As football around the world grinds to a reluctant stop, the ball is set to continue rolling in Australia
On what will be a predictably warm Friday night in Australia, Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler will continue his first season as Brisbane Roar manager in an empty stadium but with a potentially significant amount of fans watching on from afar.
The average A-League game would be lucky to attract a television audience of more than 50,000 people but given it has quickly become one of the few ongoing competitions, its viewing figures could be about to skyrocket.
Though most leagues in Europe, and indeed the world, have been indefinitely suspended due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Football Federation Australia (FFA) decided this week to keep the games coming.
With the number of infected and dead yet to reach the heights of China or Europe, Australia is to some degree burying its head in the country’s bountiful sand and hoping Covid-19 won’t hit their shores quite so hard as it has elsewhere.
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That likely misplaced optimism means top-level sport in the country will continue this coming weekend – albeit behind closed doors.
Along with the A-League, the Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL) are both planning to play their games in empty stadiums, and in the AFL’s case, with reduced game time.
While those two competitions have only just begun for the year, the A-League’s regular season is close to finishing, with the competition’s finals format initially scheduled to begin in May.
As such, the FFA seems intent on wrapping up proceedings as quickly as possible with five games to be played over the coming days, despite two of the A-League’s 11 clubs now being stuck in quarantine.
After Melbourne Victory took on Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand last weekend, both teams had to go into self-isolation for 14 days due to recently implemented travel measures, with the Phoenix also relocating to Australia for the foreseeable future.
Despite that setback, the A-League is committed to marching on, with the FFA already working on how to rearrange postponed games in a timely and practical manner.
It’s been reported that the remainder of the season could be played entirely on the east coast of Australia to reduce travel risks for clubs and allow for games to be played in a shorter space of time.
As it stands, the competition is attempting a very delicate juggling act to keep the A-League ball in the air, and while it could come crashing down at any moment, football fans around the world could be set to whet their appetite for action on what is a unique delicacy.
Unsurprisingly, the football level in Australia doesn’t compare to Europe’s elite competitions, with the country’s best players often jumping at the chance to play abroad and quality foreigners only joining the A-League in the twilight of their careers.
But where the competition may fall short for skill, it more than makes up for it in terms of character, spirit and sheer wackiness.
Just last season, the A-League’s ‘highlight reel’ included a streaker on crutches, goalposts collapsing mid-game leading to a lengthy delay and a player forced to carry a seagull off the pitch after accidentally striking it with the ball.
On paper, things are also quite interesting this season, with Fowler honing his craft as a manager with the Roar, Western United enjoying a turbulent debut season with Italian star Alessandro Diamanti regularly showing his class, and Western Sydney Wanderers playing out of a new 30,000-seat stadium.
That venue will host one of this weekend’s more enticing fixtures with the Sydney derby seeing the Wanderers take on Sydney FC.
While there will be no sell-out crowd this time around, these two sides often deliver fireworks by themselves, with the home side claiming two surprise wins already this season despite the Sky Blues currently leading the league by 10 points and with games in hand.
This rearranged round will see Central Coast Mariners kick things off at home against Melbourne City on Friday, with the latter side of the City Football Group and playing some slick football under former Paris Saint-Germain manager Erick Mombaerts.
The Mariners for their part have also now lost nine straight games, so this one is capable of producing a much-needed upset or, more likely, a thrashing. When it comes to the Central Coast side, you should always expect an extreme of some variety.
So, while there are far important things than football right now, the A-League is ready to provide a temporary and much-needed distraction.
For those hoping to watch from outside of Australia, games can be streamed for free here.