Time for FFA to spread the big game love

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Today saw the leaking of the news that Juventus will travel to Australia in August next year to take on the much debated A-League All Stars.

The 2013 version of the concept saw Manchester United swat aside a team that included a load of players that no one voted for after numerous withdrawals due to retirement, injuries and holidays.

That game was played at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, and, surprise, surprise, the city has secured the 2014 fixture too.



The SFS.

Great news for Sydney folk, bad news for the rest of the country, and it suggests that the All Stars game will not be shared around every year, as it is in Major League Soccer for example.

Of course, ‘The Del Piero Effect’ is a big factor in this particular fixture given he is a Juventus legend, and no doubt it’s the party line that will be thrown out by Football Federation Australia when they eventually officially confirm the plans.

Here’s the thing though – just last week it was confirmed that the Socceroos’ farewell game before the World Cup is pencilled in for ANZ Stadium in May, while January 2015 will see the same venue host the Asian Cup Final.

That means Sydney will host arguably three of the four biggest games in the football calendar over an eight or nine month period, with only the A-League Grand Final up for debate, and even that has a real chance of being hosted by the Wanderers.

Now, an argument can be made that it is good for the Socceroos to have a defined home, a lot of footballing nations do; England have Wembley, Ireland plays all its games at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, Scotland call Hampden Park home, and France rarely leaves the Stade de France in Paris.

However, a quick look at some of the bigger countries in terms of size shows that they are more than willing to let fans in other cities see their national side in the flesh.

In a 15 month period starting in March of this year, Germany have fixtures set for six different cities (Nuremberg, Cologne, Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Mainz and Munich), while the Chinese have been to Changsha, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Xi’an, Hohhot, Beijing, Hefei Shanghai and Tianjin in the past two years.

The USA, often regarded as the benchmark for developing aspects of the game in Australia, played in Colorado, Washington D.C., Seattle, Utah, San Diego, Columbus and Kansas City this year, as well as five other US cities during July’s Gold Cup.

Australia, on the other hand, played three of its four 2013 homes games in Sydney, has visited Brisbane once in almost four years, and hasn’t been to Adelaide and Perth since 2010 and 2005 respectively. At least Melbourne has seen some action, albeit sporadically.

How many people are really going to travel from Perth or Adelaide next May to watch what is essentially a Socceroos training session before they jet off to Brazil? A few maybe, the diehards, but it does absolutely nothing to appeal to the casual supporter.

Perth was apparently unlucky to miss out on a game recently when a second friendly was set to take place a few days before the dour 1-0 win against Costa Rica, but Ange Postecoglou decided he only wanted one game and FFA couldn’t possibly pull the plug on a football match in Sydney.

In previous years it was easy to dismiss Perth as a location for Socceroos games; nib Stadium was like stepping through a time warp to the 1970s, while Subiaco Oval (Patersons Stadium) is in need of a serious makeover at best and is a horrible place to watch sports played on a rectangular field.

Now though, nib has been given a huge facelift. The east stand provides both an unobstructed view of the pitch as well as cover against the elements, while terracing has been replaced by seating behind both goals which would enable fans to sit on all sides of the ground for an international.

A capacity crowd of over 20,000 would be a real possibility for a Socceroos game. Even a world class venue like Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane can’t get a look in at the moment so maybe it’s expecting too much for Perth, or Adelaide, to be thrown a bone.

The Socceroos are one of FFA’s best tools as they continue to grow the game so it’s about time they maximised the appeal of the national side by taking them on tour around the country.

Of course, a lack of big games in certain cities isn’t completely the fault of FFA, with the WA State Government refusing to put their hand in their pockets to fund both a game against Liverpool earlier this year and the Asian Cup group stages.

That’s where FFA should step in though and make sure to cater for the entire “football family”, not just those in New South Wales.

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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