Sunday, February 17, 2008


How the West Won't Be Won

Five years ago, you'd never have believed it.

The AFL attempting to expand its market in Sydney, not so much to wrest the market from rugby league (which is well-established anyway), but to forestall the continuing growth of football. When even hardened egg-ball columnists such as Roy Masters and Greg Baum can frankly admit that football is now a serious player in the scramble for market share, and was a serious factor in the mooted AFL expansion, you know the sporting landscape has changed.

And this only three years into the A-League. The architects of the post-Crawford domestic competition can afford a little chortle of satisfaction.

Of course, plans to expand the A-League in Queensland next year will have made the AFL sit up and take notice, given that, with the Titans now established and the new "Gold Coast Galaxy" looking promising, the lucrative Gold Coast market might just become a virtually closed shop.

So, the counterattack: staking out the ground in Western Sydney before the A-League has a chance to. And in my opinion, it's a blunder.

Driving through Western Sydney, one is always struck by the vast areas of parkland set aside for competitive sport. But they tend to be arranged into rectangles, not ovals.

Western Sydney simply isn't AFL country. As far as I can see, the Swans (like Sydney FC to a much lesser extent) have relied on the more affluent areas of Sydney and the desire for novelty and separate identity that often goes along with affluence; it's difficult to see the same attitudes prevailing west of Parramatta.

A Western Sydney A-League team is also a little more problematic than some have made out, given the club allegiances (Marconi, Sydney United etc.) that already exist in that part of the world. Having said that, the crowds that Penrith-Nepean United attracted in the NSW Premier League last season, not to mention the excellent turnout at CUA Stadium for the final, would suggest that Penrith - with its proximity to the football-friendly Blue Mountains - would be a worthwhile candidate for A-League expansion. CUA Stadium is not too far away from being an adequate A-League venue.

As for the likelihood of the AFL move working, I'll leave the last word to a former AFL great:

Skilton said he didn't believe the competition needed more than 16 sides and said the game's development in NSW had not progressed far enough to split the supporter base.

"They want to expand the game so they can get more publicity. But I don't think we have the depth.

"How many NSW kids are in our side, let alone how many Sydney kids?"

Good to hear from a Sydneysider about this. If you rely on the Melbourne media is like Western Sydney is awaiting an AFL team like some sort of heavenly gift.

Just a brief note on Greg Baume. I would not consider him an 'hardened AFL writer' As a general sport journalist of course he writes mainly on Australian Football and Cricket. However he has written good pieces on football.

This one about the John Moriaty, the first aboriginal to be selected to play for the National Team, is one of my favourites. Baum's parents were Jewish German refugees, so I guess he also has some cultural connections to the World Game.

P.S. Mike have you read Foster getting stuck into Baan?

Makes a bit of difference from the usual.
Thanks for the interest Guido. Yeah, a bit hard on Baum really, I don't mind his stuff.

...P.S. Mike have you read Foster getting stuck into Baan?...

Did see that. I'm thinking there's some sort of story there we don't know about...yes, Baan has become a bit invisible, but those are pretty harsh words (and a big volte-face). I think we should be told. ;-)
I agree mikey.

I think AFL's move into the west will be a big mistake as real football is a lot more popular and will overtake AFL even with a few years head start.
As always great post Mike. I heard the Blacktown Mayor on the radio and I am going to write my thoughts on my site.

Thanks also for the Blue Mts comments - go the Redbacks!

I am concerned that unlike the Swans, Sydney FC haven't picked up the moneyed East.
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