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Quit stalling – it’s time to start a National Second Division

Sydney United’s sensational 3-2 extra-time win over Brisbane Roar in the Australia Cup was a reminder that the things that make football unique in Australia deserve to be celebrated.

Substitute Glen Trifiro’s volley deep into extra-time on the back of Chris Payne’s impudent flick was a goal worthy of winning any game, let alone an enthralling cup tie played in front of a rapturous Edensor Park crowd.

And the veteran’s goal was enough to send Sydney United through as the first ever National Premier League side to reach the final in the competition’s eight-year history.

The win was no less than the Western Sydney battlers deserved, and they achieved it with a smattering of players who have all previously played at a higher level in the A-League.

Patrick Antelmi of Sydney United 58 FC celebrates scoring a goal.

Patrick Antelmi of Sydney United 58 FC celebrates scoring a goal. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

So when is Australian football finally going to launch a National Second Division?

If there was a legitimate criticism of the first season under the Australian Professional Leagues, it’s that not a whole lot that was new or noticeably different from the previous regime seemed to happen under their watch.

And with less than a month until the new A-Leagues campaigns kick off, we seem to be tracking towards much the same trajectory.

Which begs the question of why we’ve heard so few tangible details about what a National Second Division is supposed to look like.

Short of several club names being bandied about – many of whom have aligned themselves with the Association of Australian Football Clubs – we still have no idea how a National Second Division is supposed to work.

Or if, indeed, it even will.

But one thing Sydney United’s win over the embattled Brisbane Roar reminded us of – and it’s worth remembering fellow NPL side Oakleigh Cannons are taking on A-League outfit Macarthur in Wednesday night’s other semi-final – is that football in Australia can no longer afford to just keep going through the motions.

The sport has become synonymous with stasis – only bursting into life occasionally when a side like Sydney United knocks off one of the big guns from the top tier.

Pointing that out wins no popularity contests, even if it’s a classic case of shooting the messenger given how many administrators draw handsome salaries from the game supposedly to make these decisions.

And they’d better start getting their ducks in a row when it comes to a fully professional second tier, because it makes zero sense to maintain the status quo for much longer.

There may have been a time, back when Frank Lowy was still in charge of Football Australia, when the A-League was legitimately too big and too professional to countenance a proper second tier – ideally with promotion and relegation between the two.

But those days are long gone.

And the net result of having a literal closed-shop competition has been dwindling attendances and diminishing media interest, with rusted-on A-League fans genuinely bored stiff of watching the Newcastle Jets take on Adelaide United for the 45th time.

The answer is simple – hurry up and start a second division – even if the actual complexities of doing so will invariably provide the latest stumbling block.

Yet the litany of excuses has worn thin and the incessant pandering to casual sports fans at the expense of actual football watchers has only alienated the support base.

Like Ange Postecoglou’s success at Celtic – he is, of course, the same bloke who was virtually ignored by the mainstream media during his days as an A-League coach – there’s plenty to celebrate in Australian football, if only we weren’t so reluctant to do so.

Sydney United’s fairytale run to the 2022 Australia Cup final – let’s not forget they knocked out defending A-League champions Western United in the Round of 16 – is one such example.

But it will count for very little unless there’s some actual momentum towards starting a National Second Division.

Forget all this business about not having promotion and relegation for however many years!

What fans in Australia want, more than anything, is a proper football league.

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