The football year 2010 (Published in the Geelong Advertiser on 22 December 2010, p. 34 as ‘Round ball kicks on’.
By Roy Hay
Melissa Barbieri of Melbourne Victory catches the ball in classic fashion from Laura Alleway (5) and Monnique Hansen Kofoed (12) of Victory and Leia Smith (18) of Newcastle Jets.Photo: Roy Hay.
How should we assess a year that promised so much but had two major disappointments in the Australian performance in the World Cup in South Africa and the failed bid to host the competition in 2022?
It would be a pity if that was all that people remembered of the round ball game in 2010, for there was much to be excited about in the World Game.
There was the extraordinary triumph of the Australian women’s team, the Matildas, which won the Asian championship and qualified for the World Cup in Germany next year.
Once again the women outperformed the men in a team sport.
Women also have a strong national competition at senior level and flourishing leagues in most states.
Participation rates continue to increase and junior competitions are oversubscribed despite being hideously expensive.
Coaching and junior development is being improved with the strong efforts to ensure that children are taught the enjoyment of the game and good habits when very young.
The emphasis is increasingly on play, skill acquisition and involvement rather than results and trophies at the younger age groups, though this still meets resistance from some parents.
A clearer pathway for the development of elite performers is emerging but it is even more important that the children who just want to sample the game or take part as just one of their sporting activities are catered for.
Facilities are stretched beyond breaking point and while local councils have now wakened up to the demand from their residents putting in all weather pitches, changing and social facilities are very expensive.
Australia’s elite performers also produced some exhilarating performances in 2010.
After a long hiatus, the delayed outcome of the ending of the National Soccer League and the gap before the A-League began, the Australian under-age male teams are beginning to show their potential.
The Under-17 Joeys have qualified for the World Cup in Mexico in 2011, as a result of reaching the semi-finals of the Asian championships.
The Under-20s were narrowly beaten in the Asian championship final by North Korea, but have also qualified for the World Cup.
Adelaide United reached the final of the Asian Champions League, the A-League Grand Final brought Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory together in a nail-biting confrontation which was only settled on penalty kicks.
Some of the best A-League coaches are giving young players the opportunity to play at the top domestic level and sticking with them even if the overall results are patchy.
Scott Neville is the captain of Perth Glory at 20 years old, Matthew Leckie set the league on fire at Adelaide United at age 19 until a leg injury interrupted his year, and Matthew Ryan has been outstanding in goals for the Central Coast Mariners at only 18.
The standard in the league is the highest it has ever been and some games of really high quality are now taking place.
Though average crowds have fallen from the peak levels reached in the second and third seasons of the league, this owes much to the effects of the recent financial crisis and the expansion into areas which have seldom or never participated at national level in the game’s history.
Promotion of the game is expensive too and local communities need first to be wooed by those who aim to put the game on a sustainable level.
When Clive Palmer offered free entry to the Gold Coast United match recently he got a crowd of over 10,000 on a night when it was so wet the game had to be abandoned after about 20 minutes.
Melbourne Heart exploded on to the scene as the second Victorian club this year and while some attendances at the new stadium, AAMI Park, have been small, more than 25,000 attended the first local derby against Victory, the largest crowd ever to watch a league match between two Victorian teams.
The Socceroos have a chance to redeem their reputation when they embark on the Asian championships in January, having qualified comfortably earlier this year.
So while 2010 will not go down as the best year for the round ball game in this country, it did contain some solid achievement, though a great deal more needs to be done to ensure that continues in 2011.