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Will Swanton’s attempted NBL vs A-League code war was an epic fail

A-League

People like The Australian newspaper’s Will Swanton obviously detest football and apparently enjoy watching the game struggle, for acknowledgement and towards expansion.

The veteran journalist took a pot shot at football on the 17th of November, in an article pumping up the tires of the increasingly well attended National Basketball League. It was poorly timed to say the least. It came just a day after the football community had embraced the now traditional romance of November 16th; the anniversary of the day Australian football returned to World Cup respectability.

On that day in 2005, John Aloisi’s boot and Mark Schwarzer’s hands helped send the Socceroos to their first World Cup in 32 years. Never before had a team of professionals represented the nation on the biggest of football stages, yet the generation of players that emerged around the turn of the century was mature and did so with pride and determination.

Following the record breaking crowd of 17,514 that attended the Sydney Kings vs Illawarra Hawks NBL match a day later at Qudos Bank Arena, Swanton felt the need to do two things.

Firstly, he correctly identified the increase in interest and attendance at NBL matches thus far in 2019. At the time of writing, that attendance increase stood at 6.7% when measured against the 2018/19 season average. A fantastic achievement and one potentially impacted by Australia’s stellar but ultimately disappointing run at the recent World Championships in China.

Swanton captured the NBL success well with his use of the term “slam-dunk” in the headline, yet had many astonished by his decision to suggest that the A-League was kicking an “own-goal” in comparison. The award winning journalist doubled down in his second paragraph by fabricating the existence of a “summer shootout” between the two sports; arguing that basketball was gaining traction whilst football was floundering.

Perhaps confrontational by nature, Swanton felt the need to use divisive and inflammatory language to outline his thesis, when the reality is that many football fans are also embracing the success of the National Basketball League. In short, any attempt to infer that either sport is dragging fans away from the other is merely nonsense.

More alarming is the rather loose use of language and the exclusion of data that actually counters his argument decisively. The reality is that A-League crowds are up 6.9% on 2018/19 season averages, even considering the introduction of Western United and their expected mediocre crowds as they attempt to build a loyal supporter base in Geelong.

Hardly floundering.

Just four days after The Australian published the piece, the FFA would announce an increased operating surplus for 2019 of A$44.04 million and a 13% increase in Australia’s football participation rates. That increase translates to around 1.8 million Australians playing the beautiful game on a regular basis.

A record 125,631 people became members of A-League clubs in 2019 and for the first time in the competition’s history, more than 50% of participants across the country were actively supporting an A-League team.

All potentially important fragments of information to be aware of before writing an article that death knells a competition and lampoons its quality as being “not in the top two” leagues in the world. Such drivel merely enunciates the limited research undertaken for the piece and potentially the lack of knowledge possessed by the writer when it comes to football and its deep seated roots in this country.

Former Socceroo and Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich made mere folly of Swanton’s reference to football’s poor television figures by noting that the viewing audience for the Kings vs Hawks fixture was in fact smaller than the crowd inside the arena for the contest.

Bosnich was correct in his assertion that football fans would never raise such a statistic. Co-existence in Australia’s overcrowded sporting landscape is a reality and there is room for both codes to survive and thrive.

Perhaps the writer should be more concerned about the shrinking attendances at international cricket matches, after the Brisbane test Match at the Gabba between Australia and Pakistan drew just 13,561 fans on the opening day of the international season.

Moreover, the 31.7% decrease in Big Bash crowds in just two seasons is surely worth more space than a rather desperate attempt to set up a futile code war between two emerging sports. Framing such a tension does little more than pander to those who salivate at the thought of seeing football punted from television screens and being told to assume its seat, as it has been told many times before.

Sadly for Swanton, the game at grass roots level continues to grow, women’s football soars ahead in leaps and bounds and the A-League is plugging away quite well thank you very much.

The standard is commendable, the fans engaged and with new found independence, the future looks bright. Hopefully, those of us who enjoy watching the NBL and the A-League can savour the growth of both, hold hands, and march into the future with wonderful viewing options over the course of an Australian summer. I’ll do so with or without Will Swanton.

Western United to play Australia Day fixture at Whitten Oval

On Friday, newly formed A-League club Western United announced that they would host their match against Adelaide United at the Whitten Oval.

The match, set to take place on Australia Day (January 26) will mark the third AFL ground that Mark Rudan’s side has used this season as a home venue.

Previously to this, Mars Stadium in Ballarat and GMBHA Stadium in Geelong have been used.

On paper, this is a perfect move for the expansion club. Their match against the Reds will mark their first official match to take place in western Melbourne, opposed to greater western Victoria.

Their stadium in Tarneit is on course for a 2021 completion, so obviously until then, they need to make do with what’s available.

But now, they finally have a chance to play in front of the people who were their targeted demographic from day one.

The Whitten Oval is a great location in itself, having played host to large scale AFLW games and consistent seasons of the VFL. So the ground will be up to scratch for 90 minutes of A-League football.

Currently, the AFL, AFLW and VFL are in their off-seasons, so there is no risk of any clash between AFL side the Western Bulldogs and Western United.

There was only a minor risk of clash between the match and any pre-season training for the Bulldogs. But thankfully, the 2016 AFL premiers are on a training camp up north on the Sunshine Coast at the time of Australia Day.

In an article from The Age, United CEO Chris Pehlivanis and Western Bulldogs CEO Ameet Bains echoed each other’s thoughts on the prospect of A-League football at Whitten.

“We will continue to be a club for all who call the west home as we take this journey together,” Pehlivanis said.

“Relocating our round 16 fixture to Whitten Oval gives the club’s growing fanbase an opportunity to taste the A-League at another family friendly, community venue in the west.”

“Hosting A-League football at Whitten Oval is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the broad capability of our venue and to connect with a new audience,” said Bains.

“We have been able to create a unique, family-friendly atmosphere for sporting events we have hosted at Whitten Oval, particularly in the summer months at our AFLW matches.”

United’s start to the season has been a mixed bag, both on and off the field.

Many A-League fans would agree in us saying that it’s a nice breath of fresh air to have a new side, boasting new names as well as some familiar faces in the competition.

Their on field performance has been decent. They currently sit in fifth on the A-League table and despite some disappointing results as of late, they remain firmly in contention for a finals berth in their inaugural season.

That in itself is a remarkable achievement, should Alessandro Diamanti and co. get it done.

But off the field, there has been a struggle for numbers, particularly at home games.

They currently hold the second-lowest attendance record in the competition this season, averaging a measly 6,225 per game. They also hold the record for lowest attendance at a single game this season.

In their round nine encounter against Sydney FC, a mere 4,187 fans clicked through the turnstiles in Geelong as the reigning champions of the A-League ran out 2-0 winners.

Understandably, as a new side it’s tough to acquire fans from the get-go and to establish genuine connections with fans will take time. Poor on-field results would go a long way to diminishing any hopes of that.

But with time and the opening of their new stadium in the near future, it’s a simple case of staying the course for Pehlivanis and co.

This match on Australia Day in the heart of Melbourne’s inner-western suburbs could do a world of good for Western. With tickets reportedly going for as little as $6, it could be the beginning of a wonderful new relationship between them and the Western Bulldogs.

Fingers crossed for them that regardless of the on-field result, they have a good showing from their fans and any neutrals who watch them as well.

Illawarra-Based Sides Join Forces in Bushfire Appeal

It’s been a rough few weeks for rural Australia, to be very blunt.

The bushfires ravaging the country have caught worldwide attention, with donations and help coming from far and wide.

Elton John, Chris Hemsworth, Gordon Ramsay, Russell Crowe and Leonardo Di Caprio are just some of the celebrities who have financially pledged for the cause.

In the cricket, various Big Bash League players including Matt Renshaw, Chris Lynn and Glenn Maxwell are donating for every wicket or six they hit in the tournament.

Brighton and Australian national team goalkeeper Maty Ryan is also making an effort from the other side of the world, as are various Australian-born players in the NBA including Ben Simmons, Dante Exum and Matthew Dellavedova.

The list of those who have donated is very extensive and it’ll only get longer, which is fantastic, especially from those overseas.

One of the worst affected areas is in rural NSW, in and around the coastal area of Illawarra, a region of NSW that holds over 300,000 people and the metropolitan city of Wollongong.

In response to the horrific events that have dominated the headlines, Football NSW have joined forces with the NRL and NBL in hosting a round of golf featuring players from various codes.

Despite being a much smaller city than the likes of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Wollongong is a very competitive sporting city. The Illawarra Hawks compete in the NBL and the St. George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL.

NPL NSW side Wollongong Wolves, who recently won the National Championship against Queensland-based side Lions FC, will also partake in the charity golf game.

Illawarra Hawks guard LaMelo Ball, who has taken the league by storm in the few games he’s played, also donated a substantial amount at a time when the fires were still in their initial stages.

It will be an 18-hole game with every hole available to be sponsored for $1000.

It has been truly amazing to see the support received from across the globe in response to these bushfires. As a country, we always help our fellow man or woman when they’re in a sticky situation. It’s in our nature.

But sometimes, we need a helping hand and we’ve received a lot of those.

The fight is far from over, with blazes raging across the country at the writing of this article.

But with fundraisers such as this, combined with the selfless donations from millions, we’ll be on the road back to normalcy before we know it.

The full press release from NPLNSW that came out last Wednesday can be found below:

The Wollongong Wolves, St George Ilawarra Dragons and Illawarra Hawks have joined forces to announce a first of its kind Illawarra combined codes bushfire appeal golf day.

Players and coaches from the Dragons, Hawks and Wolves will convene on Monday, February 3 at Wollongong Golf Club to help raise funds for the NSW Rural Fire Service, Salvation Army Disaster Relief Appeal and Australian Wildlife Rescue (WIRES) following the recent bushfires that have devastated Australian communities.

Entry for a four-man Ambrose team is $2000 and includes an afternoon of golf, cart hire, food and beverage package as well as a post-presentation event and the chance to mingle with all your favourite players across the three different codes that represent the Illawarra.
Each of the 18 holes are also available to be sponsored at a cost of $1000.

Spots for the day are extremely limited, with all queries and purchases available by emailing partnerships@dragons.com.au or partnerships@hawks.com.au.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor hailed the bushfire appeal golf day as a unique and significant opportunity to raise funds for several special causes.

“The codes combined bushfire appeal golf day is one of several causes the Dragons have chosen to back in response to the horrific fires that have overwhelmed the country,” McGregor said.

“The chance to see your favourite players across Illawarra’s three main codes on the one day is an opportunity that cannot be missed, all in name of a very good cause.”

Wolves coach and former Socceroo Luke Wilkshire echoed his fellow coach’s sentiments regarding the recent bushfire devastation.
“As far as sport in the Illawarra region goes, it is great that we can support each other and work collectively,” Wilkshire said.

“To showcase a strong, positive message by bringing our different sporting identities together as one for a great cause is very important.”
Hawks coach Matt Flinn gave a personal affirmation to the bushfire appeal golf day.

“This is an exciting event that all three sporting clubs are collaborating on,” Flinn said.

“I’ve been personally affected, with family members caught up in the bushfires, as have many of our members and supporters within the south coast region, so this is a way in which we can help unite our community and raise funds for a terrific cause.”

 

State Federations unite together for bushfire relief

A number of state football federations in Australia have expressed their support for those affected by bushfires across the summer.

Football Victoria, Football NSW, Football Queensland and Football South Australia have already released statements and will roll out initiatives to help contribute their donations to the cause.

Football Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos has kickstarted the campaign by donating $10,000 to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

It has also been confirmed that the annual Community Shield matches and Round 1 of the NPL Victoria Men’s season (February 13th-16th 2020) will be a Bushfire Relief Appeal round.

Both Community Shield games will take place at City Vista Reserve, the new home of Caroline Springs George Cross FC.

In the men’s match, 2019 Dockerty Cup holders Hume City FC will take on 2019 NPL Victoria Champions Bentleigh Greens SC on Saturday, February 8, 2020, from 5pm.

The women’s match will see 2019 Nike F.C. Cup winners Calder United FC face NPLW Victoria Runners-Up FC Bulleen Lions on the weekend of March 15, 2020 (exact match date and time TBD).

In a statement by Football NSW CEO Stuart Hodge, the entire federation have expressed their sympathy for the people who have been caught up in the bushfires that have shocked everyone here and around the world, while thanking all the brave firefighters and emergency workers for the selfless role of protecting affected towns and communities.

Football NSW have said they are working with Football Federation Australia (FFA) and other Member Associations and Clubs about how to unite and add to the massive fundraising efforts already on display.

So far, Football NSW have confirmed they will make a donation to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal and also dedicate Round 1 of the NPL NSW competitions as a Bushfire Relief Round.

Football Queensland have committed to the bushfire appeal by working closely with Football Federation Australia (FFA), Brisbane Roar, regional zones and clubs.

CEO Robert Cavallucci has been involved in engaging the football community through fundraising initiatives and kick-started this with a donation to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal.

Not only will Round 1 of the NPL Queensland men’s season be dedicated as a Bushfire Appeal Round, but two special charity matches will also take place.

The first is a charity match between Brisbane Roar Legends vs an NPL Queensland Select Team and Celebrity VIP’s. It will be played before the Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix A-League match at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday January 18, 2020.

The second of the charity matches will be The Football Foundation Cup, FQ’s curtain-raiser to the NPL Men’s season. NPL Queensland Premiers Lions FC will take on FQPL Premiers Sunshine Coast Wanderers on Saturday February 1, 2020 at Lions FC.

In a statement by Football South Australia, they have also given their support during this tough time, with more details to be released from them soon.

“Football SA is deeply saddened by the tragedies, losses and suffering that have resulted from bushfires in South Australia and around the nation.

We want to support the community at this time and will provide details in the coming days.

Our thoughts are with all people affected by the devastating events.”

In addition to these vital initiatives, FFA will dedicate the upcoming two rounds of Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League to raise funds for those impacted by the disasters.

If you have been affected by the bushfires and need support, please reach out to Lifeline.

Support is available 24/7 on 13 11 14, or nightly via Lifeline Text.

Lifeline Text is available 6pm – midnight (AEDT) on 0477 13 11 14.

You are not alone. Bushfire Relief tool kits are also available at lifeline.org.au

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