A-League's season of highs and lows
PHIL DILLON looks back on the year that was in Australia's premier football competition and picks out his five highlights and lowlights of another action-packed year.
1. The signing of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton
It may have been protracted and drawn out, but Kewell's move to Melbourne Victory in August gave the A-League the perfect boost ahead of its seventh season. And when fellow Socceroo Emerton came "home" to sign for Sydney FC it sent the strongest of messages that the powers-that-be were serious about making this competition one of the best in the southern hemisphere. Both have been successes this season (I have to admit I wasn't sure about Kewell) and hopefully could lead to more big-name players making the journey to play down under.
2. The revoking of Gold Coast United's A-League licence
If the signings of Kewell and Emerton were good news for the A-League and Football Federation Australia, then this ridiculous saga, which turned into a war between one of Australia's richest men Frank Lowy and Queensland's richest man Clive Palmer, was just what it did not need. The public spat between the two, which finally resulted in the revoking of Gold Coast's licence, was a blight not only on the A-League, but on the game as a whole in Australia. Let's hope that a new consortium can be found and football finds a place on the Coast again. But if it does, the Gold Coast public has to support it and not sit on their backsides at home while the players struggle to perform in front of empty seats.
3. Announcement of new club in western Sydney
Not long after losing a club in bizarre circumstances, the FFA managed to find a new one in almost the same way. With Prime Minister Julia Gillard in attendance, FFA chief executive Ben Buckley announced a team would be formed in Western Sydney (haven't we heard that one before in another footy code?). It was all bells and whistles with Buckley saying the new outfit would be community based and run by the people for the people (or something like that). Let's hope that with government and FFA backing, the club is successful next season and we don't end up with another white elephant as we had on the Gold Coast.
4. Hunter Sports Group handing back Newcastle Jets' A-League licence
Talking of white elephants, this decision by the Hunter Sports Group, led by mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, left me perplexed, bemused and more than a little saddened for both the players and supporters of the Newcastle Jets. I remember looking at the club's website on the day of the press conference set up by HSG and after clicking on a link which said "club announcement" I read about the decision to hand in the club's A-League licence. To treat fans and players like that was disgraceful. There is strong talk that a "community-run" team based in Newcastle will be in the A-League next season. Let's hope so. It will be the perfect way to stick two fingers up to the HSG and Tinkler and the club to say: "we don't need your money".
5. Roar's grand final win, that penalty, the Joe Marston Medal cock-up and Ange's departure
I have decided to lump these four highlights/lowlights together because I think they are all inextricably linked.
Firstly, Roar's historic back-to-back grand final win was not only good for Brisbane but it has to be good for the competition as a whole. The final might not have been one for the purists but what it lacked in quality, it made up for in excitement. Lightning doesn't strike twice, they say. Try telling that to Roar skipper Matt Smith and the rest of the Roar team, who deserved its grand final success.
Perth did not deserve what happened in injury time, however, although I have to strongly disagree with some of the things I have been hearing from Glory owner Tony Sage, since that penalty. I have looked at it and looked at it and looked at it again and although I now admit there was the slightest of touches from Liam Miller, I still believe it was not a penalty as Besart Berisha fell over the ball. Perth skipper Jacob Burns insisted that Berisha told him it was not penalty but Burns was gracious in defeat and also covered himself in glory (excuse the pun) when it came to the Joe Marston Medal farce.
Not only was the grand final chance ripped away from him, Burns had to suffer the ignominy of receiving the much-deserved Marston Medal in the bowels of Suncorp Stadium, instead of in front of thousands of fans after Thomas Broich was wrongly presented with the gong after an "administrative error". This just rounded off a poor season for the FFA and A-League on the officiating front.
Then just as we thought the season was over, Ange Postecoglou gave us the coup de gras. The worst-kept secret in Australian football came out not long after the tickertape parade through Brisbane's streets. Postecoglou says he likes a challenge and good luck to him as he has done a remarkable job with the Roar. But maybe he could have left his announcement for another day or two because, let's face it, we all knew he was leaving. Talk about raining on Brisbane's parade.