After what began as a season of great promise for the A-League Men, the festive season has turned sour, with some fans seemingly having walked away for good.
There was certain to be backlash in the fall-out from the decision to lock grand finals away in Sydney for three seasons. Even the APL would have predicted an initial fury, especially from supporter bases in cities now destined to forgo their right to host a decider in the short term.
However, the passion with which fans expressed their disappointment potentially exceeded APL’s expectations and the subsequent events at AAMI Park where bone-headed Melbourne Victory supporters decided to put the A-League on the front and back pages for all the wrong reasons, parlayed the stench that was lingering around the competition after the initial grand final announcement.
Now, with matches continuing over the Christmas period featuring poor attendances and something of a pall lurking inside the venues, the stark reality exists that some people may have decided that the A-League has simply pushed their buttons one too many times and is now a competition with which they will no longer engage.
It is difficult to imagine a throbbing AAMI Park for a Victory home fixture once the sanctions have been lifted, with the repercussions of recent weeks certain to have an impact across an array of metrics.
No doubt there will be much bitterness and anger, both from the idiotic fans who took to the pitch against Melbourne City and the wider supporter base, still livid at the decision that effectively denies the greatest sporting city in the land the right to host a grand final.
It seems the idea of a Western United vs Melbourne City decider played at Allianz Stadium in Sydney may simply be a bridge too far for some Melbourne fans, with on-line platforms littered with comments such as “Bye”, “The competition is dead” and “They’ve lost me”.
However, the issues now to be dealt with by APL in the aftermath extend well beyond Australia’s second largest city. Sydney FC, after a stunning start at their new stadium and impressive attendances that suggested a return to those achieved between 2012 and 2019, drew just 9,714 on Christmas Eve, with more than just the festive nature of the timing keeping the figure well below those achieved at previous home matches.
A day earlier, Brisbane fans voted with their feet and just 3,487 made the trip to Redcliffe to watch their team earn a draw with the Wanderers. No doubt as annoyed at the APL decision as those down south, the Roar faithful appear to be somewhat dulled and disappointed; with the promising performances of their team somewhat overridden by the foul scent pervading the competition and the distaste still existing in the mouths of many fans.
As Perth Glory battle away in what looks a nice little venue at Macedonia Park, Macarthur FC and Western United slowly build faces to which they hope new fans will be drawn over the next five years and the ongoing challenge of putting bums on seats continues, plummeting crowd figures in traditionally strong markets could spell disaster.
It will be interesting to note the crowd in Adelaide on Tuesday night when the Reds tackle the Jets, particularly considering the 13,504 fans that greeted Melbourne Victory in Round 6. Firm eyes will also be on Newcastle on New Year’s Day, when the Jets host the Sky Blues in a match that would attract a solid attendance under normal circumstances.
A real fear exists that some self-exiled fans may have been lost to the competition for good, off the back of APL’s decision and the thoughtless means by which some fans chose to protest it.
Hopefully that is not the case, yet the core and important question as to whether we will see the fans slowly come back in the New Year, having made peace with the grand final change, is a relevant one.
Central Coast drew a season high 7,173 for the mid-week clash with Newcastle Jets on December 21st, offering some hope that at least in that part of the A-League world there may have been little impact.
However, Melbourne and Brisbane both appear to be different kettles of fish, with a lingering animosity between supporters and the APL likely to need further time to heal fully. Crucially, if the wound proves simply too deep or troublesome to be re-stitched, a small number of A-League fans may not be back, with their absence obvious in attendance statistics across the rest of the season.
Personally, I believe the game always prevails and that the fans will eventually be back in full force. However, that may take some time and the APL should be on notice when it comes to making future decisions without adequate forewarning for the people that support the game most passionately.