Money not football the name of the game

Corey Davis/Getty Images

Corey Davis/Getty Images

When are the daft decisions going to stop?  This week Football Federation Australia (FFA) with their power decided to relocate the Hyundai A-League Grand Final to Sydney.  FFA Chief Executive, Ben Buckley, made the announcement official by telling both the Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets they will have to travel to Sydney to play their biggest match of the season and the code’s showpiece event.

We constantly hear that decisions made by FFA are in the best interests of the game.  How can this be true?  If Sydney FC finished in the top two they would have earned the right to host the Grand Final had they won the Major Semi-Final, Queensland Roar the same.  The fact is Sydney and QLD didn’t.  Central Coast and Newcastle did.  So why is there a double standard?

Because it’s all about the money stupid!

If the Grand Final is played in a 40,000+ capacity stadium, like the Sydney Football Stadium (SFS), there is more revenue in it.  It’s not important who wins or what the venue means to the teams involved – what matters is we get a show.  FFA needs to put on an event to rival the three other major football codes.  My bet is that if Sydney makes it, FFA will choose ANZ Stadium which as a venue eliminates the home ground advantage and has a capacity of over 80,000.

Newcastle coach, Gary Van Egmond, is disappointed with the attitude of FFA and has said to the media this week that it’s an issue of “respect” for the game and the loyal fans.  I couldn’t agree more with him.  Respect and money don’t often mix, certainly not in this case.

Newcastle’s home ground, EnergyAustralia Stadium, holds approximately 26,000, while Central Coast’s Bluetongue Stadium holds only around 21,000, both significantly less than the SFS or ANZ Stadium.  So what?  Sydney fans had the luxury of a home Grand Final in Season 1 as did Melbourne Victory in Season 2.  This trend should continue.

Let’s look at it purely from a football perspective because there is a lucrative AFC Asian Champions League place at stake for the winner.  According to FFA rules, in this home and away leg format the higher you finish means you get to decide whether to play your Semi-Final at home or away first.  In the case of the top two teams the winner of the Major Semi-Final hosts the Grand Final, well, that’s certainly the way it has been up until now.

Every football enthusiast knows the advantageous influence of a home crowd and from the player’s perspective, familiar surroundings.  The whole idea of a competition is for outstanding performances to be rewarded.  FFA has shown no respect at all to both teams who have earned this right.  What I can’t understand is why there’s a different set of rules for Sydney and QLD.

If, hypothetically speaking, Central Coast and Newcastle make the Grand Final, who is going to go to the game?  Central Coast and Newcastle fans of course, not fans of Sydney or QLD.  Why would they go and support a team that knocked them out?  Or, if QLD makes it and plays Central Coast, the team from Gosford loses their home ground advantage.  It really doesn’t seem fair!

To add further insult to the situation, FFA told Sydney this week they will have to play the home-leg of the Minor Semi-Final against QLD first, again forcing restrictions on matters that affect football.  Sydney coach John Kosmina is trying to turn a negative into a positive by saying he’d prefer not to travel this week, but it is obvious that the Sydney Club would’ve preferred to have played the return-leg at home in front of a parochial Sydney crowd.

This decision may ultimately affect the outcome as it could come down to the away goals rule.  Both teams have met each other three times this season with Sydney winning the first game 1-0 and the next two ending in 0-0 draws.  Again, it seems unfair.

The losers in all of this are the loyal fans: the people who pay good money every week to support their team.  Isn’t it the job of administrators to provide a fair and equitable national competition?  What’s fair about having to play at home because “The Police” used the away venue this week?  No not the men and women in blue, the aging rockers headed by Sting toured Brisbane this week.

Instead of admitting poor event management and compensating the Clubs or better still relocating the match to another stadium in Brisbane, FFA just do what they see fit – you’ll be playing at home and that’s all there is to it.  In Sydney’s case majority shareholder, Frank Lowy, is also FFA Chairman so he can’t really complain to himself.

Opinions in the media and football community have been divided on this issue, but it is great to see healthy debate in this country.  I believe those who see the Grand Final (and sport in general) as entertainment would vote for a bigger venue, while those who go purely for the football will support a home ground advantage.  It’s really a matter of what value you put on the game.

May the best two teams make the Grand Final and overcome any hurdles in lifting the trophy.  All four teams have a legitimate chance of winning it this season.  One thing’s for sure, FFA administrators have learned some harsh lessons in Season 3.  A message to FFA – to the real fans it’s less about the money and more about the football.

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