Just one week after the great result by our Socceroos in the Qatar World Cup in reaching the Second Round, Australian Football missed the excellent opportunity to maintain the positive momentum as we head towards the 2023 Women’s World Cup as hosts. Once again, the code did what it does best, it shot itself in the foot and divided fans further.
The A-League confirmed a controversial plan to hold all the men’s and women’s grand finals in Sydney over the next three years. Yep. That is regardless of who is playing, and the decision has prompted outrage from Australia’s football community.
Unlike the NRL and AFL, the A-League grand final – men and women – is hosted in the home city of the top-seeded team. It is natural and fair and allows every team to aspire to get the points. This will no longer be the case.
The deal struck between the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) and the NSW government will see all A-League men’s and women’s deciders played in Sydney for three-years. The NSW government will also stump up more than $10 million to see that happen.
The money is needed no doubt. However, the decision was met with almost total disapproval from teams and fans. The backlash has been swift and almost uniform.
Melbourne Victory’s chairman Anthony Di Pietro resigned as a director of the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), due to the fallout from the contentious decision to sell all A-League grand finals to Sydney for three years. Di Pietro’s decision was effective immediately, and he told news outlets that it was a decision linked to the contentious move.
“It has become clear that in order for me to act in the best interests of Melbourne Victory and football in Victoria, I needed to resign as a board member of APL.”
“My resignation was ultimately driven by the decision announced yesterday, that sees the next three grand finals being hosted in Sydney,” Di Pietro told media.
Fans of Melbourne’s two biggest clubs vowed to stage a walkout in protest during Saturday’s derby. The A-League’s judgement to sell the men’s and women’s finals to Sydney has split club owners.
It even prompted the unprecedented public opposition to the deal by Socceroos star Craig Goodwin.
In a tweet the Goodwin said: “I wanted to clear things up publicly. I may be in the video for the @aleaguemen choice to host Grand Finals in Sydney, but I do not support it. I am a player, but I am also a fan.”
The APL went on the defensive to defend their actions. Chief executive, Danny Townsend, said the move was “a unique opportunity” to build a new tradition for football fans in the style of many other football countries around the world, with a week-long “festival of football” planned in the build-up to the game.
NSW sports minister Alister Henskens went out of his way to defend the move, thus politicising it. He said that three clubs based in Sydney, and another two in regional NSW.
He went further and said that because NSW is home to the most clubs in the A-League, it had “the greatest supporter base, most passionate fans, the highest level of football participation and the best football venues, including Australia’s largest rectangular football stadium”.
The mistrust between the big states – validates the long-held view by Victorians that the game is too Sydney-centric and that NSW players enjoy a disappointed representation in national sides may now become open hostility. Further acrimony and division is the outcome of the A-League’s decision.
Henskens’ comments seem more like volleys in for the NSW state elections in March.
The minister’s pitch seems to be aimed at voters, especially those in Sydney’s West, who suffered the most during Covid in 2021.
The only time the game is united is for 90 min of playing time when the Socceroos and Matildas compete on the world stage. Outside that, sadly, little seems to have changed in the last few decades in the game.
Peter Kokotis is a former football agent and is now a youth director in South Melbourne SC.