Derision and destitution in Australia
A-League fans can be forgiven for diverting their attention away from any action on the pitch, as AustraliaÃ¢ÂÂs embattled domestic competition suffers through yet another tumultuous week of horrendous headlines.
First, Football Federation Australia find that the Newcastle Jets are cash-strapped enough to threaten their very existence. Then former A-League CEO Archie Fraser pipes up with a withering critique of the FFA.
Fraser accused the FFA of neglecting the A-League in favour of AustraliaÃ¢ÂÂs bid to host the 2022 World Cup, and this unleashed a torrent of media criticism.
Ã¢ÂÂThe A-League is suffering,Ã¢ÂÂ Fraser said during the week. "Hopefully it will still be there in December when FIFA decides whether we do or donÃ¢ÂÂt get the World Cup. The structure of the league is wrong. It needs more autonomy and to be separated from the FFA and allowed to look after its own affairs.Ã¢ÂÂ
FFA supremo Ben Buckley was a major target, with Fraser claiming that every decision made during his tenure was signed off by the much-maligned administrator. Buckley could hardly have picked a worse week to embark on a fact-finding mission to China.
Australian officials are deeply concerned with how a Chinese bid to host the 2026 World Cup might affect their own bid to host the tournament four years prior, and the fact that Buckley was out of the country while the A-League struggles for direction was not lost on his many critics.
Barely 35,000 fans turned out across five fixtures last weekend, with defending champions Sydney FC drawing just 7,557 fans through the gate for their clash with traditional rivals Adelaide United Ã¢ÂÂ who proceeded to thump the Sky Blues 3-1.
Newcomers Melbourne Heart are suffering just as badly at the turnstiles, with a grand total of 4,184 fans turning out to see them register a first ever A-League win over North Queensland Fury at an admittedly rain-soaked AAMI Park.
The dwindling crowds echo the relative lack of interest from corporate sponsors, and the lack of income threatens to bring some clubs to their knees Ã¢ÂÂ the beleaguered Jets foremost among them.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs a frustrating situation for fans, whoÃ¢ÂÂve witnessed some of the best football ever played in the A-League in a relatively entertaining start to the season, on the pitch at least. Adelaide playmaker Marcos Flores, Perth GloryÃ¢ÂÂs star duo Mile Sterjovski and Robbie Fowler and North QueenslandÃ¢ÂÂs erratic attacking style have lit up A-League stadia, whilst the current struggles of Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory will please those eager to support a less predictable competition than the English Premier League [Can't be hard, shurely - Ed.].
However, the financial security and relative stability of the Premier League is something A-League fans can only dream about, and the honeymoon period is well and truly over for a competition still struggling to make an impact on the Australian sporting landscape.
Nevermind the marquee matches in this weekendÃ¢ÂÂs round of fixtures: Brisbane RoarÃ¢ÂÂs trip south to face Melbourne Victory and PerthÃ¢ÂÂs hosting of Gold Coast United will thrill no one if games continue to be played out against the backdrop of empty seats and players are left to grapple with the possibility that their club is set to fold at any minute.
Another difficult weekend may be in store for a competition that canÃ¢ÂÂt seem to take a trick, and all the good football in the world wonÃ¢ÂÂt diminish the barrage of negative publicity currently consuming the A-League.