We can thank Australian tradition for delivering a final round of the Hyundai A-League regular season that will be full of drama, intrigue and fantastic football action.
The time-honoured format of a finals series building to a crescendo of the championship-deciding Grand Final maximises the excitement.
It’s tremendous to see that four clubs are still in the hunt for the Premier’s Plate with a round to play. And the finals destiny of all top six clubs is a mystery as all can move up or down on the league table.
At stake are some huge prizes. The Premier’s Plate and a spot in the Asian Champions League. There’s a week’s rest up for grabs and direct entry to a semi-final for the top two. And the coveted home city advantage in the finals series is in play.
The standard of football has been exceptionally high, a tribute to all the players, coaches and staff who produce the big show for 90 minutes and more.
In particular, congratulations to Bruno Fornaroli and Andy Keogh for setting new individual A-League records.
The buzz around the A-League has lifted in intensity over these closing weeks and for that we must thank the members and fans who give so much to the league and make our atmosphere so special.
The scheduling of matches in the final round over three days will ensure the tension will build from kick off in the Friday match between Melbourne City and Adelaide United until the final whistle of the Sydney FC v Perth Glory match on Sunday night.
It’s all good, yet there still seem to be opinions to be found arguing against these great Australian traditions.
The annual debate about “first past the post” still arouses interest, but the fact is that the Australia tradition is all about Grand Finals. That one magical, momentous match which creates euphoria, inflicts heartbreak and lives in the memory forever.
Look around all the other Australian footy brands and you find the same history. One trophy, one match, one shot at fame.
The other curious debate that surfaces this time of year is about simultaneous kick offs in the final round. Once again, it’s not about “tradition”.
In Australia, in every major professional sport including the A-League, the final round is scheduled like all others that preceded it.
Match kick offs are played according to the dictates of the published fixture and the needs of members and fans attending the match, and TV viewers at home or pubs and clubs.
In the Hyundai A-League this coming weekend will be three days of great unscripted drama. It captivates, elongates and maximises interest for fans, media and TV audiences.
That’s what the A-League is all about. It’s the shop window for Australian football. If you like, we want to maximise the “trading hours” and get as many people “window shopping” as possible so we can build our audiences.
You defeat the purpose if five matches are played simultaneously in one afternoon. And having to manage five time zones makes this idea of simultaneous kick offs particularly impractical.
To those who raise the argument about fairness, I offer this counsel: be careful what you infer.
Fairness comes from having an equal opportunity in 90+ minutes to win a football match that’s played in accordance with the Laws of the Game.
It’s got nothing to do with knowing or not knowing the result of another match in the round beforehand. To suggest otherwise is liable to cast an unfair slur on the professionals involved.
As the Head of the Hyundai A-League, I know from my experience that our clubs, players and coaches are fiercely competitive and professionally single-minded in wanting to win every football match they contest.
Equally, I am clear that match or league officials always apply the laws and regulations without fear or favour.
The same principles apply to team selections in Round 27 by those clubs out of the running or juggling Asian Champions League commitments. The Hyundai A-League regulations state: “The Club must field a strong and competitive Team in all A-League Matches, including by playing the best available Players at all times having regard to the Medical Minimum Standards”.
It’s incumbent on every team, whether they are playing for a finals spot or not, to select the best available team to win the match this weekend. The members and fans demand it in any case.
We should rejoice in the wonderful spectacle that will unfold in Round 27 of the Hyundai A-League. And thank our great football tradition for delivering it.