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The A-League finally has a fixture list fans can support

Although the spectre of COVID-19 still hangs over the A-League Men competition, it’s a refreshing change to see the APL release a fixture list that actually gives fans what they want.

After a couple of COVID-riddled campaigns which decimated attendance figures and saw games scheduled on weeknights for the benefit of broadcasters, the Australian Professional Leagues has responded to feedback and created a fixture list that makes it easier to attend matches.

Gone are the unpopular Saturday night simultaneous kick-offs – although there are still occasional simultaneous kick-offs here and there – with most games set to be played at regular kick-off times, and no more midweek clashes.

“We have worked hard to reflect the feedback from the fans and deliver a draw that makes it easy to know when our games will be played, with 90 per cent of them being scheduled in just four time slots,” A-Leagues commissioner Greg O’Rourke said via media release.

“Our Saturday night game returns to standalone status, and we have worked to deliver as many games as possible in the slots that each club has told us their fans prefer.”

That last point is an acknowledgement that fans weren’t always at the forefront of the sort of thinking that saw some teams play multiple home games in a row last season, often on weeknights, particularly if they weren’t from Sydney or Melbourne.

And while the new campaign will conjure up some challenges of its own – not least around stadium availability – there’s plenty to suggest that after a couple of questionable campaigns, the APL is belatedly on the right track.

Brisbane Roar fans can finally look forward to a return to Suncorp Stadium, although with a string of summer concerts ruling out availability for long stretches of the season, the Queensland Government should just admit the stadium is the premium rectangular venue for music – not for sport.

Perth Glory, meanwhile, will have to play their first four home games of the season in a makeshift stadium out at HBF Arena in Joondalup some 25 kilometres from the city, while their usual home, HBF Park, is renovated for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

But on the whole, the new schedule gives fans plenty to look forward to, starting with the grand final rematch between Melbourne City and Western United to kick off the season.

Dylan Wenzel-Halls of Western United celebrates victory with teammates.

Dylan Wenzel-Halls of Western United celebrates victory with teammates. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

There are a few marquee fixtures for Sydney FC, too, as the Sky Blues get set to move into their brand new Allianz Stadium home.

Steve Corica’s side kick-start their new campaign with a clash against bitter rivals Melbourne Victory, while the first Sydney Derby of the season doesn’t take place until Round 6 – after years of lacklustre early-season derbies.

And judging by the reasonably small crowd that turned out for Sydney FC’s penalty shoot-out win over the Central Coast Mariners in the Australia Cup on Sunday, there needs to be a renewed focus from both the clubs themselves and the APL to get fans back into stadiums.

The Cup has proved a welcome distraction over the past couple of weeks, but it’s not exactly moving the needle when it comes to drawing a crowd. Most Round of 32 encounters have been sparsely attended – and that’s despite scheduling certain fixtures on weekends.

And the scenes outside Leichhardt Oval following Sydney FC’s dramatic 3-3 draw and subsequent shoot-out victory over the Mariners do absolutely nothing to help the game.

While there’s no way to definitively prove who attacked whom in the carpark after the game, it’s safe to say there’s an element within the A-Leagues – exemplified by the balaclava-clad morons who posed for a photo with new Wanderers recruit Milos Ninkovic during the week – who are of the mistaken belief that supporting a football club means attacking innocent bystanders outside the ground.

These wannabe hooligans have the collective IQ of a lamppost and if they wanted to bring the game into disrepute, then mission accomplished.

Here’s hoping they can be weeded out and exiled like the parasites they are, so the rest of us law-abiding supporters can get on with enjoying the football.

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