Monday, October 17, 2005

Australia's 'new' football growing with confidence

After eight rounds of Australian football's A-League completed and with average crowds in excess of 11,500, the new competition has already been crowned a success. It started from scratch this year with Perth and Adelaide the only established clubs out of the eight in Australia and New Zealand invited to take part. The concept was for a professional competition without relegation or promotion from the state-based leagues, a regular season concluded with a four-team play-off, no national cup and with clubs bound to financial guarantees and new rules including limits on squad sizes and a salary cap.

"I think the crowds are beyond expectations. I was optimistic, but at the same time I was quite anxious," Football Federation Australia chairman, Frank Lowry, said. "The events have proved that we are playing a good game and I believe Australia is behind the game. The whole country is behind us, wants us to succeed, wants to come and watch us," he said. "The time has arrived for soccer - football."

He told ABC Sport's Stuart Watt that the standard of football was also good. "They play an attractive game," he said. "There is room for improvement but we are doing very well. And I think that's what brings the crowds because there is competition between the teams. No one team is so far ahead that there is no interest, like in some other countries as you know. I could not have imagined doing better than what we are doing."

In Melbourne, the long-awaited clash between the home side and big-city rivals, Sydney FC, brought a record crowd to the Victory's 18,000-capacity Olympic Park stadium. Melburnians were delighted to see Sydney thrashed 5 to 0 with Socceroo Archie Thompson overshadowing A-League drawcard Dwight Yorke with a superb game that included two goals and a hand in two others.

The Herald Sun, Australia's largest selling newspaper declared soccer "the new king of Melbourne summer sport" and the Sydney Morning Herald commented that Melbourne Victory "might need to find a ground with double the capacity".

On the Australian national team, Frank Lowy described the Socceroos' 5-0 win over Jamaica in London as Australia's best performance on the world stage and said the appointment of new national coach Guus Hiddink appeared to be paying dividends. He added he was looking forward to next month's World Cup qualifying series between Australia and Uruguay with renewed confidence. A sell-out crowd of 80,000 is expected to fill Sydney's former Olympic Stadium for the second leg of the clash.

UPDATE

Gary Cole, the Victory's football director, acknowledged to The Age newspaper (23 Oct) that success didn't seem that straight forward a year or more ago when the club was looking for investors and struggling to reach the FFA's mandated capital levels. "It's a tough town here, Melbourne loves its sport, but there's an awful lot of competition and it's tough to gain credibility and integrity, especially as our sport had a great capacity for shooting itself in the foot. But investing means taking a risk. I am not sure it was a leap of faith. I think the people that got on board early understood the message from Frank Lowy and John O'Neill," he said.

"The move to Asia is absolutely massive for players, coaches, fans and clubs. We have all wanted the game to go to the next level, and it couldn't do that without having a strong, viable economically sound domestic competition. The hairs on the back of my neck stick up with the thought of playing here, and then zooming off midweek to play in China or Korea in a Champions League match, getting exposure to billions of people. From a commercial perspective, for sponsors and backers, the potential there is quite massive, and the credibility of the players will grow alongside that,” he said.

“Maybe we will eventually get to a point where Australian kids grow up and the last thing they will want to think about is growing up and wanting to leave and play in Europe."

See also: Historic crowds launch quality A-League summer (29 Aug)

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