A-League fans should be excited at the prospect of a resurgent Victory and Wanderers
Two giants of Australian football, the Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers, have not performed to the level their size demands in recent years.
For the Victory, their last two seasons have been by far the worst in their history.
They went through three coaches in a 2019-20 season that saw them miss out on the finals for the first time in nine years.
The Victory then reached their nadir last season, finishing bottom and suffering 6-0 and 7-0 losses against their cross-town rivals Melbourne City.
The Wanderers have not fared much better.
They have not made the finals in four years, where every club has made it at least once in that time.
They are on their fourth permanent manager in five seasons.
Their average attendances have been steadily falling, reaching their lowest in the 2020-21 season.
The struggles of the Victory and Wanderers have been contrasted with the success experienced by their cross-town rivals Melbourne City and Sydney FC, respectively.
City and Sydney have won the last three Grand Finals between them.
Fans of rival clubs have been revelling in the struggles of the two wounded heavyweights.
Who can blame them?
There are few things better in the life of a football fan than seeing their rivals lurch from one disaster to the next.
You are watching them lose match after match and seeing their fans argue over who is to blame.
Rival fans could win any football-related argument with a simple screen-grab of the table showing their teams superiority.
Every football fan does it.
As much as the struggles outlined above have been fun for Adelaide, City or Sydney fans, has it been good for the league as a whole?
The evidence would suggest that it isn’t.
Average attendances across the league have been steadily declining, from 13,479 in 2013-14 down to 10,877 in 2018-19.
Over the last two COVID impacted seasons, the league has had averages of just over 8,000 and 5,000.
There have been multiple factors behind the league's struggles in the past few seasons.
The league was nearly brought to its knees, whether it be governance issues, disputes with active fans and media rights holders, or a global pandemic.
Only now is it starting to emerge from that dark hole.
However, the impact of the struggles of the Victory and Wanderers cannot be overstated.
Back in 2012, the league was not in a great place.
Much like now, attendances were declining, and two of the expansion teams had folded.
The Victory also struggled that season, finishing outside the top six.
The introduction and meteoric rise of the Wanderers helped revitalise the league.
Their success bought thousands of new fans to the league.
It helped increase interest in the league, both in the mainstream media and social circles.
Additionally, the Wanderers active support group - the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) - helped raise the bar in terms of atmosphere and noise at games.
The experience of a Wanderers home game was something that the other sporting codes couldn't offer.
The Victory also made massive strides during this time.
Under Ange Postecoglou, they reached the semi-finals in 2012-13.
Then, under Kevin Muscat, they would reach three Grand Finals in five years, winning two.
They also continued to set the benchmark for attendances and memberships in this time.
In recent times, the peak of Australian football was arguably between 2013 and 2018, where both the domestic teams and the Socceroos were making headlines around the country and achieving massive success.
At one stage, Australia was home to both the club and country champions of Asia.
Meanwhile, during this time, the Victory and the Wanderers were the most consistent clubs, with every Grand Final featuring one of the two clubs.
They were also in the upper echelons in attendance numbers.
This sustained period of success for the Victory and Wanderers was good for the league overall.
Being in the two largest markets of Melbourne and Sydney increased positive media attention.
It also motivated their rivals to get one over them both on and off the pitch.
The numbers in active support across the league grew because of the RBB and Melbourne’s North Terrace.
This atmosphere created a wholly unique experience for the league.
The fortunes of these two clubs and the league have been somewhat emblematic; they both fell together.
Yet, as the 2021-22 season approaches, they have the potential to rise once again.
After being in crisis during COVID and the breakdown of the Fox Sports TV deal, the A-League has secured both independence from the FA and a television deal with streaming service Paramount+ and Channel 10.
The deal will see it gain more positive exposure in the mainstream media.
The Victory has recruited Tony Popovic, the man responsible for the success of the Wanderers.
He will be tasked with bringing in a similar culture of success and discipline to resurrect a team that has reached its lowest ebb.
In Western Sydney, a series of exciting new signings has many fans and pundits alike predicting a resurgent Wanderers under Carl Robinson.
Fans of other clubs shouldn’t actively hope for the Victory and Wanderers to beat them.
But they should at least welcome the prospect of Melbourne and Western Sydney being more competitive.
There is a good chance that if the Victory and Wanderers achieve big, the league will follow suit.