The A-League and its Golden Goose

As the dust settles following a highly controversial A-League season, even the keenest of supporters find themselves in a moral dilemma; to continue to support and take an active interest in the league they love, or to stand strong, hold the line and seek their football fix elsewhere.

Universally, football supporters are known for their unique colour, organic passion and creativity. The noise and atmosphere they create week after week along with the overt displays of tribalism is rarely seen anywhere else, and Australian football fans are no different. Sure, we may have borrowed a bit from here and there, but with such a large, multicultural influence why is anyone surprised? In our case, it’s football rather than art that often imitates life.

Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to know exactly what the next twelve months will bring but one thing is certain, the APL will have the huge off-season task of attempting to win back the trust of the A-league’s most loyal supporters. Fortunately for APL, we do endure the world’s longest off-season.

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I attended my first ever Perth Glory game as a teen in the late 1990’s, from vague memory it was a big win over Canberra Cosmos. Being an ‘Aussie’ kid from the north-eastern suburbs of Perth I had much more of an affinity with Aussie Rules football at that stage of my adolescence. Other than watching the odd bit of SBS on a Sunday afternoon and the occasional World Cup or Socceroos match, football was all just a bit of fun and a kick-about at school rather than a sport that I followed too seriously.

One thing that I’ll never forget from that hot Sunday afternoon was the crowd on The Hill as it was known in those days. The noise, the colour, the humorous chants containing the odd swear word and of course the litres upon litres of beer thrown skyward every time Perth scored. As I said, it was a big win.

Considering I wasn’t a full book on the finer points of the game, I was more entertained by the crowd and before too long you’d find me in or around The Hill or what is now known as The Shed End. I was amazed by the colour, noise and creativity that the supporters put into expressing their love for the team. It was The Big Day Out meets sport – I’d definitely found my tribe.

“It was The Big Day out meets Sport – I’d definitely found my tribe”

As word spread across the city about this ‘new’ football club with their crazy fans, people came from far and wide to experience what many described as ‘The best Sunday session in town’. There was football, booze, friendships made, and even the odd romance. People came from everywhere for this common cause that represented a new-found community, a connection that is still adored by many even a generation later.

In Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey loosely references the famous old fable of The Goose and the Golden Egg.

A peasant farmer discovers one day that his beloved goose lays golden eggs. The next day the farmer goes into the barn to see the goose has laid another and then another, this goes on for weeks. The farmer became very popular because of his goose and people came from everywhere to see it.

Over time the farmer started to become greedy and took the goose for granted, naturally the goose becomes tired and disinterested and starts to produce fewer and fewer eggs. Eventually, the farmer becomes so frustrated that he cuts open the goose to discover there are no more golden eggs. Of course, the farmer is left with no golden eggs and one dead goose.

Without giving too much away, Covey goes on to explain the moral of the story by labelling the golden eggs as the product, while the goose is the product capacity.

The lesson of course being, if the farmer nurtured his goose and gave it the attention it needed, the goose would have had the capacity to lay golden eggs forever and the rewards never-ending for the farmer. Simply, if you don’t take care of the capacity to make the product in the end you’ll have no product at all.

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Whether it was Perth Oval, Bob Jane Stadium or Marconi Stadium, or more recently in the North Terrace, Red and Black Bloc or Sydney’s Cove, there are thousands of stories where unsuspecting individuals became hooked on football based on the atmosphere and buzz created by the fans, ironically these are the same fans we’ve seen plastered on advertising campaigns by marketing gurus since 2004.

Australian football supporters create a unique selling point that has the ability to attract new fans from far and wide. Take away the supporters’ capacity to bring that colour and atmosphere and I’d argue football simply wouldn’t be as attractive to the newcomer. It’s like the old sayings; ‘energy begets energy’ and the age-old marketing mantra ‘a crowd always attracts a crowd’.

Just like the goose that laid the golden eggs, if you take your most loyal rusted-on supporters for granted they’ll simply become tired and disinterested. The colours will fade, noise will soften and the passion will dwindle, and no new fan is going to come to see that.

Blayne Treadgold is the Secretary of Football Supporters Association Australia (Inc)

The views expressed are those of the author and may not represent the view of the FSAA Committee