Opinion

Foxing broadcaster underlines need for A-League and NPL to unite

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The deteriorating relationship between Australian football and its host broadcaster brings home the pressing need for genuine unity among A-League and National Premier Leagues clubs.

The importance of inter-league co-operation took on a new dimension since it emerged that Fox Sports is refusing to sign off on a plan to restart the A-League in July unless football accepts a drastic cut in the funding deal.

The A-League would break the terms of Football Federation Australia's television deal, worth $57 a year, if it unilaterally went ahead with its bid to complete the championship that was interrupted in March.

Fox Sports seems to have football in a stranglehold and, needless to say, if the worse comes to the worst and the A-League is forced to operate on a shoestring budget, the whole game in Australia would suffer.

Which is why it has never been more crucial for the clubs from both levels to swallow their pride, let bygones be bygones and form a united front to face the crisis the game finds itself in.

The failure of Australia's clubs to recognise that 'old soccer' and 'new football' are essentially one, and that they should be protagonists not antagonists, may be a reason our game has yet to reach its potential.

As club football tries to set up a solid economic platform from which to build its long-term future, this is probably a simplistic way of looking at a complex issue that has divided public opinion and ridiculously remains unresolved.

Hence the million dollar question: why is it so hard for the A-League and NPL organisations to see that club football is one whole game and its progress is being shackled by snobbery and jealousy?

Fifteen years ago, the semi-professional National Soccer League - that was good enough to spawn the 'golden generation' but failed to make a mark on the sporting landscape - was morphed into the professional A-League that provided many memorable moments but has now hit a brick wall and is struggling for survival.

Many loyal supporters of such established clubs as Marconi, Sydney Olympic, Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne, Heidelberg United and Adelaide City felt cheated when the FFA dumped them to set up a new competition in 2005.

'New football' did not want anything to do with 'old soccer' because it claimed that in the eyes of the public the old game was a basket case despite providing a stream of talented players - so a complete overhaul was needed to sell the game to 'Joe Bloggs'.

There is no doubt that the game's reputation was at an all-time low, and its 'wogball' image did not help, so a complete break from the past was seen at the time as a logical cure to its ills.

However, by the same token, Australia's big league is now fighting for dear life, so should a meaningful re-connect with the past be seen as the logical remedy to its problems?

The proponents of an open pyramid including officials who work very hard to keep their semi-pro clubs going and those of a closed shop including owners who have lost millions need to forge closer ties and a higher level of trust and goodwill.

They simply need each other to survive.

Despite what the noisy lobby for inclusion keeps telling us, the NSL had major issues and the A-League was seen as football's last chance saloon.

But the 'new football' that enjoys unprecedented media support has not capitalised on the enthusiasm generated in its first few years and the current economic woes are due to a big drop in spectators, viewers and general interest.

For this reason, the A-League needs a facelift and what better way to do it than by creating a second division to give the more ambitious traditional clubs a chance to mix it with the elite?

The new league can claim an edge over its predecessors in terms of overall football quality and 'match experience', but all this could quickly dissipate if the game remains broken.

And the old league can be nostalgic about the game's history and dismissive of today's elite as much as it likes, yet for all its good intentions the NSL was a failure.

Our football no doubt has faults and weaknesses at all levels and there is no point in stakeholders taking cheap shots at each other in what can only be described as a crass exercise in whataboutery.

Unity of purpose is the way to go so if we are to get out of the hole we are in why can't we forget the past and concentrate on a future as one game with one direction.

This might be our last chance to get it right.

As Alexandre Dumas wrote in The Three Musketeers: "all for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall."