Road to Russia 2018- Why is Brisbane missing out?Posted: September 1, 2016
Tonight the Australian National Team began their final round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia over in Perth, but instead of talking about that game I thought id take a look at something that has seemingly gone under the radar- will the Brisbane public get the chance to see the team play in the 2018 World Cup Qualification cycle?
There’s plenty of facets to this, with factors such as the Suncorp Stadium pitch in the 2015 Asian Cup, the State Governments seeming disinterest in pursuing a qualifier and the FFA’s dropping of the ball in this market. All of those, in addition to other things will be covered, but first, let’s put into perspective just how long it has been since a qualifier has been held here in Brisbane.
Since the conclusion of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup -for which it must be pointed out Brisbane secured two Socceroos matches, although that was the AFC’s decision and the draw as opposed to the FFA bringing a game here- there has been six games played in Australia with two have been in Sydney, and one in Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Melbourne. 2016 will be rounded out with qualifiers in Perth –tonight- and Melbourne –October- meaning the Victorian and West Australian capitals will join Sydney with two games since the Asian Cup. Adelaide will also join that group in March next year.
Aside of smaller capital cities Darwin and Hobart, the most glaring absentee from that list is Brisbane, the countries third biggest city and it’s looking like the National Team could go an entire qualification cycle without returning to South-East Queensland.
I should point out here I have absolutely no problem with games being shared around the nation, and the likes of Adelaide, Canberra and Perth have missed out for too long, but for the game to be truly shared around the nation it’s time for a return to the Queensland Capital.
For those who can’t remember the last qualifier in Brisbane, it was June 12, 2012, some 1542 days ago when Japan travelled to Brisbane a game which ended in a 1-1 draw in front of 40,189 spectators.
In fact, if the FFA had their time over, this game would probably never have been played in Brisbane, but due to a pre-draw announcement of the first game of round 4 being in Brisbane the FFA were forced to play their biggest home game of the cycle here as opposed to the bigger stadia in Melbourne or Sydney. For the record, if that situation did occur it’s unlikely Brisbane would of missed out in that round of games, with one of the 2013 qualifiers played up here instead.
While it’s been four years since a qualifier in Brisbane, it’s been even longer since the Queensland public has had the opportunity to meet the players at a fan day, events which the FFA now hold before almost every game played in Australia. The last such opportunity in this region was way back in October 2008, when Pim Verbeeks’ side held an open training session down on the Gold Coast.
Given the FFA’s marketing of the game is based almost exclusively around getting the youth of Australia to put football front of mind through digital marketing and other means, it’s an astonishingly long period of time for the third biggest market in the country to go without.
There’s probably an entire generation of youngsters who’ve not had the opportunity to meet there footballing heroes, get the photo, autographs ect, at a time when the game’s arguably never had more role models. Whichever way you choose to slice it, it’s a massive failing of the FFA, particularly considering the games marketing and promotional direction is to attract the attention of the next generation.
As mentioned at the start there’s two primary groups to blame for this situation, and while the FFA have to take their share of the blame, the majority of the blame has to go to the State Government who’ve shown absolutely no interest in attracting major footballing events to Brisbane.
Since the Palaszczuk government came to power on January 31st 2015 –ironically the night the Socceroos became Champions of Asia- the state have had just one major footballing event when English giants Liverpool came to Brisbane in July last year –however that deal was done under the term of the previous government-. The opportunity to repeat that with a further exhibition game was passed up this year.
The current Government’s philosophy on Sporting Events seems to be focused almost entirely around Rugby League, with the Government trying to secure the 2019 NRL Grand Final while the Olympic Stadium in Homebush is refurbished, in addition to the 2017 RL World Cup Final and the annual All-Stars fixture.
Other major sporting events the state has its invested in include the potential return of the Indy Car race to join the V8 Supercars on the Gold Coast and the addition of a Day-Night Test Match this upcoming summer.
Funds are also allocated to annual events such as the Brisbane International, the Australian PGA Golf Tournament and Wallabies fixtures. The state is also set to host the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth games, however funding from that is separate to the Tourism and Events Queensland budget.
When asked about the possibility of Queensland missing out on this cycle of World Cup Qualifiers, Tourism & Events Qld (TEQ) GM Megan Saunders simply said that “Queensland deserves to host a game and expects FFA to allow fans in Qld the chance to wish the team well before the World Cup”.
There’s plenty of truth in that statement, however there was no commitment to put in a competitive bid for a game, while the South Australian and Western Australian governments are actively pursuing regular fixtures.
Perhaps if Queensland does deserve a game, Tourism and Events could use some of the $49.9 million dollars allocated to it in the most recent budget in putting a competitive bid in? Maybe? Probably not…
Asian Cup 2015
While this isn’t likely to be a major stumbling block, the shocking presentation of the playing surface at the Continental showpiece in 2015 is probably doing the State little favours in trying to pursue a game.
There’s no getting around it, the field for the Asian Cup was a disgrace. There were was a period of almost two weeks following the most recent match at the ground before the first game of the tournament in Brisbane on January 10th, and the field simply wasn’t up to standard.
Stadium GM Alan Graham blamed the failure of the summer grass to populate the playing surface, and while that may or may not be accurate the Stadium knew the tournament was coming and could of done a lot more. Newcastle for instance had a complete returfing in advance of the tournament given their grounds previous problems with the playing surface.
The surface was slammed by almost everyone who used it, with China boss Alan Perrin and Australian manager Ange Postecoglou the two most critical of the surface. The Asian Cup organising committee was also scathing saying “We hired a venue to present world class facilities and a world class pitch for a world class event, and this should not have happened. The venue has to take responsibility”.
At the end of the day though, Homebush in Sydney has repeatedly dished up sub-par pitches for games, with Postecoglou labelling the playing surface a disgrace for the recent friendly with Greece in June. So does that mean Homebush is also crossed off the list of potential World Cup Qualifier venues? Highly doubtful given the venue has been used for six qualifiers since the switch to Asia, the most of any venue across Australia.
We now move to the FFA, the games governing body who despite the inaction of the State Government have to take some of the blame.
Before we get to that however, it’s important to point out the FFA have been running an open bidding process for these games –with the exception of the Japan game which was designated for Sydney or Melbourne-, so the State Government have been given the opportunity to bid.
The State Governments of South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT have been very proactive in their pursuit of games and have been rewarded with five qualifiers between them so far this cycle.
Despite the lack of a competitive bid from the TEQ, the FFA need to consider more than just the top dollar on hosting rights for these games.
Growth of the game should absolutely be amongst the governing bodies’ biggest priorities and along with taking the national team to all corners of the nation, something which they’ve done better since the Asian Cup.
One of the big selling points of a Socceroos Qualifier here in Brisbane surrounds the coach Ange Postecoglou, who resurrected his coaching career here in Brisbane with back to back titles in 2011 and 2012. Sure Ange brought his Socceroos to Brisbane for the Asian Cup in 2015, but to bring his side back to where he relaunched his career, for a World Cup Qualifier would be a special moment for both the coach and the football community in Brisbane.
Given the current state of events here in Brisbane with so much frustration surround the off-field dramas at Brisbane Roar, a Socceroos World Cup Qualifier could act as both a much needed distracting and event to unite the Brisbane football community, and a conduit to say the FFA does value this market, a claim which has been made many times here and elsewhere in the last 18 months.
Will Brisbane get a game?
At this stage you would have to say the odds on this would be about 50-50 with three of the five home games of this final round of qualifying already accounted for. In addition to tonight’s game against Iraq, October’s game against Japan is pencilled in for Melbourne while March’s home game with UAE is set for the Adelaide Oval.
That leaves just two home games left up for grabs – Saudi Arabia on June 8th and Thailand on September 5th– and at least one of those will go to Sydney who are yet to get a game this round. That game will likely be the Saudi game as part of a Confederations Cup farewell, leaving just the Thailand game in October up for grabs.
Reports in the Courier Mail recently suggested that while the initial plan was for a game in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney in this final round. However the story went on to suggest that the fifth game could well end up in Canberra due to a lack of a competitive bid from the Queensland Government. There’s also the fact that in both the 2010 and 2014 qualification series Sydney received two qualifiers in this stage.
All things considered, if Brisbane does get a game this cycle, it will be the Thailand game in October next year, a game which could prove to be highly anticipated, or largely irrelevant depending on results.
Giving the timing of the Saudi Arabia game – just before the teams departure to Russia for the 2017 Confederations Cup campaign-, you’d say the likelihood of that game being in Brisbane rather remote. A farewell/ send off type occasion at the Olympic Stadium is more likely.
There’s also the question of would the FFA move the Thailand game back to one of the southern states should it be an all or nothing encounter to maximise the potential gate takings, or alternatively would the Brisbane football public be prepared to pay premium prices given everything that’s happened in the past 18 months for a game with nothing on the line and a high likelihood of a second string side taking part.
While this is no doubt a secondary consideration, the Thailand game would be unlikely to allow the time for a fan day to engage the football community , although with a Thursday morning –Australian time- game in the Middle East and a Tuesday night home game there remains a possibility if qualification has already been secured.
In the end though you’d have to say it’s a 50-50 chance that Brisbane secures a game in this World Cup Qualifiers, and for it to happen it seems like one of two things will have to happen; Either the Queensland Government will eventually step up and put in a competitive bid for a game, or the FFA will have to step away from their current desire to take the games to the highest bidder.
Of the two scenario’s it’s tough to say which is the more likely to occur, which makes it even more difficult to say if this situation will be resolved.