A League 2.0

By Brian McIver.

First home game of 2013/2014. Walking to the stadium. People are wearing their colours proudly, laughing, and singing. The pubs are loud and the streets are packed. The field is immaculately manicured; the returning members don’t know whether to look at the grass, or try to memorise the way to the seats they will be sitting in for the rest of the season.  Later, when the first home goal is scored, people scream, fireworks go off and a huge jet of flame blasts in front of the supporters’ bay.

It’s a new season for the A-league, and the change in the air is palpable. The atmosphere at home games has been absolutely electric;  Suncorp stadium lets off fireworks every time the Roar scores, and the fans at Bluetongue have a brass band which adds both a European feel but also a lovely busking vibe.

Australian football now enjoys massive sponsorship, and the level of coverage in the media since even the last season is staggering. Two free to air channels have covered the A league games this year, either as one off events or regular programming. As well, we now have weekly variety shows providing commentary on the round’s matches. And the best thing is that none of them use the dreaded “S” word – which Australia is only just starting to wean itself off using.

We’re well past the stage of having to use foreign marquees to prop up the league, and actually now regularly export Australian trained players to other leagues and teams overseas. Our coaches are now seen as world class and are marketing themselves globally as our players have done. Assistant coaches step up when the head coach moves on, and these new head coaches usually do well.

 But every football fan already knows this; we watch the news and know what’s happening. We know our game and our teams.

So what is the long term future of the A league? How big can the league grow in a country of just 20 odd million?

What is most important is how the Australian brand of football develops and defines itself on the global stage. Alongside other styles such as the English long ball game, and the attack heavy South American game,  Australian football must rely on and be led by players who have learnt the game here in order to continue our style – counterattacking panache, dominance by possession,  and physicality.

Together with the way we play the game, the way we support our teams is just as important. The home supporter bays are regularly full, with the call and respond chants now being sung by the majority of the crowd. But we still have room to grow; watching the home crowds in the AFC is certainly food for thought and definitely played a part in the performance of the A league teams.

But we need to not simply scream and cheer at the games. We need to support the players stepping up from the Youth League. We need to take the time to learn their names, and support them as much as the first team. Every time a Youth player makes their debut, this should be the highlight of the match, as it shows the A league is succeeding and perpetuating itself.

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