The A-League’s obsession with conformity needs to change

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Outgoing Head of the A-League Damien de Bohun yesterday fired something of a parting shot at sections of the competition’s support who have called for simultaneous kick offs this coming weekend.

The final round of the regular season is fantastically poised with four of the league’s ten teams still in with a chance of taking the Premier’s Plate.

This has led to calls for the five Round 27 games to kick off on the same day at the same time, a notion completely rebuffed by De Bohun who described discussion around the subject as “curious”.

De Bohun harps on about great Australian traditions as a justification for the staggered scheduling but in reality his hands are largely tied by a broadcaster who would prefer to have five of its time slots occupied instead of one.

With a new television deal to be negotiated soon, it is of course important for the A-League to appease Fox Sports who will hopefully retain the rights in future.

However, FFA needs to be able to retain the ability to try out initiatives that are aimed at generating new public interest, and if simultaneous kick offs are good enough for a money spinning competition like the English Premier League then they are good enough for the Hyundai A-League.

Simultaneous kick offs breed drama, none more so though than on the final day of the 2011/12 English Premier League season when Manchester United fans were celebrating their side’s title win only for Sergio Aguero of rivals City to hammer home a 94th minute winner against Queens Park Rangers to give his side the trophy.

Had those games been at separate times or on different days then the majority of the fingernail biting tension would have been lost.

Even Major League Soccer, which also retains a playoffs/finals series, has bowed to public pressure and now has “Decision Day” to round off the regular campaign.

The A-League itself is prone to similar gimmicky titles like the “Big Blue”, and Fox Sports have been on board before with at least having five games on the one day when “Big Wednesday” took place in January 2012.

While we are unlikely to ever see an end to the Grand Final concept, the last round of the regular season offers an opportunity to somewhat appease the first past the posters whose roots are in European leagues successfully using that model.

De Bohun’s point about having to juggle five different timezones is very disingenuous because this weekend there are only games in two – New South Wales/Victoria and Wellington.

Even in a worst case scenario where Perth Glory, Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix hosted games in the final round, a 5pm EST kick off time would be 3pm WST, 4.30pm ACST, and 7pm in New Zealand.

If the United States can manage the timezone issues then so can Australia.

“In Australia, in every major professional sport including the A-League, the final round is scheduled like all others that preceded it,” says De Bohun.

Why does the A-League need to be so conformist? If we keep borrowing concepts from other codes we will end up rewarding players for missing the target, shortening the length of games, and giving the ball back to the opposition after being tackled a number of times.

Given the clutter of the Australian sporting landscape, it makes more sense for football to try offer a point of difference, and the theatre generated by final day simultaneous kick offs could be exactly that.

Of course, selling such a concept to the wider public would require heavy and smart marketing, something which the A-League has failed miserably at this season, but that’s a topic for another day.

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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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