The Magic of the Cup
When Football Federation Australia (FFA) boss David Gallop recently announced the FFA Cup was one step closer to reality, football fans around Australia collectively thought 'about time'. The prospect of former National Soccer League (NSL) clubs meeting their A-League adversaries whets the appetite. Whilst most reports spoke about how many teams would compete and when the final would take place, an essential element in any cup proposal was blatantly neglected.
The failure of mainstream media and even blogs to mention the stadium scenario for an FFA Cup was surprising. The national body has a tough decision to make when it comes to cup fixtures: nostalgia, or a professional and slick TV event. A cup based on the English FA model has the mystique of romance as it means semi-pro and amateur clubs can conceivably play against the big boys and maybe produce the magical boilover.
During the later rounds, the scenario will arise where a lower-level team will be drawn first. Does the FFA allow the tie to go ahead at the local ground? Will they force the contest to be played at a neutral larger venue that fits the FFA minimum facility standards, or even the away teams ground particularly if it is a 'hot' fixture? Moreover would host broadcaster Fox Sports stipulate that the hosting venue has provisions for broadcasting in HD, especially so if it is a night game? All these questions suggest the FFA needs to make a firm decision on suitable venues. There is the possibility after such an anticipated build up that non-A-League teams will be forced to play away from home tempering excitement and conceding a real advantage. It would be a shame if this were to happen especially if their grounds could satisfactorily meet acceptable local Federation requirements and that it was a safe environment for players and fans.
One of the beauties of A-League pre-season is when clubs do a local roadshow of playing lower-level teams at neighborhood grounds. It gets the fans excited and brings the A-League closer to the community. In addition it allows these local teams to earn a bit of coin on the side due to an increased crowd sparking renewed or new interest in their playing fortunes. The recent trend in Sydney however at least for the last few seasons has seen some local clubs playing at a larger district venue when they meet Sydney FC rather than their own grounds.
Case in point: Macarthur Rams. Instead of playing the Sky Blues at their Lynwood Park home like they did in 2009 filling it to its 3350 capacity creating demand by making it an all-ticket pre-sold event, have opted to play at the larger Campbelltown Stadium for subsequent fixtures with smaller crowds in attendance. A similar scenario has occurred with Parramatta FC playing Sydney at Parramatta Stadium instead of their Melita Stadium in South Granville, and St George playing at WIN Jubilee Oval rather than the iconic St George Stadium. Whilst these teams have their own reasons for doing this, if it were to occur in an FFA Cup it would, in my opinion, remove some of the allure. One of the attractions of the FA Cup is when the big Premier League teams play smaller lower division sides in the later rounds. Chelsea playing Brentford recently in a West London derby at the Bees' compact Griffin Park stadium springs to mind.
On the flipside, when Western Sydney Wanderers played their first ever game against Nepean FC at Cook Park, St Marys, in July 2012, 3612 fans created a great buzz for the night match filling the ground to numbers not seen since May 1983 when over 6000 turned out to watch NSW versus an Australian XI in a promotion staged to support a future Penrith NSL team; a bid that became the ill-fated Penrith City club. The Wanderers match highlighted the potential of an FFA Cup. 3612 in attendance at a snug Cook Park with its small stand and grass hills brimming with spectators in a do or die knock out cup tie or that number at the 22,500 capacity Centrebet Stadium in nearby Penrith? I know what I'd choose.