Grand Final is the glittering prize
Let's be clear, whoever wins the grand final are the Australian champions, not the winners of the Premier's Plate.
This is not news, but let-s make it clear for those who have any doubt - the winning club in the Hyundai A-League grand final is the undisputed champion of Australia.
It-s been this way since the inception of the Hyundai A-League in 2005. Going back, it was the case in the former National Soccer League for almost 20 years between 1984 and 2003.
Across the nation in the semi-pro National Premier Leagues, the champion of each State emerges from a grand final.
It-s an Australian sporting tradition that goes back 100 years and now it-s an Australian football tradition. So why are we even having this discussion? In recent commentary, we-ve heard one or two voices suggesting that finishing on top after the A-League regular season is the best measure of who-s the best team in the country.
Clearly, there are some pockets of nostalgia, usually driven by the view that what happens in European football is what matters in world football. In Europe, the “first past the post” format decides domestic champions. In Australia, the club who finishes on top after the regular season of 27 rounds is declared the “Premier-s Plate winner”, but is not the champion team.
It-s seems largely a philosophical argument raised by those who favour first past the post, but let-s be clear; what-s good for Europe is not necessarily good for Australia.
Putting opinion aside, the fact is that the rules and regulations of the Hyundai A-League say the grand final winner is the champion and the record books reflect that.
More than that, an A-League grand final is the ultimate showcase of all that-s great about the competition. In recent seasons a sold-out grand final crowd of more than 50,000, 350,000 watching live on TV and millions more connected to the game from the spike in media and digital coverage are all testament to the grand final being the ultimate occasion for players, coaches, officials and fans alike.
In any case, the argument of the “Europhiles” against grand finals has some flaws. After all, the European champions are decided in a “grand final”, the European Champions League final. Does anyone in Europe seriously argue against this dramatic decider as the pinnacle of European club football?
In a newspaper column last weekend, Ange Postecoglou raised the inconsistency that applies to the Asian Champions League when it comes to the Australian champion club.
Unfortunately, the Brisbane Roar, as Australia-s reigning champions, were knocked out in an ACL preliminary qualification match last week by Thailand-s Buriram United.
On Wednesday night, the Mariners will commence their ACL campaign against Suwon Bluewings at Gosford (kick off 7pm). The Mariners qualified for the ACL as the Australian premiers.
Ange-s point was that it was unfair for the champion club to be treated as Australia-s second entrant, while the Premier was treated as the first entrant with passage directly to the group stage.
I agree wholeheartedly, but the Asian Football Confederation runs the ACL and decides the rules. When you enter any competition, you must respect the rules. The AFC adopts and recognises the first- past-the-post system for qualification into the ACL, which is used in a majority of Asian nations.
FFA has had many discussions with the AFC about Australia-s traditions and the need to recognise the grand final winner as the Champion and first entrant for the purposes of the ACL.
It-s a discussion FFA will continue to have in Kuala Lumpur.
Which brings me to the enthralling A-League season; it-s worth taking a snapshot of what our competition would look like without the great Australian tradition of a grand final.
If the system was first past the post, the competition would probably be over for all but two clubs; Mariners and the Wanderers, who have broken away. In fact their mouth-watering game this weekend would almost spell the end of the season for one or the other if the home- and- away season was the end of our competition - leaving at least eight clubs and their fans to play out the last four weeks of the season.
The third placed club Adelaide United, nine points off top spot with five games to play, might still have an outside interest.
The good news is that the top-six finals system and the grand final ensures we have another eight weeks of thrilling, unpredictable football until we reach the Grand Final.
Even Wellington in 10th place are just two wins outside sixth place and hold mathematical possibilities of joining the scramble for a finals spot.
The match on Wednesday night between the Phoenix and the Newcastle Jets will be crucial. There were several exceptional factors that have forced this fixture to be brought forward from Round 26 in March. Up to 10 Wellington Phoenix players would have been unavailable for selection if the game was played in Round 26 due to national team duties.
While the rescheduling of the match to this Wednesday was the only viable alternative date given the schedule of both clubs, I know that this has caused significant inconvenience especially for the Newcastle Jets.
With clubs planning meticulously so far in advance these days the rescheduling of this game to mid-week will mean that Newcastle Jets will now be on the road to Wellington and then straight off to Melbourne to face Victory on weekend. I would like to acknowledge the Jets for responding to this challenge during this season-defining stretch of matches, and understanding that the integrity of the competition has to be paramount.
Whoever you support, enjoy your football in the exciting weeks ahead. With five rounds to go any side can still make the finals, meaning that all clubs still have the chance to be crowned as champions.