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If the Matildas can draw sell-out crowds, why can't the A-League Men?

30th October, 2023
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30th October, 2023
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Surely the biggest conundrum facing football in these parts is the fact that of the 59,155 fans who turned up at Optus Stadium, most of them want nothing to do with the domestic leagues.

There was a record crowd for a football game on hand to see the Matildas crush the Philippines 8-0 at Optus Stadium in Olympic qualifying on Sunday, with hometown hero Sam Kerr bagging a hat-trick alongside Caitlin Foord in what was a ferocious display of attacking firepower in Perth.

Full credit to Football Australia for switching to the larger venue. There’s no point locking fans out of these fixtures, even if the sightlines are better at ‘Perth Rectangular Stadium’.

And the FIFA Women’s World Cup has allowed administrators to do the one thing they’ve been obsessing about for years in this country – convince casual fans to buy tickets to football games.

The Matildas being the hottest ticket in town and managing to attract tens of thousands of new fans to the beautiful game is a wonderful thing.

But the record attendance is thrown into sharp relief when you consider Perth Glory’s table-topping women’s team have drawn crowds of 1114 and 1450 – the latter for the first game of a double-header with the men – to their first two games of the season.

Football Australia is having no problem shifting tickets – at least for the Matildas – but the same can’t be said for the Australian Professional Leagues.

A hugely entertaining slate of A-League Men fixtures on Sunday was a case in point, with the 17 goals scored not witnessed by many fans in the stands.

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(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Macarthur got the party started with a deserved 2-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners in Gosford, in a game in which star French striker Valère Germain registered his first A-League goal.

The former Monaco, Marseille, and Montpellier attacker arrived in Australia with an impressive pedigree, and the Mariners found out the hard way what happens when you leave a player of Germain’s quality too much time and space as he rifled home the opener.

Kearyn Baccus then got in on the act with his first goal in 112 A-League appearances, and while defender Brian Kaltak pulled a goal back for the Mariners in stoppage time, the Bulls deserved to head home with all three points.

If that was the entrée, then the main course in Melbourne had to be seen to be believed, as Melbourne Victory came back from an early Mark Natta goal down to see off the Newcastle Jets 5-3 in a rollicking contest at AAMI Park.

It was 36-year-old Bruno Fornaroli who stole the show, bagging a remarkable four first-half goals – including a stupendous rabona in first-half stoppage time to hand Victory a 4-1 lead.

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The veteran striker was desperately unlucky not to add to his tally in a game in which both teams defended as though they’d only just met, and even when Nishan Velupillay raced clear to score Victory’s fifth, they still weren’t home and hosed.

It wasn’t the end of the drama for the day either, as Adelaide United hosted Melbourne City in a rescheduled clash at Coopers Stadium to finish the round.

Teenage sensation Nestory Irankunda looked like he’d produced the key moment of the match when he curled a spectacular free-kick straight into the top corner to open the scoring.

But it was outstanding Adelaide custodian Joe Gauci who arguably broke Melbourne City hearts, staring down Jamie Maclaren from the penalty spot and saving a second-half spot-kick with an outstretched leg.

And the Reds went on to make it count – pummelling City with some of the most free-flowing football we’ve ever seen in the Carl Veart era to smash the hapless visitors 6-0 amid astonishing scenes in Adelaide.

There were 28 goals scored across the round in the A-League Men this weekend, yet convincing fans to return to the stadium seems to be the hardest thing.

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Maybe it’s a slow burn.

But on a weekend in which the Matildas drew a record crowd, it’s as hard to know as ever whether the glass is half-full or half-empty when it comes to football in Australia.

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