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