Smithies summarises Season 2020/21

It’s a new twist on the ultimate Australian Christmas – after the presents, the gatherings and the indulgence, the A-League and W-League will kick off. Now the fixtures are coming in and the fans are starting to know their schedule for the coming months…. the return of football is just around the corner.

The fact the new season kicks off in the final days of 2020 is entirely appropriate, because we stand on the brink of not just a new year.

There’s a new A-League team in Macarthur Bulls FC – who open the season with a provocative trip to Bankwest Stadium to face the Wanderers – a host of new faces in the A-League and W-League, and behind it all a new sense of direction. More than 15 years after the competition began, the baton is being passed to the clubs, and the members of the two competitions are now at the wheel.

In many ways the switch of control has been the biggest transfer story of the off-season (and like so many of those, seems to have been an eternity in the making). In a world where the COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost every business to reconsider its ways of working, so the professional football competitions in Australia are promising to do things differently.

That includes a much later start for both the A-League and W-Leagues, close to a three-month hiatus in the case of the former, and that has big (and deliberate) repercussions.

The fact both competitions will start on December 27, with regular doubleheaders studded through the fixture lists, shows how intertwined the two leagues are and reflects the booming popularity of women’s football here.

But there is a sense that the shift of the season to a December start will have wider implications as the seasons unfold.

Registrations for grassroots football will open in just a few weeks, and by the time those competitions kick off the A-League will be barely halfway through. For months we will have an overlap of the professional game, the NPL competitions and park football – getting closer and closer to a fully aligned pyramid.

That’s widely seen as an important step in linking the top and bottom of the game, and bringing more of the two million Australians who play football into the slipstream of the A-League and W-Leagues.

Most of all though it will be the football that does that, and there is no shortage of storylines to grip the imagination. A new wave of young Australian coaches has been given the responsibility of promoting a new generation of talent on the pitch.

It will all unfold day by day, thanks to a draw that fills the days of summer with football to watch, but then stretches well into winter by the time the A-League reaches its crescendo.

Even getting to the point of having a draw is testament to the work of administrators at the league and the clubs who wear all kinds of criticism from fans as part of the job description, but have built a model for a new season in the face of a global pandemic that can change travel rules overnight.

It means, in the end, that football is back, or at least is so close you can almost touch it. That’s a pretty good way to celebrate the festive season.