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Record crowds, star players, entertaining games: A glimmer of hope for the 'basket case' that is Australian domestic football

16th October, 2023
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16th October, 2023
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Based on what we have seen over the last 12 months, maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that football in Australia might one day become what so many of us have hoped for.

With high expectations for the new domestic seasons stirred by the World Cup run of the Socceroos in Qatar and the most memorable month, as the Matildas went within 90 minutes of qualifying for a World Cup Final on home soil, further signs of life were seen across the weekend as the A-League Women’s competition began with style.

It was probably the most enjoyable round I have ever had the privilege of watching. Goals, twist and turns, tight matches and a little controversy thrown into the mix made for a cracking opening weekend.

Two red cards spiced up the F3 Derby that saw the Mariners back in top-flight play, Perth hit the ground running with a stylish win against Western United and Adelaide shared the points with Canberra in an open and dramatic 4-4 draw at Coopers Stadium.

Most notable was the 11,471 people who rocked up to Allianz Stadium in Sydney to watch the Sydney Derby. For context, that number exceeded the figure achieved at the 2022-23 Grand Final and became the highest-ever attendance for a standalone A-League Women’s match.

The F3 Derby drew 5735 and thus, as Saturday came to a close, the competition had already seen more people attend matches across a single A-League Women’s round than ever before.

With returning Matildas Cortnee Vine, Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams, as well as international stars welcomed to the league in pre-game ceremonies across the weekend, there was a genuine sense of celebration and appreciation.

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Thousands of kids under 16 were in attendance without having been required to ask mum or dad for the cash to do so. The gesture to engage young fans to get out to matches via the use of the Liberty A-League Pass was obviously embraced and the subsequent atmosphere at some of the games was clearly reflective of a new energy in the women’s competition.

The entire weekend had Australian football fans smiling. By the end of it, over 20,000 people had clicked through the turnstiles and broadcaster Paramount+ would have been as happy as it has ever been since investing in the game and hoping to assist football in hitting new heights in Australia across the next decade.

Frankly, I was a little chuffed at what we saw.

A-League Women's Crowd Record

A new record for Australian women’s football. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Now, with the men set to join the women on the main stage this weekend, the kickstart could be doubled down upon.

Coopers will be rocking on Friday night, with a doubleheader that might go close to seeing the house full sign brandished in Adelaide, the Big Blue in Sydney will drag plenty through the gates and both the Wanderers and Glory will be hopeful of solid crowds to begin their seasons.

Another excellent turnout in the women’s competition in Round 2 and the cumulative number could well be in the vicinity of 100,000, which would be a stunning result for the leagues.

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All the talk around the Women’s World Cup was about legacy; exactly what would the fallout be and what tangible improvements would be seen as a result of hosting such a significant event in Australia?

In the very short term, the evidence suggests that a sugar hit in terms of interest in the women’s league has been achieved.

Moreover, HBF Park has benefitted from the event, Melbourne Victory women now occupy the Home of the Matildas at La Trobe University and Coopers, Allianz, CommBank Stadium and Industree Group Stadium are all excellent places to watch football.

Never before have our domestic leagues had the number of excellent facilities available to them that they currently enjoy and with most teams settled and out of the nomadic existences seen across the last decade, the newfound stability is clear.

Paramount+ appears to have finally delivered on a more polished product that allows a little more flexibility for people watching at home and when bracketed with the intent to engage the kids, the stadiums, the standard of play across both competitions and the obvious enthusiasm of crowds, Australian domestic football looks to be sitting on a potential launch pad.

Now, with some friendly weather, excellent matches and, heaven forbid, a little effort from sections of media historically reluctant to climb aboard and support football, a fork in the road appears to be approaching.

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Right now is the moment to get out to matches in ever-increasing numbers. This may well be the beginning of the change for which the domestic game has hoped and the A-League Women looms as the catalyst for it.

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