Yes, 2019 has been a tough year in many respects for football in Australia. But ’tis the season to be jolly, and there’s still plenty that is good about the beautiful game down under.
Here’s Simon Hill’s 10 reasons to be optimistic in 2020.
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1. BIG TOURNAMENTS
The Socceroos will take part in the Copa America in 2020 for the first time ever. Australia versus Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia. A rare chance to test ourselves against some red hot opposition next June. A month later, and the Olyroos and Matildas (providing they qualify) will be at the Tokyo Olympics, with the girls at least a decent chance of a medal.
2. JAMES JOHNSON
The FFA’s new CEO has a lot to do, but isn’t it great to finally have a football man in the job? The ex-NSL player returns to his homeland after extensive experience with FIFA, AFC and the PFA. No disrespect to his predecessor, but despite some historical revisionism of his record lately, David Gallop struggled with some of the nuances of football, and fandom in particular – Johnson should have no such trouble.
The addition of Macarthur FC from October 2020 will restore the A-League to an equal number of teams and do away with the bye. Similarly, an announcement is expected on the expansion of the W-League soon. Once the clubs complete their breakaway from FFA control, a longer-term expansion plan would be preferable. For now, Macarthur are making the right noises, and have already signed up 2,000 foundation members.
4. DIVISION 2/PROMOTION & RELEGATION
Okay, it’s not happened yet, but discussions are taking place. That’s progress for a game that has never had a national second division, and only promotion/relegation on a sporadic basis in the past. That these concepts are even on the table represents significant progress. Now to find out how to make it work, and more crucially, when it is to be introduced. The sooner the better in my opinion – but make no mistake, it’s coming.
5. FIFA CLUB WORLD CUP/ACL
As I reported last week, the Club World Cup is set for a dramatic change in 2021, bringing with it potential for big prize money. This could also reinvigorate the Asian Champions League, and make winning it very lucrative for our clubs. With 2.5 spots on offer for the inaugural revamped competition in China, the incentive is there for Sydney FC, Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory in 2020. We’ll find out more in the new year.
6. COMPETITIVE TENSION
A financially rewarding ACL will increase competitive tension at the top of the A-League, making qualification much more attractive. That, allied to the newly-introduced pressure at the bottom, with a play-off between 10th and 11th to decide who misses out on the FFA Cup can only be good for our player development.
7. AUSSIES ABROAD
Australians continue to graduate from local to international leagues steadily. Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan play in the English Premier League, and eight others (of the squad selected to play Jordan) were contracted to clubs in the top divisions of European Leagues. Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Emily Gielnik (Bayern Munich) and Alex Chidiac (Atletico Madrid) are proof of football’s genuine gender neutrality, while coaches such as Ange Postecoglou, Pete Cklamovski, Michael Valkanis and Tanya Oxtoby are all gainfully employed in top jobs overseas. In total, 218 Australians earn their living playing in 49 different countries overall – we’re the nations greatest sporting export.
Football is still the country’s most popular participation sport. With nearly two million regularly engaged with the game, we remain the “sleeping giant” of Australian sport. One day that giant will wake – why not in 2020? If only a slightly bigger fraction of that participation base were to attend A-League matches, the change in outlook would be monumental. They are out there. Go get ’em.
9. WORLD CUP BID
By June 2020, we should know if Australia (and New Zealand) will earn hosting rights for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023. If successful, the sport here will be the beneficiaries of significant investment in facilities and infrastructure. Additionally, work should start next year on Western United’s new football-specific stadium in Tarneit. Despite the scepticism, it’s my understanding the venue remains on track – and once it is built, it will be the game-changer for football.
10. IT’S NOT JUST US
Lots of doom and gloom around TV ratings and crowds in 2019, but all sports are suffering due to the change in media & attendance habits. This is reflected in new data coming to light regarding digital interactions around the A-League and W-League, which show the following (based upon Round 9 of the A-League). Facebook engagements up 27%, Twitter engagements up 4%, Instagram engagements up 8% and website engagements up 35%. Memberships are also up by 8% year on year. Yes, crowds are down, but let’s address a couple of elephants in the room shall we? The current average of 10,387 is almost twice that of the old NSL (best-ever average 5,989), and well ahead of the NBL (6,744).