despite a majority of their games being played at home.
This time around it appears to begin equally as difficult for Perth. The Glory play every week across the opening six rounds. However, three trips to Melbourne and one each to Brisbane and Adelaide come off the back of their only home fixture in Round 1 against the Reds.
From the other teams outside the southern eastern seaboard conference, Brisbane Roar fare much better with three home matches and Adelaide enjoy the same balanced start to 2021-22.
Within the lucky and points-boosting east coast conference, Tony Popovic’s Victory leave Melbourne just once, and champions Melbourne City face trips to Adelaide and Brisbane, with its other four matches also inside Victoria.
Even more fortunate, Central Coast Mariners, Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Macarthur FC, Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix will not leave New South Wales until new years, while the Glory battle away on the road and somewhat fan-less.
I am all for keeping sporting competitions going during COVID-19 times and recommencing where possible. However, doing so at the expense of the integrity of the competition concerns me greatly.
The six-week draw was boldly announced due to the fact that the powers at be felt the league was ready to recommence. My simple retort would be that if there is such advantage and disadvantage within the draw itself across the opening rounds, was the competition not quite as ready to recommence as they would have had us believe?
It appears that being able to recommence a league does not necessarily mean such a move ensures a fair and equitable start to the competition.