Opinion

Night football to take the heat out of A-League conundrum

 

When Australian football decided in 1989 to go against tradition and hold its national club competition in summer, fans at large welcomed the development with open arms.

The bold decision was seen as a masterstroke that gave the battling competition a much needed breath of fresh air after being strangled for so long by the AFL and NRL juggernauts.

When the A-League came along in 2005, the professional game was only too happy to retain its liaison with summer soccer.

It was a no-brainer, really. Better playing conditions, larger attendances and a greater media exposure vindicated Football Federation Australia's decision to retain football's winning formula.

Fifteen years down the track, however, the worsening weather conditions in Australia have sparked a heated debate on the merits of returning to winter football.

Football is universally a winter sport although playing in or watching a game on a balmy summer evening in Australia can be a most enticing and pleasurable exercise.

But mother nature is not reading the script.

The quality of football in the competition in the last three seasons has suffered greatly from extreme temperatures, especially in those fixtures that are played in late afternoons.

And it's going to get worse ever year, according to those who know best: the scientists.

Drinks breaks have become the norm as players on several occasions can be seen struggling to cope with the sort of heat that may be the main reason so many fans are staying away from matches.

A winter competition has other benefits such as a better alignment with the National Premier Leagues but it has major drawbacks. Why take on the AFL and NRL giants head-on? Are there suitable ground alternatives? Is main broadcaster Fox on board?

Perhaps the better option would be to put a greater emphasis on night football.

Fox understandably has every right to demand that league schedules fit its programming but by the same token the broadcaster would be fully aware that a better spectacle emanating from late kicks would enhance its product considerably.

As from next season when the A-League will have 12 teams, the competition could be spread over four nights (Thursday to Sunday or Friday to Monday) with four matches at the weekend. Kick-off could be at 7pm and/or 9pm.

Matches in cities with a different time zone can be a challenge.

Yet there appears to be no serious obstacle for games in usually cooler Wellington, which is two hours ahead of Sydney at this time of the year, to start at 7pm and those in Perth, which is three hours behind Sydney, to start at 7pm, regardless of whether they are a stand-alone fixture or part of a double-header.

In the latter scenario, Wellington could be the early game with the second in Australia kicking off immediately afterwards at 7pm and Perth the second game with the early game in the east starting at 8pm. Fox would love that.

Provisions could be made to avoid Phoenix and Glory being both at home on a double-header.

Some will say that Aussie fans traditionally will not go to a match in midweek and others will not stay up to watch a 10pm game on television.

But beggars cannot be choosers and if we want our competition to reach the heights it was on track to scale only a few years ago, some tough and right decisions need to be made.

And supporters need to make a few 'sacrifices' if they want a football competition to follow.

Summer football in its present form is not in great health and a winter alternative does not appear to be the panacea.

Sensible scheduling that takes into consideration the players' and fans' interests and not just those of Fox might just be the way to go.