Two years of being an open-minded pommy in Sydney, Australia, has naturally seen me take an interest in the organic sports, namely Rugby League (NRL) and Aussie Rules (AFL). You cannot turn on the telly or open a newspaper page without news about these codes, albeit most of it controversial it seems; a Canberra League player recently forced a dog to perform a sex act on him at a party (it was consensual apparently) and various counts of drunken assault and drink driving charges involving high profile players.
That being said I always come back to football. Although my loyalty is being tested Down Under for a growing number of reasons.
As Rugby League's NRL season began on the Friday just gone, it was no surprise that the grand final on Sunday in “soccer’s” A-League almost passed without a mention.
Despite having the highest amateur participation of any sport in the country, the interest in the professional game, and the money that is needed to fund a successful league, has not been forthcoming, much like Arsene Wenger showing some dignity.
When the new reformed A-League was born a few years after the death of its NSL predecessor, expectations were high. Sydney FC were the original Galacticos of Australia. Caribbean playboy Dwight Yorke was the toast of Sydney as he danced around the pitch providing some much needed flair.
Ex Brazil and Middlesbrough dwarf Juninho Paulista joined the Sydney bandwaggon albeit for a brief period and crowds swelled. For a game or two.
Over the next few years Melbourne Victory began to dominate with Archie Thompson (who doesn't even warrant cleaning the national team's boots) smashing goals left, right and centre alongside the aggression of ex-Millwall pitbull Kevin Muscat, whose tackles bordered on grievous bodily harm (including an 8 game ban for very dangerous play).
Robbie Fowler achieved the same in recent times with a successful stint at North Queensland Fury and now Perth Glory, looking like Usain Bolt against his opposition defenders.
The A-League almost comes across as the younger cousin of the US' MLS competition, the weird cousin that you only see at Christmas, with its Americanised chirpy names such as Newcastle Jets and Brisbane Roar alongside more natural offerings such as the Central Coast Mariners. They are not, as you may be thinking, a team of old toothless fisherman.
But I digress. After poking fun, there have been some signs this season, at least on the field, that progress is ahead. Brisbane Roar have dominated with a largely Australian-reared talent base. In Sunday’s grand final they came from two down in extra time to beat the Mariners on penalties. The right team won in an exciting and well-received match.
The key to further progress is in keeping the talent seen in the final in Australia. Too many of the most promising players either jump at the chance to move to Europe quicker than Charlie Sheen knocks back a whiskey, or moves to teams playing in the Japanese and Chinese national leagues, which are currently considered a step-up from the A-League. This in particular HAS to change; the A-League must become a priority in a nation where you are born a sportsman or sportswoman and provided with the best natural conditions possible.
As much as it goes against everything I have felt about the Premiership (or the funky 'EPL' as my Aussie brethren have dubbed it), money and investment and quite frankly, some big cajoles are needed. Too often fat cats with fat chequebooks promise everything and run a mile back to their serviced yachts on the Tasman Sea when things get tough. Football is the biggest and most exciting sport in the world for a reason. Passion breeds interest. And interest breeds investment. Intelligent investment breeds success. That is why the likes of the NRL (Wests Tigers to be precise) is pulling me dangerously further away from football (in Australia at least) as I found myself last Friday inexplicably zoned out and craning my neck in a bar to watch the opening game of the NRL season.
I want the A-League to be successful. I want to buy a Sydney FC season ticket and experience a packed SFS on a Saturday evening. Nothing would please me more than to see it knock cricket, rugby league, rugby union, Aussie rules football, basketball, hockey and swimming off their perch. Well, at least it's bigger than Netball … oh wait.
This was the second in a series of world football articles arriving every Monday at The Football Rascal. The first in the series took a look at the Qatar Star League.