The emergence of Australian football

Australian football history could well be re-written soon. Melbourne Heart have changed their name to Melbourne City. As insignificant a factor to the changes that will be wrought with the beginning of the season, it is a momentous happening in the club’s short history, and the A-League’s writes Tomos Knox.

The National Soccer League had crumpled, and, knowledgeable of the fact that football in Australia could also collapse with it, the Football Federation Australia decided that it would be necessary to form a new league. The new competition was to be called the A-League.

Due to the FFA’s ‘one city one club’ rule, Melbourne Victory were given the licence to play as the representative side for Melbourne. This left the proposed city second side that had yet to be blessed with a name, stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were excluded from the highest tier of Australian football, the only Australian league deemed worthy of mention to the rest of the world.

Negotiations continued between various associations and sponsors (and Melbourne Victory), until, in 2009, a deal was agreed. Heart would play their inaugural season in the 2010-11 campaign.

There were to be no fairytales however, in their first season: Melbourne Heart finished eighth out of 11 in the league- Victory finished fifth. But, in the first-ever Melbourne derby, it was Heart who gained the upper hand, leaving the pitch as winners, after defeating Victory 2-1.

Melbourne Heart continued progressing in leaps and bounds, finishing sixth in 2011-12, and establishing themselves as an A-League side. Manchester City’s moneymen must have seen something attractive, because in 2013, a group going by the name of City Football Group acquired the club, paying $12 million. The group expressed hope that the partnership between what was now called Melbourne City, its name having been changed by the group, Manchester City, and another City owned team, newly formed New York City FC.

The subsequent season, Melbourne City failed to perform, finishing 10th, with David Williams scoring 11 goals, trumping the achievements of high profile signings Harry Kewell, and Orlando Engelaar. Although both were plagued by injury throughout, Kewell only netted twice in 15 appearances, while Engelaar fared better, notching an impressive 5 goals, in 14 matches. Both would have featured more proficiently during the course of the season, had injuries not hampered their progress, but one cannot dismiss the sheer brilliance of Williams, who carried City throughout their tough campaign.

More big names have been brought in for the upcoming 2014-15 season, Damien Duff, previously of Chelsea and Fulham on a permanent deal and David Villa, the former Spain and Atletico Madrid striker joining on loan from New York City FC. The future looks bright, and A-League enthusiasts will surely look on closely.

The A-League is still very much in its’ infancy, and despite not having acquired the fame of its American counterpart- Major League Soccer, players such as Duff, Villa and Robert Koren, previously of West Bromwich Albion are very much forcing the issue. The ball has finally started rolling for Australia.

Although the will be considering themselves serious contenders for the title, Melbourne City will have a number of sides snapping at their heels. Brisbane Roar won the league last season, and will be determined to keep a firm grip on the trophy.

Two-time Macedonian international Mensur Kurtishi has been signed on a 1-year contract from Shkëndija, the striker having scored a remarkable 10 goals in just 14 appearances last season. Costa Rican international Jean Carlos Solórzano is another striker joining, having been captured from Ajajuelense. A proflific goalscorer, he is sure to add a real bout of firepower to an aldready-strong strikeforce.

If they manage to keep important players such as Brazilian striker Henrique, and solid centre-back Matt Smith, they should enjoy a successful campaign. Whether they can prove that money doesn’t guarantee trophies, by beating cash-happy Melbourne City, remains to be seen.

The ‘Socceroos’ impressive performance in the World Cup signalls a time of change for football in Australia. Although they’re not Germany, or France, their enthusiasm for the Beautiful Game really is enlightening. They turned out in droves to watch their beloved national side toil away at the World Cup, and came away battered and bruised, but proud, nevertheless. They may not have a Ronaldo or Messi in their team, but their squad comprises of good, adept players.

Football, has, and will, fight valiantly to establish its place as Australia’s leading sport. While Aussie Rules and rugby continue to excite to the general population ‘Down Under’, one cannot dismiss the true influence of football on the country. The adversary of A-League has yet to be fully explored by the world, but, once people remove their eyes from the neon signs directing them to the Premier League and its cash-cow European counterparts, they will come across a league so rich in its infancy that it could be deemed a more successful version of the MLS.

If you ever watch the A-League, no, you won’t see Gareth Bale, no, nor Neymar. However, if you’re interested, there’s an Macedonian international playing for Brisbane Roar…

Tomos Knox

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