A common argument I have with friends of mine is the importance and relevance of a finals series.  For those that are unaware, a final series is played at the end of the home and away season.  Teams that finish higher on the ladder, almost always have an advantage in the final series by receiving home field advantage or in most circumstances a ‘second life’.  Australia is one of the only countries that I know that has a finals series after the regular season.  It starts at our domestic premier competition – the Hyundai A-League and flows down all the way to local competitions. 

 

Eliminating the final series and replacing it with a knock out, cup style competition similar to the FA Cup in England or the TIM Cup (Italian Cup) in Italy is the way to go.  (More on how I think the format would be best adopted in Australia in a moment.) The main reason that I am against the finals series is that it severely discredits the team that finishes at the top of the table at the end of the home and away season. Presently, the team that wins the grand final, the game at the end of the final series, is coveted more so than the team that has achieved results over the course of the entire season. A team that can consistently perform and get results from the first to the last round of a campaign are a far better team than the one that can win, at most three games in a row, to win the finals series. I don’t disagree with those that argue that the feeling you get from winning on grand final day is almost second to none, as it is. I have been there, on winning and losing sides, and I understand the feeling you get on grand final day – the nerves, the adrenalin, the ecstasy and the heartbreak. It is all great. 

 

That is why I propose a knock out cup style competition that is played throughout the season. The best way to organise this is to set aside ‘x’ amount of weekends throughout the season as dedicated ‘cup weekends’ or depending on the resources available, play mid week night matches. The cup final is played after the final game of the regular season. With this set up, the grand final day purists still get the trials and tribulations that a grand final day brings. The teams in the league are drawn, at random, to set up brackets for the cup knockout format. This gives the less fancied teams in the league a shot for glory – something that they arguably wouldn’t get under the current finals system. The team that wins, progresses and the team that loses, is eliminated. This continues until you have two teams remaining, making up the cup final.   

 

The most important thing is to reward the league champion. Giving the league champion a home field advantage or a second chance in a finals series is not enough. They should be given the due respect they deserve and that means having a separate competition which is unparallel to the home and away season. The league champions are just that, the champions. Let’s treat them this way by not having a devaluing finals series.

 

While I am on the topic of finals series, why is it that the Hyundai A-Leagues are so disjointed? The Minor and Major Semi Finals are over two legs – home and away whereas the Preliminary Final, which is the following week, is played over one leg.  Where is the consistency and sense in this? There is none. They should either have the Minor and Major Semi Finals as well as the Preliminary Final over two legs, or eliminate the two leg play off altogether.  Better still, how about a cup knockout competition? Common sense people, common sense.       

Saturday night’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United was a severe disappointment.  It was a let down for many reasons – the overall poor quality of the game and the questionable decision making of Matthew Breeze to name a couple. But the most disappointing aspect was not the influence that Matthew Breeze, the referee, had on the game; it was the actions of the players towards Breeze throughout the 90 minutes.  It will be argued (and repeated ever so frequently by Robbie Slater) that the sending off of Cristiano in the 10th minute ruined the game.  In case you missed it, the dubious decision was a result of Cristiano challenging for a header with his elbows raised against Rodrigo Vargas.  Cristiano made contact with Vargas’ head, however his eyes never left the ball and there was no malice or intent to injure Vargas in the challenge.  Breeze, initially was only going to issue Adelaide’s lone striker with a yellow card until he consulted his assistant referee and saw Vargas lying on the ground in a pool of blood at which point he turned it into a straight red.  Cristiano was unlucky.  Adelaide was unlucky and as a consequence had to play the next 55 minutes one man short.  But one bad decision doesn’t ruin a game.  What ruins a game and far more worryingly, ruins a sport was what Breeze was subjected to. Muscat, Ognenovski, Cornthwaite, Allsopp and Jamieson were all culprits.

 

Breeze was the target for many verbal sprays and hand waving remonstrations throughout the game and this was, by far, the greatest travesty to Australian Football.  It was detrimental for two reasons:

 

  1. It turns young aspiring referees away from the game.  One area of our game that we desperately need to retain is our junior referees and losing them will only lead to a decrease in quality of our referees in the future.
  2. It makes us looks like whiners.  This game was being televised to over 80 million people world wide. There is nothing wrong with showing your colours in the heat of the moment, but blatant abuse of the match officials needs to stop.

It of course will be argued that if Matthew Breeze hadn’t have made a poor decision in sending off Cristiano that perhaps he wouldn’t have been thrown the abuse that he was.  What a load of rubbish.  Referees are constantly the centre of projected insults and until we get on board with the Respect Campaign we will continue to fall behind in the standard of officiating and it will detract on the overall image of not only our game, but it will tarnish the image of our country. Come on FFA, it is time to protect one of our most valuable resources.