Friday Night Lights

This Friday night is a red letter day for the Melbourne Heart, a chance for all members and supporters to show that not only are we a well supported club in Melbourne, but we are deserving of a place in the ALeague finals in around 10 weeks time.

To say crowds have been disappointing this season would be an understatement.  Even after a spirited Melbourne derby performance we could only draw 6,303 to a match featuring the reigning champions Brisbane Roar on a perfect Sunday afternoon.  Albeit it was school holidays and I’m sure some of our fans were enjoying the beach while Fred was scoring a second half goal to send us 3-0 up.  The following 30 minutes wasn’t as pretty to watch but what impressed me most was the performance of those ‘From the Stands’.  Brisbane managed to score 2 late goals and had plenty of time to find an equaliser.  That afternoon the crowd rose as one and managed to become the 11th man (Williams was earlier sent off) that we so needed.

I admit this blog would have been far easier to write after the 80th minute of last week’s match against Sydney (when our players decided to stop playing).  It would have read something like this; three wins on the trot and currently sitting in 5th spot come out to watch the red hot Melbourne Heart take on 2nd place Adelaide Untied.  Sadly we conceded two late goals, lost 2-1 to the badly out of form Sydney FC and sit outside the top six.

This Friday night represents our last Friday night game for the season and I believe a strong opportunity to build our ever expanding fan base.  The launch of the #OneMelburnain campaign and the clubs ‘Own the experience’ are key factors in realising financial stability on and off the pitch but these measures can only take a club so far.

The #OneMelburnian campaign is a fan based initiative that encourages existing members to seek out friends and family to attend at least one Heart game with the idea of becoming a member after attending the match.  The goal is for the club to reach 9,000 members.

Next season Friday night matches will be shown in lounge rooms throughout the country thanks to free to air broadcaster SBS and we must show the league and those in charge we do want Friday night football in Melbourne.  This will not only provide great exposure and sponsorship opportunities for the club but give Melbourians a chance to experience Friday night football in the summer months.  Our Aussie rules counterparts thrive on Friday night football, it’s about time we followed their lead.  This is a golden opportunity for the club and we must show we are deserving of such a prime time kick off.

Performance and consistency on the pitch is the one key ingredient the Melbourne Heart has been lacking ever since the inception of the club in 2010.  Sport is a results based industry and sadly Melbourne Heart has failed to deliver in this category.  One only has to look at the leagues newest franchise Western Sydney Wanderers and their debut season, Tony Popovic has performed miracles with that group and the team are receiving unprecedented support.

One does wonder though when the FFA pull the plug on their funding will the club have to resort to things like ice baths in wheelie bins like some other clubs in the league.

The 2012/13 season is shaping up as another wasted season unless we see improvements on the pitch.  We seem to linger around 5-8 on the table, and are losing ground on the top challengers in the league.  On our day we have the ability to be World beaters, but seem to lack the mental strength to string consistent results together.  As an outsider looking is it’s a frustrating results merry go round that we watch.  I’m as impressed with our home form as I am with our inability to win out of Melbourne.  Its 13 months since we have won ‘away’ and this is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly.  Is it our mental fragility, team travel plans or just sheer coincidence?  If this issue isn’t addressed we won’t be winning any titles in our near future.

Our derby form has been suburb this year, and you would have a great case to say we have outplayed Victory twice this year.  Why can’t John Aloisi and the players get themselves up for other games when they perform so valiantly in Melbourne Derbies?

Our squad selections haven’t been helped by injury, or the ridiculous size of the league’s playing squads.  These argument could be used by all 10 ALeague clubs, but it is hardly ideal conditions for a rookie coach to be working under.  The different situations relating to Vinnie Grella and Steven Gray are frustrating and puzzling to say the least.  Vinnie Grella seems to be more injured than Australian cricketing all rounder Shane Watson, and the value of his signature now has to be seriously questioned.  The signing of Steven Gray was a puzzling choice when made, using an visa spot for cover of Colosimo and Gerhardt central defensive position just doesn’t seem right when you are restricted to such a small squad as we are in the league.  Was this decision purely financial or did we believe he was a much needed commodity to win a title? We will probably never know.

The goalkeeper selection has been puzzling for the last four weeks, yes it worked for the first week or two but to have you most experienced and best keeper Clint Bolton sitting on the pine (or plastic Bunnings furniture) is staggering.  To his credit Andrew Redmeyne put his hand up for the error last week in Sydney but you have ask why was he out there in the first place?  Is there a tiff between Aloisi and Bolton or are we giving Redmayne some playing time in an effort to contract his services for next season when Bolton retires.  Whatever the situation Aloisi should have put his hand up for this blunder.

Once again we are in the position of selling our best young talent to help save our bottom line.  This is sadly a reality for most clubs in our league; one only has to look at Central Coast and their shining star Tommy Rogic.  Members have to realise that talent like Michael Marrone and Aziz Behich can only last so long at Heart before they move to wealthier or better standard leagues.  I’m more than happy to see our young talent leave to pursue greener pastures, but my worry is what if we don’t have one or two talented youngsters to sell off to balance the books next season, what happens to the club then.

You may or may not agree with some of the points I have made, but one thing is certain; we need bigger crowds and a bigger supporter base to succeed in this ever improving league.  Heart fans grab your friends, family, neighbours whoever and get along to this Fridays crucial clash against Adelaide United.  Together we can achieve great things, OneMelburnian at a time.

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Trials and Tribulations on the Central Coast

The transfer window has created some major buzz by ALeague standards, some players are using this opportunity to change clubs within the league, but what has created most controversy is the decision of Central Coast who could send three of their players on trial during the transfer window duration.

All key players for Graham Arnold and his coaching staff, but the Mariners are a great team and I think the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.  Sure the Mariners are still reeling from there fade outs of the last two seasons, and I can understand fans feeling apprehension towards the proposed moves.

Australia rightly or wrongly follow the American way when it comes to crowning our sporting champions, we must have a playoff/grand final to determine the winner of every competition played on Australian soil.  Forget rewarding the most consistent team for a stellar performance over 27 weeks, let’s reward a team for a 90 minute performance.

This has cost the Mariners Championship supremacy last season, but the new finals system allows Graham Arnold to send some of his best players on a 10 day trial to explore European options.  The finals system rewards the two top teams evenly, both rewarding them with a double chance.  Home ground advantage is given to the Premiers, but the Mariners can play on any ground in the league under the tactically astute Arnold.

Currently 7 points clear from third, with the ability to increase that to 10 points after a win over Melbourne Victory in Tasmania over the weekend.  Such a lead allows the club to send players on trial with the peace of mind that it shouldn’t affect the clubs superior position on the table.  Yes the club deserve this lead, but what good is a 10 point lead with our current finals situation.

Maty Ryan is in the final year of his contract and has expressed he wants to play overseas in the near future to increase his football knowledge and continue his rapid rise in the keeping ranks for the Socceroos.  Ryan has also publically stated he want to win a Championship at the Mariners, but unfortunately for Mariners fans his current contract will force the clubs hand in gaining the best transfer fee for the bright young star.  The bottom line has to take priority at Gosford, and the Central Coast may see a new man between the sticks before the month is out.

Tommy Rogic is a different situation.  I see his trial more a teaser of things to come, and won’t be surprised if we see him back in the ALeague after his trial.  The Mariners have put their faith in the ability of this youngster and want to be financially rewarded for this star on the rise.  The trial at Celtic could create some buzz around Europe, but I don’t see the pockets of Celtic being big enough for the Mariners liking.

Bernie Ibini’s trial is from left field, Ibini has hardly been a standout this year in the league but his talent alone has probably won him a trial.  If he stays he may help the Mariners during the season, but if he leaves his role at the Mariners will be filled quickly.

Sadly our league is a feeder league, and losing young talent is a reality faced by all our 10 clubs.  Fans need to embrace this and seek comfort in the fact the league is growing and bigger clubs are circling out league for our emerging talent.

Graham Arnold and his team should be proud that their production line keeps churning out quality young Australian talent.

Points or Play?

Scorching hot days in Melbourne and an influx of International tourists can only mean one thing.  The tennis world is about to settle in our great city once more.

With so many tournaments and options open to the world’s best players some face a dilemma that has the potential to setup their 2013.  Match practice or ranking points, risk being knocked out of the first round in Brisbane, Sydney or Hobart or guarantee yourself some much needed matches at a venue that is not only setup perfectly for acclimatisation yet set in one of Australia’s most recognisable and iconic sporting venues Kooyong.

Ranking points are precious, especially early in the tournament.  A great January can lay the foundation for a very successful year ahead.  If you are currently ranked just outside the seedings the Australian tennis summer is a very important destination.  Gone are the days where you can catch a few of the bigger names off guard this early in the season with superior fitness.

It’s a double edged sword though, earn points early in the season and you will be under pressure this time next year to defend those points earned.  A quarter final in Sydney not only guarantees some solid points, but a great lead up to the Australian Open.

So what’s the appeal of the Kooyong Classic to those elite eight who decide that Kooyong is the path for them?  Some may give up defending their points for last year, but they gain valuable match practice in the unforgiving Melbourne summer heat.  The tournament directors have secured two big guns in Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro.  Both players have the potential to go long into the second week of the Australian Open and Kooyong is the perfect hit out.

Berdych and Del Potro will look to take advantage of the absence of Spaniard Rafa Nadal and will to a potential semi final birth.  Local favourite Lleyton Hewitt is in the twilight of his career and a surprise run of form could see him win one final title on Australian soil.  Marcos Baghdatis will be again the crowd favourite and his matches will be keenly attended by locals.

Another upside of playing Kooyong is that in 2014 you won’t have any points to defend, if the 2013 calendar turns pear shaped you know you have the opportunity to get the 2014 season on the right foot.  The tennis calendar is a long gruelling eleven months of the year and with the talent deeper than ever before, only a fool would be silly enough to see any chance slip by you.

Whatever the decision of the player (or their entourage) both options present great opportunities to all involved to be best prepared for the first grand slam of 2013.

Is Football coming home, or having a slumber party every Friday night?

 

Yesterday the Football Federation of Australia announced a $160 million deal over four years that will not only help stabilise the financial future of the game, but will give millions of Australians who don’t have pay television the opportunity to see how far our national competition has progressed over the last few years.

Before there was Bozza, Slater and Adam Peacock we received our football fix from two guys on the least watch channel in the land SBS the vault of knowledge that is Les Murray and his passionate offsider the late Johnny Warren.  For many years I watched these two cover Football from all over the World thru my poor quality Country reception.  Like so many people of my generation this was my only window of opportunity to see ‘The World Game’.

While I think the new television offer is great, and may appeal to the masses I don’t think it has gone far enough.  We look at our two major sports in this Country and see the AFL and NRL having a money fight ala Monty Burns and Waylon Smithers of Simpsons fame.  The disparity between the other two codes is significant and a stark reminder of how far we still have to go in this Country.  It will be interesting to see the new deal Cricket Australia are able to negotiate whether it’s comparative to our new football deal, given both are fighting for summer supremacy.

The Friday night concept is something that I like most about this deal.  When the A League deal starts it will be late 2013 and live sport has become more of a right in our times, not a luxury that is was back in the good old days of Murray/Warren.  We will see a spike in viewer numbers, but it won’t be as high as expected.  Even in our multicultural society we live, football (or SOKKAR) is still a dirty word in some households.

The Socceroos games will be well received by the older generations of viewers, but given the importance of our next few qualifiers I can a majority of mates with Foxtel or the local pub being a better source of action in an effort to watch these games live.  The highlights package will give the league a huge boost, giving those the opportunity to watch the best of the action on a weekly show, and might even encourage those who haven’t yet to get to an actual live game of football.

Overall the deal is a stepping stone towards the future of the league, and has secured those in power more time to grow our great game.  Talks of FA Cup style competition and promotion and relegation can now be discussed but are still many years away.

Outgoing chief Ben Buckley has managed to stabilise the future of the league, but it’s more like flying to Mount Everest to visit the summit.  The baton has been passed to David Gallop now to maintain this momentum and continue our climb to Everest.

Does Harry have a Heart?

Yesterday, like so many who support the red side of town I walked away from another very ordinary performance and asking myself where improvement would come from? was the Melbourne Derby a one off performance?

We failed to penetrate the defence, we barely registered a shot on target and we have become more predictable than a Howard Webb penalty decision at Old Trafford.  Predominately we are a counter attacking team, but at every turn yesterday we slowed the ball up, looked for options in the middle and presented it on a silver platter to the best young domestic keeper going around Matt Ryan.  We are lacking a star quality, whether it’s a form or injury problem at the moment Fred doesn’t look like solving any problems this season.

Over the next week we are going to see a possible answer to our problems splashed all over the Herald Sun and Age publications, sadly these photo’s will be in the gossip/celebrity sections not the sports section like so many of us in Australia would prefer.

Earlier this year a poll voted Harry Kewell as our best Socceroos player of all time, whether you agree with this is an irrelevant point to me.  Harry is (or was) a quality player with the ability to change a game.  Late last season Harry started to show what he was capable of almost after a very slow start to Victory’s campaign after arriving with much fanfare.  Kewell is what Melbourne Heart are lacking, a star quality with attacking flair which has been notably absent in the Heart’s last three performances.

The new signing of Vince Grella is a very welcome addition to the Heart, but hardly a game changer.  Grella and Richie Garcia will ‘Boss’ the midfield and present chances to other Heart players but will rarely take any themselves.

YES, Harry is probably asking an unrealistic amount for his service, YES Harry hasn’t done a proper preseason; YES his family are still overseas; the original reason he left Victory, and YES we would be accused of taking yet another Victory player to build our squad.  If you are looking at these points you would say there is no chance of Harry pulling on a Heart shirt, but Harry has to realise if he has any burning desire to make the 23 man squad to Brazil (If we get there) he must sign for a club sooner rather than later.

Harry Kewell won’t play in the A-League this season, and may never pull a pair of football boots on again in a competitive match but he would be a great fit for the struggling Melbourne Heart.  The fact that we are even talking about him suiting up again while he’s on a promotion tour choosing Politix over sport is a combination of the media speculation/sheer fantasy but paramount to the type of player Kewell has been over the years.

Good luck on the punt Harry over the spring and thanks for your services to the Socceroos over the years, sadly I don’t think we won’t see you gracing our pitches again.

Week 4 A-League predictions

A very tough week for tipsters in the round ball this weekend. If I were a smart man I would save my money for the horses this week, or keep it in my pocket; but I’m not so here’s my tips.

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory

This game has draw written all over it, but I do like the Victory anytime they are paying $3 or more. Last week they looked sharper than they have all season under Ange and a win should give them a confidence boost. Newcastle got the points in the F3 Derby but was helped along by referee Ben Williams and some bizarre decisions. Victory 2-1

Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix

At least the good folk of Adelaide have some football action to take their minds off the disastrous Kurt Tippett situation. Adelaide is still top of the league and will want to atone for last week’s poor performance. Wellington on the other hand has always struggled away from home and will want to improve on that this season. Expect Adelaide to hit the front in what should be a very tight match, but a determined Wellington will hit back and grab an equaliser. DRAW 1-1

Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers

The only game of the week I can predict with any confidence. If this were a match race the Roar would be at Black Caviar odds, but its football so you get a very generous $1.30 in some markets. Let’s call it what it is, the best team going around vs. a team that have not scored in 270 minutes of football. Brisbane should win comfortably and Berisha should have a field day Brisbane 3-0

Melbourne Heart v Central Coast Mariners

On paper this is the dullest game of the round, with Graham Arnold threatening to kill off any attack the Heart are willing to make during the match. The Mariners are not the most exciting team to watch, and on last week’s performance neither are the Heart. The battle of the keepers will provide an interesting battle but that’s about it in a game that will barely make the six o’clock news highlights. The Mariners have won 4 out of 6 encounters between the two teams and they are my value of the week. Mariners 1-0

Sydney FC v Perth Glory

Finally Bling FC managed a win, albeit against new club and new rival Western Sydney. The team are managing to gel together nicely but still rely far too heavily on the 37 year old legs of Del Piero. Perth will come to town lead by the determined Jacob Burns and will scrap and harass Sydney for the full 90 minutes and it should be an absorbing match to watch. A very tough result to call, but Perth looks toothless without Shane Smeltz so it’s Sydney for the last game of the week. Sydney 2-1

 

Our SUBstandard bench situation

Crowds are up, fans are buzzing and we are finally getting the kind of attention we deserve.  Football fans around the country should be enjoying this time and the positive light the ALeague is experiencing and should experience for the foreseeable future.

The coverage has been outstanding from all at Fox Sports, and I’m really enjoying the new Shootout show during Sunday night primetime.  ABC grandstand are doing a fantastic job with their always professional radio broadcast, and their other shows are providing great insight.  Blogs, podcasts and twitter feeds have been full of praise for the competition (well, maybe not Ben Williams) and from the outside it looks like the league is finally nearing a place so many of us expected it to be when it first started.

My one main concern still is the fact that teams are only allowed four players on the bench.  Given one of those spots is a keeper this only allows coaches to have three outfield players.  Over the weekend during the five games 26 out of a possible 30 substitutions (87%) were made, indicating the importance of the role the substitute plays during matches.

At present most teams go with the theory of one defender, one midfielder and one attacker on the bench due to restrictions the league have placed on clubs.  Tactically I find this too restrictive those in charge, and normally forces player shuffles and results in players playing out of position for the last portion of the match.  Yes it could lead to a more unpredictable result for the neutral, but as passionate fans we want to see players from our club play in roles they were initially recruited for, not playing in makeshift roles due to injury or circumstance.

It is my understanding that the shortened player bench is requested by some clubs due to the extra financial burden an extra player(s) would put on the club, requiring extra flights/hotel rooms etc for those increased numbers.  To me this is farcical, we are a professional league and we are now attracting some great crowds, both from a television audience, and through the gate.  I want to see the best contest possible and in order to do this an increased bench is required.

I know that you can’t change rules midseason or midweek (unless you are that other sporting code in the country) but this should be very high on the ALeague agenda for season 2013/14.  Increasing the bench by one or two spots will see an increase in skill level for the game thus making it yet more attractive to everyone involved.

At the moment coaches are too restricted by this outdated concept.  Yesterday was a perfect example of this, Melbourne Heart players were looking out on their feet, and down 1-0 to Perth Glory.  Coach John Aloisi only had a central defender to bring on to the pitch so he opted to leave him on the bench and play the final 10 minutes with fatigue struggling players due to a limited bench.

We are playing some marquee players upwards of $2 million per season, and we can’t afford to fly an 18 year old kid to matches for an increased bench, I think not; It’s time to roll with the times ALeague and increase the standard of play through and increased bench.

P.S Don’t even get me started about those plastic Bunnings chairs we use, can’t wait to see Del Piero get subbed and sit in a $10 garden chair.