Tuesday, November 10, 2015

South Sydney would be an A-League disaster

Very occasionally I am tempted into revisiting old ground to write a piece on sport and especially on the game I once played and still love, Association Football.

While I am no longer active in this area, I was a sports writer for many years and I have a long memory, that’s why I reluctantly feel I must contradict former SBS Television football guru, Les Murray when he says a club based in South Sydney — a third Sydney team in Australia’s premier A-League competition — is, in his words, a no-brainer.

Mr Murray has joined the growing debate over whether the New Zealand-based Wellington Phoenix should be thrown out of the competition and, if this happens, what would replace it to maintain the 10-team format.

He supports the removal of the Phoenix and states that Greater Sydney, with a population of 4.4 million, could easily support a third team in addition to Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Mr Murray points to the extra income that would be generated from more Sydney derby matches and says that if Sydney cannot support three A-League teams there is something wrong.

Well I think there is something wrong with some of Mr Murray’s basic assumptions, but first let me pay tribute to him as one of the great figures of Australian football. If it had not been for his unflagging efforts the game would not be where it is today. He deserves every football supporters’ gratitude.

It is precisely this devotion to the game he loves and to which he has devoted his life, that has allowed a flaw in his reasoning. He passionately believes that what he calls the Beautiful Game has no equal and it is only a matter of time before all Australians see the light and turn to it.

I share much of his sentiments, but reality paints a different picture. Of the 4.4 million Sydney-siders a good many are diehard supporters of their favourite rugby league team, or of the successful Sydney Swans Australian Football League club, or of the NSW Waratahs rugby union side.

Or (shock, horror in this supposedly sports-mad nation) there are quite considerable numbers who have not been inside a sports stadium in their lives and have no intention of ever doing so.

Western Sydney is a place unto itself and the Wanderers would probably not be greatly affected by a third Sydney team, but Sydney FC Chairman, Scott Barlow has every reason to be concerned at the prospect, and coach Graham Arnold is correct when he says some of his club’s supporters would leak away.

Both have been slapped down by the dead hand of Football Federation Australia and Mr Murray counters with that old saying “you can change your wife but you can’t change your football team”, meaning that Sydney FC supporters would stick with the club no matter what.

That might be true of the United Kingdom, where the saying originated. Indeed I always look for the results and news about my home town club, even though it is a mile distant from the Premier League.

But it is not the case in Australia where fickle sports supporters will desert a club that does not provide it with continuous high-standard entertainment.

Change clubs — and even change codes. Remember basketball that was taking Australia by storm in the 1980s and is now virtually on life support, at least at elite level.

I said at the beginning that I have a long memory: Long enough to remember the hubris that surrounded the early days of the National Soccer League (NSL) as it expanded through the late 1970s and 80s at suicidal speed from the original 14 clubs to 24.

When the crash came the poor old NSL was in damage control for the remainder of its existence. No matter what it did, the brand was irreparably tarnished, and organised elite football had to start all over again. 

The idea that new franchises can be plonked down in an area just because a lot of people live there, smacks of those bad old attitudes.

I hold no opinion over the fate of the Phoenix except to say that I played football in New Zealand and it is a brutal, punishing market for any sport other than rugby union.

If Wellington must go I would suggest another overseas replacement from our own Asian Confederation — one based in Singapore or perhaps Jakarta could be invited as long as due diligence is done and financial support established.

Something like would be an embellishment to the competition — an injection of much-needed excitement — rather than trying to re-slice the already existing pie.


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