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Townsend’s Festival of Football finally comes to fruition - in another city

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21st March, 2024

Football purists all over Australia were cringing this week at the announcement of three blockbuster end-of-season exhibition games bringing English Premier League’s perennial underachievers Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, as well as Women’s Super League heavyweights Arsenal, to the nation’s self-proclaimed sporting capital in May.

Like the circus rolling into town, the A-Leagues end of season extravaganza and the private closed-shop EPL fixture polarises the nation. Some people love it, some people hate it.

Attending exhibition games has never filled me with joy. Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham have graced our shores in recent years, and it was very easy to let the roadshow blaze through town unnoticed with minimum hype and TV coverage behind a paywall.

At least Celtic, Liverpool and Leeds played against A-League teams, more interesting to the local football fan as a somewhat flimsy yard-stick for the quality of our own national league compared to the high-profile European leagues.

After all, every player in Australia would jump at the chance to play in Europe; it is quite rightly seen as superior and a blueprint for what we should be doing here. And whether you like it or not, everyone has a favourite European team.

The A-League All-Stars concept was revived in 2022 post-COVID, when Barcelona were somehow coaxed out to play the cream of the A-League crop at Stadium Australia. It was a huge success, and had Garang Kuol finished that mesmerising run with a goal, the A-League would have shot even further into the SIlver Lake stratosphere.

This was the peak for APL CEO Danny Townsend’s vision of the future that had been so badly affected by the lockdown, and that game was a fantastic advert for our league.


When it all unravelled the following year when the Sydney Grand Final debacle tarnished our reputation and Bayern Munich weren’t remotely interested in an end-of-season jaunt so soon after the end of their own season, the so-called Festival of Football ended up being a disaster.

The astute addition of the A-League Women All Stars in 2024, or colloquially the Dub All Stars, is a masterstroke this year, fuelled by the insatiable appetite for the Matildas.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: Michelle Heyman of Australia celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal during the AFC Women's Olympic Football Tournament Paris 2024 Asian Qualifier Round 3 match between Australia Matildas and Uzbekistan at Marvel Stadium on February 28, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The Matildas celebrate a goal against Uzbekistan. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

There was only one team that could fit the bill and that was Arsenal, a team laden with world-class talent including its own Australian contingent, and of the three games scheduled in Melbourne, this one will surely be the most sought-after. Let’s just hope that the ticketing is in line with other women’s football events in Australia, and we don’t see any outrageous price-gouging to turn real fans away.

Being a diehard Toon fan since birth, the Newcastle United-Tottenham Hotspur fixture on the Wednesday night at the MCG is a must-attend fixture; had it been any other team, I would not be going.

The opportunity to sing the Blaydon Races pre-kick off is just too enticing, hanging out with fellow unhinged Geordies at the game instead of in the early hours at Cheers Bar must be done, and had I turned up my nose at this fixture, after an epic journey to Dunedin to see the Mags play ten years ago, that would be sheer madness.

The added attraction of never having been to a sporting fixture at Melbourne’s premier sporting venue saw me booking flights as soon as the news came through, and the addition of the two A-League All Star fixtures on the Friday night at Marvel Stadium sealed an already done deal.


Being a diehard Sydney FC fan since inception, and with the team consolidating a top-six spot in the home straight, the mouth-watering prospect of a Grand Final the very next day is not beyond the realms of possibility. Wouldn’t it be great to know where that is, so we can book our flights and accommodation or extend our stay in Melbourne with confidence?

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Funnily enough, Townsend’s idea wasn’t so ridiculous after all. If the APL could have delivered on an end-of-season festival of football last year after consulting the fans first, we could be looking at the biggest week of A-League football ever seen. The A-Leagues Grand Final Festival of Football is back, baby, get on board!