Thursday, October 08, 2009
2009/10: First Cycle
After a few games of the campaign, Tony Tannous and I had a chat about the football we'd seen so far; Tony was of the opinion that there had been an upturn in the on-field standard, while I thought that it was a case of same old, same old. Over the last few weeks, I've come around to Tony's point of view somewhat.
Although the new boys from the Gold Coast have lost their sheen, there has been improvement elsewhere. Sydney FC put in one of their best-ever performances in the first half against the Central Coast last weekend; the Mariners, too, have not looked quite as blunt as many feared, largely thanks to the contributions of Michael McGlinchey and (in patches) Nicky Travis.
Newcastle and North Queensland have both been playing much better football than their results suggest. If not for a few defensive issues, including the regular blunders of their former Northern Spirit keeper, it's reasonable to think that Ian Ferguson's team might be in touch with the leaders at this stage. Branko Culina's men have offered entertainment aplenty; Song Jin-Hyung, Fabio Vignaroli, Kaz Patafta and Ali Abbas have all raised a cheer, while Adam D'Apuzzo is maturing nicely. With Michael Bridges now in the mix, hopefully the men from the Hunter can start to find the net a little more often.
Melbourne have done very well to make light of the departure of Danny Allsopp; a few spectacular goals from Carlos Hernandez have helped the cause, and the team as a whole looks to have recovered some of the determination of last season. Adelaide are still searching in vain for an effective striker, but at least the A-League's traditional "promising kid" club has unearthed another exciting prospect in Matthew Leckie.
Perth? Much more effective than in previous years, partly due to the addition of a genuine penalty-box predator to their ranks. I'm yet to be convinced by the contributions of their returning Socceroo brigade; Mile Sterjovski is yet to really shine, and Jacob Burns, last seen on these shores as a briskly effective young midfielder for Parramatta Power, has returned as a typical engine-room bully. Some of his tackles this season have been, well, blood-curdling.
Wellington have struggled to replace Shane Smeltz, as expected, but Paul Ifill and Leo Bertos have provided some bright moments. The Kiwis are not to be discounted, but the lack of real quality elsewhere, particularly in midfield, may tell against them in the end. Brisbane have been affected, though not too badly, by the absence of the Mass-Matt combination in midfield: it will be interesting to see whether Matt McKay can spark a revival against the Gold Coast this weekend.
The competition is, of course, much closer at the top this season. Although one could argue that the lack of any outstanding sides is the chief cause of this, it makes for a more interesting struggle...even though the six-team finals series renders any sense of struggle at the top, or just below the top, a tad meaningless at this point.
As for the refereeing, it still hasn't improved. Supposed diving (Ufuk Talay) punished to its fullest extent, horrific tackling (Robbie Kruse) treated leniently. Not to mention the usual cuckoo-clock yellow cards for shirts-off (Henrique) and playing on after the whistle (Victor Sikora). The priorities of A-League referees are, as usual, dead wrong.
And now to the tricky matter of the crowds. Many pundits, including Les Murray, feel that the overlap with the NRL and AFL seasons has hurt the competition badly. They have a point, certainly, and the return to five-figure crowds last weekend was surely significant. But a 27-game season, with a few international breaks (though not this coming weekend) means cutting into the egg-ball codes' turf at some point, and presumably the aim of the early start was to avoid compromising the A-League's own finals series. Questionable policy, perhaps, but Archie Fraser et al. were in an unenviable position here.
Looking on the bright side, if the teams can continue the improvement which many of them seem to be undergoing, the crowds will probably come. The A-League certainly needs a quick rise in the crowd figures, with investors still hard to come by and the second Melbourne and Sydney franchises looking far from the finished product.
You couldn't open 442 or 'The Roar' without alarming articles about the A-League predicament etc. I think many football fans have bad memories of the NSL and have a fear to be back there, and once the crowd figures drop there is panic.
All sports attendances will go up and down. Inevitably the 'new kids on the block' aspect of the A-League has now passed. Teams haven't had the luxury like the AFL and NRL to have decades of building a solid bedrock of support. So we can't really make a comparison.
I always thought that the big attendances that we experienced in the past, especially in Melbourne, could not be sustained in the long run. But if we build a reasonable number that will attend whether the team is going well or badly than than it will be a success.
Sydney vs Melbourne at Sydney on the last day of the season, I mean, really? Cmon.
(Though the NQF and GCU crowds ARE a real worry).
There are a few other issues with crowds including ticket prices; Brisbane and Gold Coast especially. I really dont know how they justify their ridiculous prices.
Also, no more mid-week fixtures!