Now that Tim Cahill has once again dragged his supporting cast through the trenches and put Australia just one step away from an Asian Cup finals appearance, the conclusion to the tournament now appears on the horizon.
None of us will forget the event and who really knows when another of this size and scale will grace our shores again. The World Cup dream appears distant and another Asian Cup would appear unlikely in my lifetime.
Much can be learned from the festival and hopefully the powers that be use the feedback of fans, spectators, viewers and participants to improve the experiences for all involved in Australian football and the A-League.
Many have discussed the continuation of the positivity developed during the tournament. Some media was appealing for this even prior to the actual tournament starting, anticipating an unprecedented level of conversation and energy around football in this country.
This raises two questions. How would we rate the overall spectacle? And how do we parlay any positives into the future of football in this country?
Stadium attendance that exceeded expectations on the most part, especially in some of the perceived ‘less popular’ encounters and the wonderful colour and atmosphere that pervaded most matches made the cup a great spectacle. Hopefully the final few matches add even more to this. They undoubtedly will, especially if Australia is present on the final day.
Some reasonably priced ticket options, high definition coverage on pay television and live matches on free-to-air catered for a broad audience and media coverage that was mostly enthusiastic and supportive.
The quality of football will always arouse debate at the end of a major tournament. Goalkeeping was a highlight for me, despite the odd disaster, as was the endeavour and passion with which some of the smaller nations played. Despite some, dare I say, pitch issues there appeared to be a lot of quality football played by well coached sides that were well prepared.
Overall, most appear more than pleased with the event and as with other major sporting events, Australia appears to have done itself proud.
The second question raises further issues.
The Socceroos as a team are obviously an important cog in the wheel of the overall picture of football. Perhaps close to the hub itself, yet what other areas can also be nurtured post Asian Cup?
Growth of the game
It’s probably too ambitious to believe that the event will result in massive increases in participation levels across the country.
The interest and growth in major centres around Australia is still nurturing talent and as a few of our newest Socceroos prepare to leave our shores after the tournament to ply their trade overseas, the next generation of footballers will present itself.
Is the quality the same as the products of the NSL structures where youth systems appeared to develop many of our golden generation players from an early age? Perhaps not.
Investment in academies and addressing issues of affordability for parents attempting to access quality development for their youngsters is an obvious challenge. Financial investment in this will protect and identify our talent and allow players to remain in Australia for longer periods early in their careers.
Now is the time for us to use added exposure to Asian leagues, Asian players and a wider awareness of our own national talent to become an even more dominant force in our region.
As free-to-air A-League becomes, hopefully, the norm in the coming years, its continued expansion is vital. Watching the birth of the league on pay television has been a pleasure yet the sheer numbers of people frustrated with access on other platforms needs to be seriously considered by the major power brokers.
The winter codes will remain somewhat cynical and question football’s validity until schedules clash. I can still recall conversations with ex-NRL players 10 years ago revolving around football’s supposed fear of the major codes and this perception needs to be completely eradicated as the post Asian Cup era begins.
The head-in-the-sand approach that the other codes have taken at times cannot be mirrored. The Wanderers growth in Western Sydney’s rugby league heartland and their ‘dropping of the ball’ in terms of combating the threat of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, are both examples of what football cannot do. A continued proactive approach right now is vital.
Something that writers on this platform seem to share is a genuine passion for football. At times, mainstream media pounces on opportunities to paint less than appealing pictures of the football fraternity.
All codes suffer this scourge, yet football writers, club CEOs and the entire community need to continue to present the game in the celebratory manner in which it has been presented over the last month. There has undoubtedly been an increase in the number of feel good stories and the Socceroos are rightfully front page news.
Unfortunately, I was forced to cringe when I heard Simon Hill forced to clarify a Radio host’s question which referred to football as ‘your game’ and rugby league as ‘our game’. There is no vicious intent behind this, just a challenge to change the deep seated misconceptions that some still hold about the game. A positive message is the key.
Membership and attendance
The AFL has led the way in terms of memberships and upfront payment of subscriptions. This has now become the model for most national codes. Ironically, it is the same model that pay television has relied upon since its inception.
Football has also gone down this path and, with a few exceptions, appears to be having success. The Wanderers are an unfair benchmark with membership and attendance, yet the statistics show growth throughout most clubs with only poor form seeming to cause a blip on the radar. The Mariners currently exist as one of those blips.
Larger crowds in matches other than derbies are important and should be a prime focus for the league.
The core ingredient to continued growth is the game day experience – make it fun, safe, comfortable and passionate. These appear to have been the cornerstones to the cup games I have attended.
Coaching, development and financial security
My boys compete in a once rugby union dominated school. There are now as many football teams as there are union teams. This has resulted in many eager, well intentioned coaches lacking the essential foregrounding in the basics of the game.
A financial investment in the development of individuals able to implement the National Curriculum from the grassroots up is paramount. The Asian Cup should hopefully provide some financial injection for this.
The final numbers from an economical point of view will be an interesting read, as will the areas that benefit from the windfall as the FFA and others map their future plans.
The Wanderers’ sale obviously provided a boost for the clubs and projections seem to indicate around half of the A-League clubs will turn a profit at the end of this season. This might sound a little bleak to some yet it is a far better situation than in the past and sits well when compared with other sports.
There are undoubtedly other areas of concern or opportunity. I am sure others will alert us to some potential gains as well as some of the pitfalls to try to avoid. Indeed this exchange of ideas will be valuable as the post cup narrative begins.
Enjoy the remaining matches and watching a Socceroos team that is positioned to achieve something grand. When it is all said and done let’s make sure we all play our role in the discussion on the future of Australian football.