A-League

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For the former American soccer league, see A-League (1995–2004).
A-League
Hyundai A-League logo.svg
Country  Australia
Other club(s) from  New Zealand
Confederation AFC
Founded 2004
Number of teams 10
Levels on pyramid 1
Domestic cup(s) FFA Cup
International cup(s) AFC Champions League
Current champions Brisbane Roar (3rd title)
(2013–14)
Current premiers Brisbane Roar (2nd title)
(2013–14)
Most championships Brisbane Roar (3 titles)
Most premierships Brisbane Roar
Central Coast Mariners
Melbourne Victory (2 titles)
TV partners Fox Sports & SBS (Australia)
Sky Sport (New Zealand)
Website A-League.com.au
2014–15 A-League

The A-League is a professional men's soccer league, run by Football Federation Australia (FFA). At the top of the Australian league system, it is the country's primary competition for the sport. The A-League was established in 2004 as a successor to the National Soccer League (NSL) and competition commenced in August 2005. The league is currently contested by ten teams; nine based in Australia and one based in New Zealand. It is known as the Hyundai A-League (HAL) through a sponsorship arrangement with the Hyundai Motor Company.

Seasons run from October to May and include a 27-round regular season and an end-of-season finals series playoff tournament involving the highest-placed teams, culminating in a grand final match. The winner of the regular season tournament is dubbed 'premier' and the winner of the grand final is 'champion'. This differs from the other major football codes in Australia, where 'premier' refers to the winner of the grand final and the winner of the regular season is the 'minor premier'. The A-League's non-standard terminology is reflective of the increased prestige associated with winning the regular season in association football compared to other football codes in Australia. Successful A-League clubs gain qualification into the continental competition, the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL).

Since the league's inaugural season, a total of six clubs have been crowned A-League Premiers and five clubs have been crowned A-League Champions. The current premiers and champions are Brisbane Roar, who won both titles in 2013–14.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

A national round-robin tournament existed in various forms prior to the formation of the A-League, with the most notable being the National Soccer League (NSL). The formation of the NSL came after Australia's qualification for the 1974 FIFA World Cup, which led to discussion of a national league, with 14 teams eventually chosen to participate in the inaugural season of the NSL in 1977.[1]

Under the guidance of the then-governing body, the Australian Soccer Federation (later Soccer Australia), the NSL flourished through the 1980s and early 1990s but then fell into decline with the increasing departure of Australian players to overseas leagues, a disastrous television deal with the Seven Network and the resulting lack of sponsorship.[2] Few clubs continued to grow with Sydney Olympic, Perth Glory, and the newly established Adelaide United the exception in a dying league.[3][4][5]

In April 2003, the Australian Federal Government initiated the Independent Soccer Review Committee to investigate the governance and management of the sport in Australia, including that of the NSL.[6] In December 2003, the Crawford Report found that the NSL was financially unviable, and in response the chairman of the sports new governing body, Frank Lowy of Football Federation Australia, announced that a task force would be formed to create a new national competition as a successor to the NSL which dissolved at the conclusion of the 2003–04 season after 27 years of operation.[7]

Foundations[edit]

The A-League was announced in April 2004, as a successor to the NSL.[7] Eight teams would be part of the new national competition, with one team from each city of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Newcastle, plus a New Zealand team and one from a remaining expressions of interest from either Melbourne or Sydney. The competition start date was set for August 2005.[8][9]

By June 2004, 20 submissions had been received and a month later 12 consortiums sent in their final bids for the eight spots. Three bids were received from Melbourne, two each from Sydney and Brisbane, one from each of the remaining preferred cities and a bid from the New South Wales Central Coast city of Gosford. Over the next three months, each bid was reviewed and on 1 November 2004, the eight successful bidders and the major sponsor were revealed, for what would be known as the Hyundai A-League, with the Hyundai Motor Company unveiled as the official naming rights sponsor for the league.[9]

The eight founding teams for the league were Adelaide United, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory, Newcastle Jets, New Zealand Knights, Perth Glory, Queensland Roar and Sydney FC, with three former NSL clubs taking part, those being Adelaide United, Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory, as well as Queensland Roar and New Zealand Knights who were formed from NSL clubs Brisbane Lions and New Zealand Football Kingz. Each club was given a five-year exclusivity deal in its own market as part of the league's "one-city, one-team" policy. This was intended to allow clubs to grow and develop an identity in their respective region without local competition.[10]

On 26 August 2005, 16 months after the demise of the NSL, the inaugural season of the A-League began.[9]

Development[edit]

On 20 March 2007, it was announced that Wellington Phoenix would replace New Zealand Knights from the start of the 2007–08 season.[11] Both Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury joined the league in the 2009–10 season. On 12 June 2009, Melbourne Heart was awarded a license to join the 2010–11 season.[12] On 1 March 2011 North Queensland Fury's A-League license was revoked for financial reasons.[13] On 29 February 2012, Gold Coast United also had its licence revoked.[14][15] On 4 April 2012 it was announced that a new Western Sydney-based club, Western Sydney Wanderers, would join the league for the 2012–13 season.[16] In January 2014, Melbourne Heart was acquired by the City Football Group and was renamed Melbourne City ahead of the 2014–15 season.[17]

Competition format[edit]

Regular season[edit]

The regular season runs mainly during the Australian summer, from early October to April of the following year. The competition consists of 27 rounds, with each team playing every other team three times. The teams allotted two home matches against an opponent in one season are allotted one home match against that opponent in the following season. Each match sees the winning team awarded three competition points, with one point each for a draw. The club at the top of this ladder is crowned A-League Premiers, and as of the 2006–07 season, will be entered into the AFC Champions League.[18][19] The Premier is presented with a trophy known as the Premier's Plate.[20]

At the completion of the regular season the top six placed teams on the league table progress to the finals series. The position of each team is determined by the highest number of points accumulated during the regular season. If two or more teams are level on points, the following criteria are applied in order until one of the teams can be determined as the higher ranked:[21]

  1. Highest goal difference;
  2. Highest number of goals scored;
  3. Highest number of points accumulated in matches between the teams concerned;
  4. Highest goal difference in matches between the teams concerned;
  5. Highest number of goals scored in matches between the teams concerned;
  6. Lowest number of red cards accumulated;
  7. Lowest number of yellow cards accumulated;
  8. Toss of a coin.[22]

Finals series[edit]

Melbourne Victory celebrating after their 2007 A-League Grand Final victory.

The A-League finals series is an end-of-season play-off tournament involving the highest-placed teams at the end of the regular season. The tournament was first contested in 2006 at the end of the inaugural A-League season. The finals series culminates to the A-League Grand Final, where the winner is crowned A-League Champion and receives a place in the AFC Champions League.[23] The club that wins the Grand Final is presented with the A-League Trophy.

Recently the competition has consisted of 6 teams (previously 4) who are placed by rank, as determined at the end of the regular season. The competition runs in 3 stages, with each match winner progressing to the next stage, eventually leading to the Grand Final between the 2 remaining teams.[23] The series has involved three different formats since its inception, but the current format, introduced for the 2012–13 season involves a three-week knockout competition, with the first and second placed teams receiving byes to the semi-finals.[24] The sudden-death nature of the current format has drawn significant criticism for a perceived failure to adequately reward the top two teams from the regular season.[25]

Typically, the team involved in the Grand Final which finished highest on the ladder hosts the championship match, but this is only if the FFA deems that team's home ground to be of appropriate size. For example, in 2008, Central Coast Mariners (as the higher-placed team) hosted the Grand Final against the Newcastle Jets at Sydney Football Stadium, due to FFA deciding that Central Coast Mariners home stadium, Central Coast Stadium with a capacity of 20,000, was too small for the event.[26]

Continental qualification[edit]

In 2004–05 Australia was still a part of the Oceania Football Confederation and Sydney FC won the right to compete in the Oceania Club Championship after defeating the Central Coast Mariners in a qualifying tournament. It has been suggested that the Wellington Phoenix should compete in the OFC Champions League after 2011, as the club will no longer be eligible for AFC Champions League football.

A-League clubs are eligible for participation in the AFC Champions League competition each season since the 2007 edition of the tournament.[27] These teams were determined by finishing positions in the 2005–06 A-League season, the 2008 competition by finishing positions in the 2006–07 season, and so on. The amount of qualification slots and their nature as direct entry to the group stage or a qualification play-off varies based on what the AFC determines for each nation in the competition for that season. Until 2012, for most seasons there were two direct entry positions. Originally the first qualification slot was given to the regular season winning club, with the second to the Grand Final winning club. Due to the dates of the respective competitions, an entire season passes before clubs compete. For example, Newcastle Jets competed in the 2009 AFC Champions League, even though they finished last in the 2008–09 A-League season.

In 2012 the AFC revised the qualification process, with A-League spots were reduced from 2.5 to 1.5.[28][29] The AFC cited lack of a second division, stadia and that the league was not a separate entity to the FFA.[30] For the 2013 AFC Champions League, the Premiers (team who finishes top of the ladder) received direct entry into the competition. The Champions (Grand Final winners) entered a play off against another Asian club for qualification.[31] In the following season this was later revised back to 2.5 A-League spots.[32]

Other competitions[edit]

As of 2014, clubs also compete in the domestic FFA Cup tournament, with the only other cup competition for A-League clubs prior, the A-League Pre-Season Challenge Cup, disbanding in 2008 after four seasons. The A-League All Stars Game is also played as a pre-season friendly game between the league's finest players and a high-profile international.

The majority of A-League clubs have teams in the National Youth League (NYL), which runs in conjunction with the A-League as a national youth developmental and reserve league. All players in the youth teams are between the ages of 16 and 21 as of the start of the calendar year for each new season, while four over-age players from each of the senior teams are also allowed to be selected. In addition, the W-League operates as the top division of women's league with affiliations to men's competition.[33]

Clubs[edit]

The A-League is currently contested by 10 teams: nine from Australia and one from New Zealand. A total of 13 teams have competed at some stage in the league's short history. Only four of these clubs – Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar (as Queensland Lions), Newcastle Jets, and Perth Glory – existed before the A-League was formed. New Zealand Knights, Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury have formerly competed in the league.

Unlike most European leagues, there is no system for promotion and relegation of teams. The A-League system thus shares some franchising elements with most other professional leagues in Australia, Major League Soccer and other major North American-based sports leagues.

Expansion[edit]

While making a relatively modest start in order to ensure future stability, both the FFA and the association football media indicated significant interest in expanding the league. The eight foundation clubs had exclusivity clauses for their respective cities valid for five years, but this did not exclude teams from other areas joining the league. Some have questioned the logic in expanding the league so soon as many clubs are struggling to stay afloat and think by expanding they are only diluting the playing talent even further.[citation needed]

Before the introduction of the A-League, FFA chairman Frank Lowy speculated that he hoped to expand the league into other cities, mentioning Canberra, Hobart, Wollongong, Geelong, Bendigo, Cairns, Ballarat, Albury, Wodonga, Launceston, Christchurch, Auckland, Sunshine Coast and possibly Darwin and later Singapore.[34][35][36][37]

Rivalries[edit]

While there are only three local derbies in the A-League, several rivalries have formed. These include:

"The Big Blue"Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
This match is so named because blue is the main colour of both teams' playing kits, and is also Australian slang for a fight or a contest.[38] The rivalry has emerged as a result of a number of spiteful encounters between the teams in recent years, and due to the longstanding rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's two largest cities. The teams have competed against each other in the 2010 A-League Grand Final, with Sydney winning on penalties after a 1–1 draw, and in the same year Sydney FC won the A-League Premiership on the final day of the season by defeating Victory 2–0. A Big Blue match is traditionally played on Australia Day each year.

"South Australia-Victoria rivalry"Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory
Contested the 2007 and 2009 A-League Grand Finals, in which Melbourne won 6–0 and 1–0 respectively. The rivalry stems from the traditional rivalry between sporting teams from Victoria and South Australia but was strengthened by incidents in the 2006–07 season, such as the confrontation between Melbourne Victory captain Kevin Muscat and then Adelaide United coach John Kosmina.

"The F3 Derby"Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners
Named after the former name of the freeway that connects the cities of Newcastle and Gosford,[39] this match features the only two clubs in the A-League that are not based in state capital cities. The two teams' stadiums are just one hour apart, and the derby was intensified when they competed against each other for the premiership in the 2007–08 A-League season and eventually met in the Grand Final, which was won 1–0 by the Jets.

"Melbourne Derby"Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City
The two Melbourne clubs first met on 8 October 2010 in a lively game at AAMI Park in front of 25,897 fans. Melbourne Heart (as they were then known) came out on top with a 2–1 victory. A significant narrative in derby history is the role of Melbourne Victory as a more successful club both on and off the field, having joined the A-League five years earlier than Heart.[40] The rivalry is one of the most intense and well respected in the A-league, producing noticeable atmosphere and some of the largest attendances in the league.

"Sydney Derby"Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers
The derby was contested for the first time in the 2012–13 season with the introduction of the second Sydney-based club, Western Sydney Wanderers, into the league. Sydney FC grabbed bragging rights by winning the first derby 1–0 at Parramatta Stadium, however Western Sydney Wanderers won the return match at Allianz Stadium 2–0. A Sydney Derby held early in the 2015 season broke the Allianz Stadium record for attendance during a regular season in any code of sport, dating back to the stadium's opening in 1988.[41] The Sydney Derby is intensified by the geographic distinction between the two clubs within Sydney, as well as historical grievances related to the foundation of Sydney FC.

Former[edit]

"M1 Derby"Brisbane Roar v Gold Coast United (2009/10-2011/12)
Known as the M1 Derby, it shared the name of the main highway between the two cities, the M1. Due to Brisbane's close proximity to the Gold Coast, Brisbane Roar's geographical derby opponent was naturally going to be Gold Coast United. The glitzy Coast side only won 1 more game between the two (4 to 3), having won the first 3 games, all in Gold Coast's first season of 2009–10. They would, however, win only 1 of the 6 other games the two sides would play. The rivalry, however, concluded on 5 April 2012 when Football Federation Australia officially announced the axing of the Gold Coast side.

"Queensland Nickel Cup"Brisbane Roar v Gold Coast United v North Queensland Fury (2009/10-2010/11)
North Queensland in the 2009/2010 season won the 'Queensland Nickel Cup', which was a tri-tournament played throughout the regular A-League season between the Queensland clubs of Brisbane Roar, Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury.

"Iron Ore Cup"Perth Glory v Gold Coast United (2009/10-2010/12)
Gold Coast also competed with Perth Glory for the Iron Ore Cup, with owners and mining magnates Clive Palmer and Tony Sage being the inspiration behind the fixture.

Organisation[edit]

Logo and trophies[edit]

The A-League Trophy was designed to resemble a laurel wreath.

The spherical A-League logo was designed by Coast Design Sydney. The two-toned ochre colours represent the sun, earth and desert while the 'glow' emanating from the centre of the logo depicts the playing season's spring and summer time span. The eight 'A' figures that make up the ball shape represent the eight foundation clubs of the league.[42]

The A-League has two trophies which are competed for during the season: the Premier's Plate and the A-League Trophy.[43] The Premier's Plate is awarded to the A-League Premiers, the regular season winners, and the A-League Trophy is awarded to the A-League Champions, the winner of the Grand Final. Both pieces of silverware were designed by Sydney design company D3 design. The A-League Trophy is commonly nicknamed "The Golden Toilet Seat" due to its shape and similarities.[44] Where as the Premier's Plate follows a traditional trophy design, the A-League Trophy differs. In 2005, John O'Neill, FFA CEO commented during the unveiling of the A-League Trophy, "We have a new national league and we feel it is important to re-define the conventional view of a trophy to reflect this". Clive Solari of D3 design explained the trophy's design, saying "We wanted our trophy concept to embody the historical significance of sport in a contemporary design. So we looked to history to see how great achievements have been rewarded across all types of games for thousands of years. The winners of the world's original sporting competition, the Olympic Games, were presented with a laurel wreath on their heads. We used this model as a basis for a unique, cutting-edge design – our trophy is a modern and versatile translation of the wreath. The winners can hold it above their heads as a symbol of success".[45]

Squad formation and salaries[edit]

Alessandro Del Piero joined the league in 2012, as Sydney FC's marquee player.

The A-League match-day squad includes the typical 11 players, and five substitutes of which one must be a goalkeeper. Prior to the 2013–14 season, just four substitutes including one goalkeeper were allowed to be named in the starting line-ups for the teams.[46]

An A-League squad must comprise a minimum 20 players with a maximum of 26, subject to several limitations. Within the squad there can be a maximum of five "foreign" or "Visa" players, from outside Australia (and New Zealand, in the case of Wellington Phoenix), that hold a temporary working-visa. The quota of five visa players per A-League club will be reduced to four in the 2015–16 season. After that, the limit of four might become “3+1”, which means three imports from anywhere and one from Asia (following regulations in the AFC Champions League).[47] Three players in the squad must also be under 20 years of age. In addition to these three under 20 players, clubs are allowed to sign an additional three youth players onto full-time contracts at a lower pay rate than the rest of the squad.[48][49][50]

Although A-League clubs have restricted salaries (salary cap) the league allows each team to have three "marquee" player whose salaries are exempt from the cap. Guest players are also excluded for up to a maximum of 10 league matches. From the formation of the league, clubs have been allowed to sign one international marquee player. Since the 2008–09 season, A-League clubs have been permitted a junior marquee player; one that is under the age of 23. The junior marquee can be paid up to A$150,000 above the salary cap. On 19 April 2010, the A-League announced that, in addition to the international marquee and junior marquee, clubs would be allowed an Australian marquee player from the 2010–11 season.[51] Notable marquee players in the A-League have included Alessandro Del Piero, who signed with Sydney FC, on a two-year four million dollar deal, as well as Dwight Yorke and Emile Heskey.[52]

In the 2012–13 season, the minimum salary for A-League players was A$48,000.[53] For the 2013–14 season, this was increased to A$50,000.[54]

Stadia[edit]

A-League football has been played in 27 stadia since the inaugural season of the A-League in 2005. Hindmarsh Stadium, the home of Adelaide United, is currently the only soccer-specific stadium used in the A-League. Docklands Stadium, home of Melbourne Victory, has the greatest seating capacity (53,359) of any stadium used by an A-League club, although it is only the third largest stadium in Australia by capacity, and is an oval stadium, being designed for Australian football.

Sponsorship[edit]

Since its formation, the A-League has been sponsored by an official naming rights partner.[9] In 2004, the Hyundai Motor Company was announced as the sponsor for the first three seasons of the league, known for commercial purposes as the "Hyundai A-League". In 2008, Hyundai renewed its initial contract with FFA for another four seasons until 2012, and that contract was further extended by four seasons until 2016.[60]

Media coverage[edit]

From the start of the 2005–06 season to the 2012–13 season, television coverage of the A-League in Australia had been restricted to the subscription-only Fox Sports channel, to which only 7% of Australian residents have access.[61] On 19 November 2012, free-to-air Australian public broadcasting television network SBS secured the shared rights, alongside long-time A-League broadcasters Fox Sport, to the A-League from the 2013–14 season with a A$160 million four-year broadcast deal.[62] In New Zealand the league has been broadcast on Sky Sport since its inaugural season.

The growth of coverage of the A-League outside Australia has seen the league broadcast in 65 countries around the world.[63] Full match broadcasts are available in the United States, China, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, Singapore and Myanmar.[63] In addition to the full match broadcasts, highlights of A-League matches can be viewed in 53 countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, including Japan and South Korea.[63] In 2014, a three season deal with TEN Sports allowed the league to be broadcast live in Asian nations including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[64] Every A-League match is also live streamed globally, allowing games to be viewed online through a subscription service provided in a partnership with the FFA.[65]

The A-League has been promoted using a number of different advertising slogans and strategies since its inception. At the start of the inaugural season, a A$3 million dollar advertising campaign was launched, with the television and film advertisements produced by Ridley Scott's production company. The theme for the campaign was: "Football, but not as you know it". A new television advertisement was created for the start of the 2007–08 season, which debuted on Foxtel's program Total Football. It was filmed at Bob Jane Stadium in Melbourne. Other campaigns include the "90 minutes, 90 emotions", which was used for two seasons from 2007–09 and was accompanied by the music track "My People" from Australian act The Presets.[66]

Territory Network
Australia Australia Special Broadcasting Service, Fox Sports[67]
New Zealand New Zealand Sky Sport[68]
Afghanistan Afghanistan TEN Sports[64]
Bangladesh Bangladesh TEN Sports[64]
Hong Kong Hong Kong Cable TV Hong Kong
India India TEN Sports[64]
Republic of Ireland Ireland BT Sport
Jamaica Jamaica Fox Soccer Plus[69]
Pakistan Pakistan TEN Sports[64]
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka TEN Sports[64]
United Kingdom United Kingdom BT Sport
United States United States ONE World Sports, Fox Soccer Plus[69]

Records[edit]

Archie Thompson holds league records including highest goalscorer.

Matt Thompson, who has played for Newcastle Jets (2005–2010), Melbourne Heart (2010–2013), and Sydney (2013–2014) holds the record for number of A-League appearances, with 221 caps.[70]

Archie Thompson, who plays for Melbourne Victory (2005–present), holds the record for the greatest number of A-League goals, with 78 goals scored. Thompson also holds the league record for most goals in a single match with him scoring 5 goals against Adelaide United on 18 February 2007, during the 2007 A-League Grand Final.[71] Shane Smeltz has scored the most A-League hat-tricks with a record 4 league hat-tricks, for Gold Coast United and Perth Glory. Smeltz is also the only player to have scored hat-tricks in consecutive matches.[72]

Honours[edit]

Regular season
Club Premiers Runners-up Winning seasons
Central Coast Mariners 2 2 2007–08, 2011–12
Melbourne Victory 2 1 2006–07, 2008–09
Brisbane Roar 2 1 2010–11, 2013–14
Adelaide United 1 2 2005–06
Sydney FC 1 1 2009–10
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 1 2012–13
Newcastle Jets 0 1
Finals series
Club Champions Runners-up Winning Grand Finals
Brisbane Roar 3 0 2011, 2012, 2014
Melbourne Victory 2 1 2007, 2009
Sydney FC 2 0 2006, 2010
Central Coast Mariners 1 3 2013
Newcastle Jets 1 0 2008
Adelaide United 0 2
Western Sydney Wanderers 0 2
Perth Glory 0 1

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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