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A-League of our own

A-League Semi Final - Melbourne Victory v Melbourne CityIf you’re like me, you have that one mate who consistently refuses to watch the A-League, because they deem the standard of football to be sub-par to their tastes.

Quite regularly, said person tends to support some rubbish English Premier League team like Sunderland or West Ham, which get pumped on a regular basis by the top four.

But still, you’re met with cries of “Yeah, nah mate, the football quality is bollocks”, or “they just don’t have the same quality players”, as they look whistfully at a picture of Richard Cresswell or Fabio Borini…

However, in its 11 seasons, the A-League has made a lot of headway and is now truly starting to blossom into a league that can contend for entertainment value on a national scale on a regular basis.

Here are just some reasons why…

Derbies are bigger and better than ever.

It had taken a while for rivalries to heat up in the A-League, with the original ‘Big Blue’ derby between Sydney and Melbourne, and the ‘F3 Derby’ between Central Coast and Newcastle, the only real derbies on the map as the governing body initiated a ‘One City, One Team’ mantra to building the league.

Sure, you had the likes of Melbourne v Adelaide proving to be spiteful encounters, but they never were really derbies on the scale of the former.

Enter 2010/2011, and the introduction of ‘Melbourne Heart’, now Melbourne City, and the league had it’s first true intra-city derby and by the end of the first season, boy had it heated up.

A near-career ending tackle by Kevin Muscat on Adrian Zahra in a fast and furious 2-2 draw will go down in folklore when people talk about just how viciously competitive these clashes have been.

Just two seasons later, and the inclusion of the Western Sydney Wanderers has seen the league blessed with another equally passionate derby that packs both Allianz and Pirtek Stadium for each fixture.

The passion is easily identifiable – on social media, you’ll see hashtags that read ‘#sydneyisskyblue’ or ‘#sydneyisredandblack’ around derby time, as both sides of town entertain the possibility of a derby win.

City v Victory is arguably our Manchester derby

In 2014, the City Football Group finalised the purchase of then Melbourne Heart, and with it completely revitalised the Melbourne footballing landscape.

At the time, Heart were languishing under manager John Aloisi and had entered into a record-making run of losses.

An off-season that saw the club bulk up, ship out the dead wood and effectively rebuild, delivered a side that finished fifth and qualified for the final series.

It also lead to fans expecting a higher quality of standard in the triennial Melbourne Derby, with a tad over 43,000 people packing Etihad Stadium for the first of the revitalised derbies.

Fans were even treated to a sold out finals series derby match, the first in its history, as 50,000 fans again packed Etihad to show their support.

The Melbourne Derby, much like the Manchester Derby, is our marquee fixture, and one could argue that the Sydney derby is growing to almost equal stature. However, it seems there’s always one side enjoying more success than the other at the moment in that fixture — so maybe tell your mate’s its our Merseyside derby instead.

Foreign and TV dollars has meant higher quality players

Whether it’s the Bakries (or rather their lack of their dollars) in Brisbane, City Football Group with Melbourne City or the Russian bank rollers at Sydney FC, we’ve been lucky enough to see, in recent years, a surge in the quality of players in the A-League.

Be it Besart Berisha, Thomas Broich, Robert Koren, Damien Duff, Marc Janko at one end of the scale, or marquee acts like Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey or Shinji Ono, these are players we would have only dreamt of seeing playing in our national league eleven years prior.

Foreign and local investment in our league means that there’s more money in the league than ever, especially with a new TV deal on the horizon.

It’s been a great proponent for the league, and has helped win over at least some of the ‘euro-snob’ mates that everyone seems to have.

Prior to the A-League, my own father was a staunch Rugby League fanatic with a soft spot for Arsenal, and now could recite the entire Brisbane Roar roster to you on request – that’s how the quality of the league has changed.

Unpredictability is our boon

There has never been a season where the A-League has been au predictable.

Whether it was the early successes of the Central Coast Mariners, the Asian Champions League triumph with Western Sydney Wanderers or even the last-to-first heroics of the 2007-08 Newcastle Jets side, each season has brought it’s surprise packet.

Whether it’s been a new style of football in the vein of Adelaide’s tika-taka approach under Josep Gombau, or a rag-tag group of players signed on the cheap banding together, there’s always something new about the A-League that keeps it fresh.

Nearly everyone has a second team that they keep an eye on, simply for the fact that on occasion you do have teams punching above their weight.

That’s what truly makes the A-League a great spectator sport.

Let’s hope in the future we can convert a few more to seeing that for themselves.

About the author

avatarKris is a freelance sports journalist, a two-time WA media guild award winner, and podcast host and writer for Ultimate A-League.

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