Football Federation Australia announced this week conditional approval for two new Queensland teams to compete in the A-league from season 2008-09. Provided the backers behind each of Gold Coast Galaxy and the Townsville-based Northern Thunder can jump financial and other hurdles in the next two weeks, then the eight-team A-league will become ten, with the FFA apparently planning to go to 12 teams at some point before too long.
The eight-team league has proved frustrating for football fans, serving up only 21 rounds plus finals. Frustrating also for players, who find the lengthy off-season detrimental to career progression.
And so the A-league, the great white hope of Australian league football after 28 highly-flawed seasons of the old National Soccer League, appears set to tweak itself for the first time. World-weary cynics like me shudder a little, remembering the former NSL managed to tweak itself about 20 times over those 28 seasons.
A primary concern is that the playing standard will be diluted. Adding another 45-50 players to fill out the two new squads will be achieved either by raiding existing A-league clubs or by importing players of the ilk that has so under whelmed expectant supporters in the past three seasons. Fair weather Australian football supporters who turn up only for the big World Cup qualifiers, who presumably are nourished on a TV diet of English Premier League, and who often complain of the relatively poor standard in the national league will hardly find greater attraction under this scenario.
A corresponding concern is the financial well-being of the clubs, old and new. Odd that Queensland clubs will account for 30% of the new league. It's hard to see the Gold Coast team not taking supporters away from Queensland Roar, which will surely revert logically to a Brisbane moniker. Funny to think that in the old NSL there were several seasons in the late 80s and early 90s with no team north of Tweed Heads.
The old NSL saw no fewer than 42 clubs breeze in and out over its lifetime; 15 of those are now defunct and the carcasses of most others litter lower state leagues. The A-league has brought a new level of professionalism and excitement to Australian football that was never present under the old spluttering model. Let's hope the survival rate this time around is appreciably higher.