World Cup: FFA needs to pounce on Australia’s ‘fling’ with football if A-League is to thrive
Kylian Mbappe’s (L) displays at the World Cup have helped capture the imagination of casual football fans. (Reuters: Lee Smith)
During this World Cup, the A-League’s major sponsor paid stars from other sports to invite those not normally enamoured with the rest-of-the-world’s game to “have a fling with football”.
It soon became apparent this fling would not be an online date. The Floptus debacle ensured our relationship with this World Cup was of the old-school free-to-air variety.
But impressive viewing figures for the mostly deeply nocturnal SBS coverage give the impression there has been some inter-code infidelity.
So what do the brazen Aussie rules, rugby league or rugby fans say after Monday morning’s final when they have done the walk of shame and are telling a trusted friend what happened during a couple of weeks in football’s embrace?
Surely those with any appreciation of top-flight sport will rave about a tournament that produced wonderful football, brilliant drama, raised hopes (mostly English) and dashed spirits (also English) — even before the unusually businesslike French and the heroes of tiny Croatia brought things to a climax.
The Socceroos will hope to benefit from the increased interest in football via the World Cup. (Reuters: Toru Hanai)
The parochial will have been slightly disappointed with the Socceroos. They expected chocolates and roses, not knowing the systemic problems in Australian football mean the national team is only capable of delivering supermarket candy.
They will have noted that some players do go down a bit easily when they are fouled, and sometimes when they are not.
But if you checked your social media accounts during a Brazil game, hardcore football fans condemned Neymar’s play-acting as much as Aussie footy fans who use diving to condemn football’s supposed lack of masculinity.
Those accustomed to AFL commentators mocking those “tricky foreign names” will have been impressed that SBS’s more mature presenters pronounced them properly. And no, they were not just “showing off”, as one badly misguided newspaper columnist suggested.
All of this while trying to remove that persistent ear worm “football’s coming home” (if it’s any comfort, unless there is an Ashes version you won’t hear it again until the 2020 European Championships).
Otherwise this fling should surely leave the sporting romantic craving more; perhaps even looking for a stable relationship with football, not just another one-month stand.
Which is why Australian football should now be holding out its arms and cooing “Come to me baby. I’ve booked us a cosy table for two at the Sydney FC-Melbourne Victory game”.
Yet if the World Cup is the George Clooney of football dating profiles, Australia is currently the unshaven slob in a blue singlet with a beer gut and a cigarette hanging out of the side of its mouth.
This is not the visage of the A-League or the Socceroos, which scrub up alright despite their financial limitations. It is the image created by those who should be grooming the game, not leaving it looking dishevelled.
During the weeks when schoolchildren were impersonating Antoine Griezmann and Harry Kane in schoolyards, it was revealed Football Federation Australia (FFA) had raised — yes raised! — the national registration fee, the tax on participants that helps fund the game.
Harry Kane’s exploits in Russia would have inspired young football players throughout the world. (AP: Antonio Calanni)
The rises were relatively modest — up $1.40 for juniors to $14 and $8 to $33 for adults. But given the cost of football for children is the game’s hottest topic, any increase will enrage those already disgusted that juniors are used to fund the game’s activities rather than having their participation subsidised.
Particularly when “soccer parents” compare the price of their child’s hefty registration fees with the more modest cost of those sports which can use generous media rights deals and sponsorships to fund entry level and junior programs.
The FFA might argue that participation is strong despite the cost. But the bottom-to-top funding model has left the game desperately cutting costs, including the closure of elite academies that were supposed to produce the next battalion of Socceroos stars.
World Cup not a panacea for Australian football
Meanwhile, as Australians watched the world’s greatest stars in action, we learned the FFA had attempted to use the $3 million marquee fund to attract Spanish star Fernando Torres to the A-League.
And after Torres signed for more money in Japan, possibly the 37-year-old English striker Peter Crouch — the type of mid-to-low-level star Australian clubs can hope to land given the rich competition from Asia and the Middle East.
This before Judith Griggs’s working group delivers a report on the governance of Australian football that will hopefully free the A-League clubs from their shackles even as the game is — again, hopefully — reconnected to its roots through second and even third-tier competitions.
The A-League needs to be part of the focus of capitalising on the interest in the World Cup. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
As we have written here before, the notion that the World Cup is a panacea for Australian football has been disproven by the three recent appearances in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
If anything, you could argue the World Cup is partly responsible for a recent decline in A-League crowds and TV audiences, given the tremendous waste of time, resources and general goodwill that followed Australia’s failed and deeply flawed bid to host the 2022 edition.
Yet there should at least be some local afterglow from such a wonderful and tremendously well-followed event. Some sense that what we saw in Russia was organically connected to the game here, not merely a quadrennial distraction from it.
Instead the World Cup, like the English Premier League, La Liga and the newly ‘Ronaldoed’ Serie A, provides an unfortunate reflection of Australian football.
One that makes you wonder if any meaningful relationships resulted from that brief fling.