Experimental matches at ANZ Stadium and Geelong, a Thursday night start, football on Christmas Eve and Asian Champions League-friendly fixturing are some of the talking points of next season’s A-League draw, due to be released on Monday morning.
Football Federation Australia is hoping a return a more consistent fixture structure will underpin increased crowds and media interest heading into the A-League’s 11th season.
After seeing their product virtually split into two halves due to the Asian Cup break last season, the league’s early season momentum was frittered away after the high of the three-week international break, despite a grand final which drew nationwide attention.
The international adventures of the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Asian Champions League and the Club World Cup also wreaked havoc with the fixtures for themselves and their opponents, something that won’t be a problem this year.
For the first time, it is believed the FFA have built the fixture with ACL participants in mind, extending breaks either side of their midweek contests and looking to minimise the distance travelled.
That could prove a small mercy to Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, and also Adelaide United, should they manage to qualify for the group stages.
The league will kick off with the Western Sydney Wanderers hosting the crisis-hit Brisbane Roar at Parramatta Stadium on October 8 – a rare Thursday night start for the competition and John Aloisi’s first match in charge of the three-time champions.
ANZ Stadium will play host to its second A-League fixture, although it won’t be a derby as many expected. That won’t be happening this season unless a final is scheduled between the two teams.
Sydney FC, who last played there in 2012-13 with a 2-1 win victory Perth Glory in front of 22,128 fans, are due to host the Newcastle Jets at the Olympic Stadium on January 9.
The Central Coast Mariners have taken a cash-grab – believed to be close to $100,000 – to shift their home game against Melbourne Victory to Geelong’s Simonds Stadium, which successfully hosted last season’s top-of-the-table clash between the Victory and Glory.
The move may antagonise some club members, already fuming at the club’s long-term ambition to play an increasing number of matches at North Sydney Oval.
In more pleasing news for the Mariners, they’ve won back their most cherished fixture, with the club successfully lobbying for the right to be reinstated as the host for their traditional New Year’s Eve clash.
The Wanderers will also get into the holiday fun, hosting the Jets in a Christmas Eve match at Parramatta – a fixture that could either boom or bust.
Perth’s first meaningful match after being banned for salary cap breaches last season will take place away to Newcastle, who will be playing their first match under new coach Scott Miller.
The A-League’s marquee fixtures – the Sydney and Melbourne derbies – will be hosted twice by Sydney FC and Melbourne City respectively.
The grand final re-match between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC is expected to take place in Sydney in mid-November, with the two subsequent clashes between the sides occurring in Melbourne.
The A-League is also hoping to revive the excitement of the F3 Derby by scheduling the third and final contest between the two regional NSW sides on the closing day of the season, hoping it could be a do-or-die game for either side in the race for the finals.
© 2015 The Age | This article was written by Sebastian Hassett and first appeared in The Age on 28 June 2015.