With so much festive football to celebrate, will anyone turn up?
More fans showed up to watch the Big Blue at AAMI Park than to see Australia beat Pakistan on day four of the Test in Perth, but the real question is what sort of crowds will turn up over the holidays.
Before all the cricket lovers steam in to accuse me of cherry-picking crowd figures to suit my own agenda, I’ll spare you the trouble.
Of course I have.
But with the Western Australia government having spent approximately $1.8 billion of taxpayer dollars on building Optus Stadium, it was interesting to see it four-fifths empty when Nathan Lyon claimed his 500th Test wicket as the Aussies wrapped up a routine victory.
For all the talk of spectators wanting modern facilities, sport in Australia needs to face up to an uncomfortable truth – the vast majority of ticket-buyers are now only interested in attending ‘premium’ events.
Which puts the A-Leagues in an awkward spot.
The Australian Professional League has done little this season to suggest the A-League Men is a premium product, and attendances are yet to bounce back in the wake of last year’s grand final debacle.
Despite that, there was still a terrific noise inside AAMI Park as Tony Popovic’s side put Ufuk Talay’s beleaguered Sydney FC to the sword on Saturday night.
Daniel Arzani was on one against the club he once played youth football for, and he opened his Melbourne Victory account with an absolute peach of an opener.
Zinedine Machach is another who arrived in Australia carrying the dreaded ‘mercurial’ tag, yet the Frenchman has proved himself to be one of the signings of the season.
The Sky Blues had no answer to a stacked Victory midfield, and when the fit-again Jake Brimmer played in the fleet-footed Machach, the former Toulouse man impudently chipped Sydney FC’s stand-in goalkeeper Adam Pavlesic.
And the game was as good as done when the unstoppable Machach played a perfectly-timed pass for Bruno Fornaroli to lash home his 12th goal in just eight league games this season.
Mind you, the visitors will surely feel aggrieved that a couple of key VAR decisions went against them – not least because the replays of both incidents looked far from conclusive.
But there’s no denying Victory were the better side and they’ll be hard to stop over the holiday period, even if Popovic would probably rather not lose the in-form Fornaroli to Asian Cup duty in January.
The Socceroos have their own worries now that Mat Leckie is in a race against the clock to recover from a hamstring injury, although his club side Melbourne City started fellow injury concern Jamie Maclaren in their topsy-turvy 3-3 draw with the Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.
It was Colombian import Angel Torres who was the star of the show in an entertaining Sunday afternoon encounter – which, crucially, kicked off at 5pm (AEDT) instead of two hours earlier – as the 23-year-old bagged a composed hat-trick against a disorganised City defence.
The later kick-off was the result of lobbying from the Professional Footballers Australia association in a bid to mitigate the effects of scorching mid-summer temperatures on players.
We might as well be honest and admit those afternoon kick-offs were doing nothing to benefit fans in the stands or TV viewers either – but at least there’s finally been a change.
And Sunday’s clash was all the better for it, as the hosts raced out to an early lead when Marin Jakolis bagged his first ever A-League goal, before the elusive Torres fired the Mariners into the lead after the break.
Impressive German import Tolgay Arslan then calmly side-footed home the equaliser in a wildly entertaining second half, and although soon Torres claimed his hat-trick, it was left to City substitute Alessandro Lopane to steal a share of the spoils in stoppage time.
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But it remains to be seen how many fans turn up at an A-League Men game throughout the festive season – starting with tonight’s curiously timed clash between Macarthur and Wellington Phoenix in Campbelltown.