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Opinion

Forget those bringing down the game, what if we embraced the A-League and Australian football cups are actually half-full?

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Expert
15th April, 2024
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The Sydney FC vs Western Sydney Wanderers Derby on Saturday night reminded everyone of just where football will eventually end up in Australia.

Earlier that day, my Saturday morning walk took me in and around Balcombe Estate in the north-west of Sydney and along a walking track that snaked its way through six football pitches, where somewhere near 200 tiny tots were battling out matches and fighting for the sphere as passionately as kids are prone to do.

It was a beautiful and heart-warming sight for people like me who dream big for the game and see the slow but steady progress it has made in Australia.

It was a sight no doubt emulated at thousands of grounds around the country, as the nation’s most participated team sport launches into another winter season of activity.

Amidst the drama and turmoil that has and continues to hold the game back; keeping it reined inside a frustrating stable despite the booming participation numbers, football chips away and slowly lurches towards the final form of itself.

What if we celebrated that and managed to weed out those hell-bent on bringing down a game that is doing a hell of a lot right?

What if we celebrated the A-Leagues and their quality a little more and somehow convinced the slowly decaying NSL types to climb aboard, adopt a team and realise that the competition was the right strategic step to take after the former league had crumbled like a Roman ruin, effectively rotting from the core?

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What if people actually appreciated the ten per cent increase being reflected in Macarthur FC’s crowds in 2023/24 and the near seven per cent increase in the number of people coming through the gates to watch the league’s other newest edition Western United?

Macarthur FC players celebrate a goal with fans. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

It would be quite astonishing if the average Australian could comprehend the 59 per cent increase in attendance across the A-League Women’s this season, as well as the wonderfully level competition that saw the underdog Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners advance to the semi-finals over the weekend just past.

Just like the Phoenix in the men’s competition, they loom as new contenders after eliminating two of the big guns in Western United and Melbourne Victory.

What if people actually took a moment to reflect on the Women’s World Cup held in Australia/New Zealand during 2023 and the repercussions for participation and investment that the event brought?

Whilst some may be shouting from the rooftops rather negatively and wondering just where all the money has gone, the $398 million invested by state and federal governments prior to the tournament has had a definitive impact on football at a grassroots level, as well as other sports that benefited peripherally.

The Australian economy received an estimated $1.32 billion injection thanks to the tournament and football touched the hearts of around 70 per cent of the Australian population during the Matildas’ run to the semi-finals.

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In spite of a $2.9 billion funding gap still existing in facility investment according to FA Chief Executive James Johnson, much has been done to improve the base upon which Australian football will be built and expanded in the future.

What if people stopped to comprehend precisely what the Socceroos managed to achieve in Qatar in 2022; advancing beyond the group stage and losing only to the two World Cup finalists along the way?

Moreover, just imagine if everyone in the country was made aware of the five consecutive World Cup qualifications for the Socceroos since 2006 and the brilliant successes of scores of young professionals plying their trade abroad off the back of international exposure.

Never in the history of Australian football have the players leaving our shores been as talented as a collective.

As a now truly global game, football success abroad has never been more challenging and difficult to achieve, yet cynical voices still holler from the rooftops about Aussies of the past who never had to compete with players from the burgeoning continent of Africa, or the emerging Asian nations and the increased competitiveness in the player market as a whole.

What if Australian football fans could celebrate their A-Leagues, knowing full well that players were not being protected and hidden from detection when it came to recreational drug taking; as the AFL powers at be, club doctors and players lie through their teeth to the most important people of all, the fans?

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What if parents of young footballers could celebrate the fact that their son’s and daughter’s heads and brains were being protected as best they can be, and not treated as the collateral damage they are in more brutal games where legal action against the governing bodies will almost certainly become more frequent in the future?

And most of all, what if Australian football fans could reflect on all that has and continues to be achieved, despite coming off the back of historically appalling funding and support from government; bodies quick to pander to others, as well as a hostile media that frankly, could mostly care less if football didn’t exist?

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What if we dare looked at football that way and realised that like a good shampoo, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

As I’ve written before, I’ll be dead when it does, but it is still fun to see the little wins along the way.

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