Football’s back, so is hope: Optimism beyond the pitch

There’s a spring in the step of the game as the new season of the
A-Leagues gets underway, writes Tom Smithies

This is the moment when anything is possible. Pregnant with promise, every new season brings unbounded optimism.

Your team can win the league. Your coach is a genius. The goals will flow. Supporters feel it, players feel it, club officials feel it the length and breadth of the country.

In an office just off Broadway in the middle of Sydney, that same sense of anticipation is also in the air – for the coming season and beyond. After years of treading water, those actually running the A-Leagues are doing just that – running, at breakneck speed, as if to make up for lost time since the separation from Football Australia.

There is undoubtedly much ground to make up, but a blizzard of investment in recent months shows how seriously – and quickly – that ground is being addressed.

For too long, Australian football has seemed reluctant to tell its own stories and celebrate its own culture, to get on the front foot and be confident in itself. The launch of KEEPUP (what you’re reading this on right now) is just one of myriad developments underway to change all that. 

The aim is to lift the A-Leagues to the level they have long promised but too rarely delivered, while also connecting them down into the grassroots and up into the global game, linking football at all levels. 

A key part of uniting the game is to make sure its stories are told, both the past and the future, and right across the game. On the pitch, this season we are likely to have the youngest cohort in both of the A-Leagues for years, promising high-tempo, attacking football under the guidance of a new wave of young Australian coaches. The exploits and tales of this next generation of talent can captivate the generation after that.

John Kosmina, right, won the Premier’s Plate with Adelaide United in the A-League’s first season in 2005-06.

But equally, watching those young players up in the stands will also be many of the previous generations. The clubs are increasingly recognising the service of ex-players and several will quietly honour their ex-players and ex-coaches with season passes.

The future of the game is so engaging in part because of the way it builds on the past. So in a few months it will be 45 years since the National Soccer League kicked off at Manuka Oval in Canberra, and a 21-year-old John Kosmina volleyed home the first goal of Australia’s first national professional sporting competition. Kossie’s West Adelaide team had eight players of 24 or younger that day, part of one of the youngest squads in the new competition.

Shift forward 22 years to 1999 and Kosmina, by then retired as a player and coaching Brisbane Strikers, was overseeing a routine 3-1 win over Parramatta Power. A striker by the name of Danny Townsend came off the bench for Parramatta late in the game.

Move on another 22 years, and the same Danny Townsend is the Managing Director of the A-Leagues – and CEO of Sydney FC – while Kosmina’s son Nathan is the CEO of Adelaide United.

A-Leagues MD Danny Townsend, left, playing for Sydney United in the NSL.

Moreover, the coach that Nathan Kosmina helped to appoint last year, Carl Veart, was brought back to Australia from England to play in the first season of the A-League by John Kosmina, as the inaugural coach of Adelaide United. And now Veart (working with Nathan Kosmina) has put together an Adelaide squad that was the youngest squad in the competition last season, as if that NSL link has come full circle.

These are football people doing football things, linking together the generations of the football family and building its future. The bonds stretch across the country and deep into each state. Like most extended families there have been periods of estrangement, and plenty of arguments. But there has always been a sense that uniting the sheer scale of the Australian football family, could unleash a formidable future.

Plenty of sceptical voices will wait to be convinced; we’ve had plenty of false dawns before. But then the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different outcome. 

As a new season unfolds, everyone is optimistic. The plans unfolding at A-Leagues HQ show why.

Our Isuzu UTE A-League Season Previews

By Tom Smithies and Matt Comito

Adelaide United: Can Veart steer them into the decider?

Brisbane Roar: Will the local lads surprise again?

Central Coast Mariners: A renaissance or brief ray of sunshine?

Macarthur FC: Attack looks great, but who replaces the veterans?

Melbourne City: Can anyone stop the champions?

Melbourne Victory: Can Popa resurrect the fallen giant?

Newcastle Jets: Can Papas find success with another overhaul?

Perth Glory: Are box office Glory title contenders?

Sydney FC: A familiar feel in Sky Blue – do they have another gear?

Wellington Phoenix: Can the ‘Nix thrive early doors based in Wollongong?

Western Sydney Wanderers: Will Robinson rise to expectations?

Western United: Will more ‘Dia’ magic help United bounce back?