Promotion and relegation is one of the few constants in nearly every single soccer country across the globe. It makes the sport unique and it gives each team something to play for each season. It also makes it one of the most cutthroat sports on the planet. Why is that? Well, to prove this statement, let’s take a look at the Australian Football League.
Teams will often rise up and drop down the ladder over the years, with no club recognised as the club to beat every year (like Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United). It’s much more of a lottery. Yes, coaches, players, fans etc. would suffer as a result of a club doing poorly. But unlike soccer leagues across the world, there’s no punishment for poor performance. If you finish bottom of the ladder, you get rewarded with the number one draft pick.
The system works but imagine if the same system was implemented for a soccer competition. Would it work as well as it does in the AFL? The answer is simple, no.
For starters, fans wouldn’t be as invested as we see in the European leagues. Even if their club is fighting off relegation, fans will come in droves to cheer them on. In Australia’s A-League, if a club is struggling, you’ll very rarely see packed out stadiums.
The league itself would feel like it was coming off a conveyer belt each season. It would be the same teams, the same stadiums and the same league each season. Again, we see this in the A-League, but they also have the FFA Cup and there are new teams entering the competition, starting with Western United next season.
These two factors are what makes the European leagues so successful. Who would’ve thought that Bournemouth, a club that not too long ago was non-league, would now be a mainstay in English football? What about how Huddersfield Town, who despite already being relegated this season, would’ve had the season from heaven to get promoted to the top flight.
It’s the beauty of European soccer, that there are the big teams that have been the benchmarks for so long as well as the battlers who scrap their way through the divisions.
This is where the A-League is losing so much potential to create a strong, multi league soccer country that is outside of Europe. FFA Chairman Chris Nikou recently suggested that promotion and relegation may not enter Australian soccer for up to 15 years, a suggestion that could harm the sport’s future in the country.
— Adrian Arciuli (@Adrian_Arciuli) March 24, 2019
Soccer has grown exponentially in the last few seasons in this country, especially at the community and grassroots levels. Junior participation is at an all time high and interest in the National Premier Leagues across the states has never been greater. If anything, the next few seasons would appear to be the perfect time to implement some sort of promotion/relegation system.
The FFA, in refusing to create a system, is neglecting the people that have madder soccer in this country what it is today. Those at the grassroots and community levels are the heart and soul of Australian soccer and have been ever since the early NSL days. Clubs such as South Melbourne and the Melbourne Knights defined Australian soccer for decades and now, when they, along with a host of other clubs want to change soccer for the better, the FFA neglects them.
The FFA should take a leaf out of European leagues books, but sometimes the evidence is right in front of them. In the last two seasons, the NPL in Victoria has seen some crazy final days and some clubs in promotion and relegation fights that are simply unbelievable.
In 2017, the Melbourne Knights struggled and finished third last on the table, entering the promotion/relegation playoff against Dandenong City. Despite winning 3-2, to see such a historic club almost leave the top flight was a massive surprise. 2018 however, was far more remarkable.
Green Gully are another revered NPLVIC side who have won titles in years gone by. They finished third last and entered the promotion/relegation match against Moreland City. They were down 2-0 in the 90th minute and looked a certainty to be relegated.
But through sheer force of will, they scored two quick goals, sent the game to extra time and scored a late winner to secure safety in the top flight. That level of drama has never been seen before at the NPL level and if the FFA could open their eyes to the possibilities a pro/rel system would create up, we could see it in the A-League.
Instead of going through the motions, every A-League season could have extra meaning with clubs knowing that there is always something on the line. Because in recent seasons, the desire from players, clubs and officials behind the scenes appears to have been non-existent.