Friday 4 September ~

There are at least two ways of looking at Robbie Fowler’s decision to join North Queensland Fury, one of two new clubs in Australia’s A-League this season. One is to shake your head and wonder what on earth has reduced him to the indignity of it all. The other is to admire his professionalism, and then shake your head. North Queensland are based in Townsville, a military base and tourism hub that barely qualifies as a football outpost even in Australia. They have chosen an alarming lime green outfit for their debut season, and results and crowds so far have been equally sickly.

Three defeats, including a 5-0 thumping by fellow newcomers Gold Coast United, were followed by a more encouraging 3-3 draw last Friday in Adelaide. Fowler is in honest, but lowly company – his more well-travelled team-mates include the Netherlands Antilles striker Dyron Daal, formerly of St Johnstone and Ross County, and Daniel McBreen, whose long list of former clubs also takes in the Saints, as well as Romania’s Universitatea Craiova.

Fewer than 9,000 saw the Fury’s opening game, a 3-2 defeat against Sydney at Dairy Farmers Stadium, and the figure dropped to a worrying 6,500 for the second home match against Melbourne. Feeble crowds have been a notable feature of the season so far, as has a modest influx of journeymen from the English lower divisions – among them Andy Todd (Perth), Lloyd Owusu (Adelaide) and the Wellington pair of Chris Greenacre, formerly of Tranmere, and Paul Ifill. No one has yet suggested the two factors are connected. In fact the arrivals have caused little comment amid more high-profile signings such as Fowler, more exotic blooms from Brazil, Korea and even Thailand and, more encouragingly, Australian internationals still near the top of their careers such as Jason Culina (Gold Coast) and Mile Sterjovski, who escaped a nightmare spell at Derby to join Perth.

Greenacre has suggested the league’s profile is “getting bigger all the time” in Britain, though that will not last long if it keeps putting on games that draw barely 6,000 people to a 50,000-seat stadium, as Brisbane’s 1-0 win over Central Coast did at the weekend. If things do not improve after the rugby league and Australian rules seasons finish this month, the league may be urgently revisiting its plans for further expansion, which currently envisage a new team in Melbourne and possibly another in Sydney or Canberra.

The good news is the goals are flying in (including two for Fowler in the first four games); there is a new comedy duo on hand in the shape of the Gold Coast’s barmy owner Clive Palmer and coach Miron Bleiberg; and another World Cup is around the corner, with the national team already qualified and looking handy. As for Fowler, he is trying hard, but if his waning God-like powers convert North Queensland into a football power within a year, it will truly be a miracle. Mike Ticher

Comments (9)
Comment by The Exploding Vole 2009-09-04 11:03:37

"North Queensland Fury" side, ya gotta love a place called Dairy Farmers Stadium.

Comment by Liffrok 2009-09-04 19:00:28

Nearly as inspiring as the Galaxy's Home Depot Center. Different hemisphere, just as prosaic.

Comment by radmonkey 2009-09-05 07:45:00

Galaxy draw way more than six-thousand. Where you thinking of FC Dallas?

Comment by Lanterne Rouge 2009-09-05 09:39:49

It's admirable that the A League are attempting to bring the gospel of football to the furthest corners of the nation, but instead of encouraging this in outposts such as Townsville, they should follow the example of Australian Rules and have a clutch of teams based in both Sydney and Melbourne: the derbys will stimulate support and less distance top travel for away fans will make for larger crowds. Countries like Turkey and Russia are also very large but have their top clubs concentrated in the main city, The Aussies might do well to follow suit.

Comment by Gratius Falsius 2009-09-06 11:06:44

A ten man NQF drew again last night against Brisbane with Fowler scoring after 7 minutes. It was a sublime goal.

Fowler seems to be enjoying himself hugely and is mentoring the other players especially the younger ones to good effect.

AFL has currently one side in each of Sydney and Brisbane - both are franchises transplanted from Melbourne. A western Sydney side is expected to join the competition in 2012.

Quite why the FFA chose Townsville is a mystery to me. It is a relatively small population centre - even by Australian standards and their travel costs must be colossal.

Nobody seems to be pannicking about crowd numbers this season but when you are rich as Palmer (who is also the NQF shirt sponsor) and some of the other owners I suppose it doesn't matter too much.

Wages and squad size are capped which helps.

Comment by Nelinho 2009-09-07 10:07:31

Yeah, I agree about the Turkish and Russian leagues, but they developed naturally over time, whereas the expansion teams (North Qld *insert stupid name* and Gold Coast) like most of the A-League have gone to the highest bidder it seems.

The result is a league have teams that are mass produced by marketing gurus...they also have had Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey name half of the teams in the league...Glory, Victory, Fury, Roar etc.

Gold coast has a terrible record with professional sporting teams...Basketball (G.C. Rollers) failed, and they are on to their 4th or 5th rugby league club...even Aussie Rules was there for a while, before the Brisbane Bears relocated to err Brisbane??

Its strange that QLD has more teams than Victoria???

The thing is what team will they bring in Melbourne or West Sydney?? A team with old NSL ties or another franchise with a wanky name???

Why not Hobart Hope, Fremantle Faith or Launceston Love?? The way things are going i wouldnt be surprised to see a Tasmanian derby at the alcohol free 'David Boon ampitheatre of Joy & Prosperity'

No point to this comment...just rage.

Comment by Jimafc 2009-09-08 04:48:59

Not really sure of the point of your rage either Nelinho - I'm absolutely no fan of franchised clubs, ridiculous team names etc. but what else is going to work over here? The NSL ultimately failed dismally and all but no-one was coming to watch the "established" teams at the end (not even from within their associated ethnic communities). Bringing in new clubs rather than bringing back Marconi or Olympic is surely more likely to help the game grow.

I appreciate that it must be very galling for fans of the established teams to be locked out of the A league but, generally speaking I don't think the current FFA can be blamed for how they've played it. Better to direct anger at the all too numerous people associated with the pre A-League era who bleat on about how they "kept football alive" when in fact they barely kept it alive when it could/might have thrived. Now it is thriving and hopefully will continue to do so (tho' I must admit that I still have my doubts...)



Comment by geoff 2009-09-09 10:53:36

Think I read Melbourne Heart is the next team in. Love the name. And trouble deciding on the next Sydney team. One mob pulled out, anothers having dodgy background. I await the WSC article detailing the dirt.

Comment by hullabaloo 2009-09-14 15:18:01

Watched A-league developments closely for 2 years from 2006-08. Have to say they've done an excellent job in putting the domestic sport near the front of Australia's sporting conscience. This is the 4th season and for media coverage it's closed the gap on AFL, cricket and both codes of rugby VERY quickly.

I was in Melbourne where they get decent crowds on the back of a) the city being sport mad, b) a strong (round ball) football heritage and c) a winning team. Will be interesting to see how they go with a second team (Heat or Heart?). Two schools of thought on this... either city not big enough to support a second team whilst the first is still relatively young, or... a new team is more likely to succeed in a large city, with access to a bigger fan base, than a smaller remote location. Oddly, a vocal advocate of the first theory was the owner/chief financer of Melbourne Victory.

As for the NQF in Townsville, I think this partly comes down to the FFA wanting to take pops at the established sports. Queensland is a huge rugby league region, so my guess is they wanted to chip away at that. And it's cheaper to take on the other sports in Townsville than it is in Melbourne or Sydney. Again, just my take on it.

Will be interesting to see where the A-league is in another 5 years. I doubt it will just be ticking over though - either gone completely or, more likely, thriving with better support and an increase in the number of decent players coming in.

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