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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

The good, bad, and funny of the inaugural A-Leagues Unite Round

As the dust settles on the inaugural A-Leagues Unite Round, Front Page Football  looks back at the weekend that was and what needs to be embraced and changed as the fate of the concept is decided in 2025.

The Western Sydney Wanderers defeated Melbourne City on the opening night of the 2024 A-Leagues Unite Round. (Image: Harley Appezzato)

The Good

A-League Men fans witness high-scoring games and two hat-tricks

The APL would have certainly hoped for a spectacle on the field when gathering the whole community in one city for a weekend jam-packed with football. Those hopes were delivered in spades, especially in the A-League Men, with 28 goals across the six games played, an average of just over four and a half goals each match.

Two seven-goal thrillers and a three-goal draw highlighted an action-packed weekend, but individual players stole the show. Friday night saw Western United's Daniel Penha and Macarthur's Ulises Dávila go toe-to-toe in an exciting encounter, with the former scoring a brace and the latter a hat-trick.

Hiroshi Ibusuki produced one of the finest individual Adelaide United performances in club history, contributing to all four of Adelaide's goals and scoring a hat-trick. Exciting football will encourage people to return to games, and the action on the field certainly did satisfy the travelling fans.

Uniting to celebrate a legend

Michelle Heyman entered this A-League Women's season poised to become the first player in the competition's history to hit the 100-goal mark. The community's collective eyebrow was raised when Heyman, on 99 goals, failed to find the net in a six-goal draw against Newcastle the week before Unite Round.

It meant Heyman would be attempting to achieve the milestone against Adelaide United on a weekend where many league-wide fans would be travelling to watch. In the A-League Women, this fixture was a must-attend for the community.

Heyman did not let her fans down, scoring goals 100 and 101 in front of a crowd harbouring fans from most clubs across the competition. Being able to gather as one and celebrate a legend of the competition and her historic moment was something the Unite Round concept made possible, and everyone who attended will not forget it any time soon.

Making the best of a bad situation

Overall, the APL did a decent enough job hosting a brand-new concept for the league with a couple of months' notice. There were obvious teething issues, but most of the fans who travelled genuinely seemed to enjoy their trip.

It is important to remember the Unite Round concept only arose because of the universal outrage over what was originally the sale of all Grand Finals to New South Wales for three seasons. Having fans interested enough in a concept where they travel interstate is an important step forward.

For the concept to succeed, it must win over the hearts and minds of more than rusted-on A-Leagues fans; for that to happen, the APL must put a lot more time and effort into the fan experience outside the football. Under the circumstances that this inaugural event was planned around and executed, it did enough to receive a pass mark.

The Bad

A preview of what can go wrong in the stands

Considering the number of teams and fans in the stadium at any one time and the lack of security around entering different bays, Unite Round's crowds were exceptionally well-behaved. There were no reports of violence, but there was a preview of what can happen in situations created during such a round.

As Sydney FC and Adelaide United walked out at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, a Red Army banner that a visiting Sky Blues fan group stole while visiting Hindmarsh earlier this season was displayed behind the goals. That move saw the visiting Adelaide United fans speak to security, and even though the banner was not recovered on the night, the APL eventually did reclaim it for the visiting supporters.

No one was hurt in Adelaide or Sydney during this saga. But should such a situation occur again during Unite Round, it can escalate into violence. Letting fans mingle during a weekend like this one is crucial. However, security must be vigilant and instructed to use a common sense approach.

Socceroos live site issues

Any Australian football fan who followed the Socceroos and the Matildas during their respective World Cup campaigns can tell you about the rich experience of supporting your national team at a live site. When the APL announced that Unite Round would have a live site for the Socceroos' opening Asian Cup match against India, fans' interest was piqued.

As fans made their way to the Moore Park Entertainment Quarter after Sydney FC's clash against Adelaide United, they found screens instead showing cricket. The situation did not change as the match began, so many left Moore Park disappointed.

Watson's, an Entertainment Quarter pub, stayed open until late and saved the day for some fans. But most had already left the precinct by then. The APL communicated that the Entertainment Quarter faced technical issues because of the weather. But that announcement only came an hour into the game. It was another disappointing blow in the fluctuating relationship between the league and its fans.

Crowd consistency

The total crowd across the 12 A-Leagues games at Unite Round was 47,425, which could have been better. But it is understandable when considering the lack of foresight fans had before making other plans for this time of year. It beats the 36,042 across the two Grand Finals in 2023, with many more people travelling and fewer tickets being handed out for free.

Scheduling is vital for a weekend of football situated in one state. For example, there were better options than having Western United face Macarthur, two clubs with developing fanbases, in Western Sydney at 5:30 pm on a Friday.

Even if the fans in the stadium are enjoying themselves, the optics are not great when most of the seats are empty. That was again the case when the Perth Glory-Wellington Phoenix men's match attracted only slightly more fans than the Western Sydney Wanderers-Melbourne City women's match that preceded it, a fact only exacerbated by the size of Commbank Stadium.

The Funny

Uniting against a common enemy

The concept of Unite Round was to bring people together. While fans of the A-League Women's competition did a fantastic job of fostering that sense of community as usual, A-League Men fans also displayed that side in their unique way. Melbourne Victory was leading the Central Coast Mariners in the first game of Saturday's Allianz Stadium double-header when Sydney FC fans started arriving for their match.

The Cove sang their anti-Melbourne chants, and Victory's travelling North End responded with their anti-Sydney chants. But hilarity ensued when the Mariners found an equaliser, which the Sydney fans celebrated as hard as the travelling Central Coast contingent.

When Sydney's game against Adelaide United kicked off, Mariners, Victory, Brisbane, Macarthur, and other fans congregated in the Red Army's bay to chant against Sydney FC and revel in the hosts' misery as Adelaide ran away with a win. The saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" rings true in a situation that the concept of Unite Round made possible.

Who is abusing me?

The quote of the weekend probably goes to Western United manager John Aloisi. After his side's high-scoring draw against Macarthur, the coach was asked for his thoughts on Unite Round.

He joked that he enjoyed it but was unsure whether the abuse he received was from Wanderers supporters, City supporters, Macarthur supporters, or his own.



Looking to next year

By initially selling the hosting rights of the Grand Finals, the APL showed their cards regarding their financial position. Next season, the league's governing body will have to sell the concept of a Unite Round to fans and potential bidders.

To do that, they must encourage fans to travel, and the first step is providing enough notice and an incentive to travel. It is no secret the A-Leagues have the most extended off-season in world football, and a Round 1 Unite Round may offer the perfect timing to encourage people to travel.

Fans are hungry for football, and the APL can consolidate advertising campaigns between hyping the new season and Unite Round, encouraging fans to travel. Club members should also receive free access to at least watch their team play, and this mechanism could be implemented by claiming a free ticket from Ticketek using one's membership number.

Limiting travel and stadiums used can undoubtedly eliminate the fatigue that comes with watching football for three straight days, and separating the men's and women's matches will ensure fans of each league do not miss out on games they want to watch, as many experienced on the last day of Unite Round.

A standout fixture is required for a concept like this one to work. While a Sydney or Melbourne Derby may be a bridge too far, something like the Big Blue may be the fixture to entice all neutrals to attend and enjoy the spectacle. They may even support the side they least despise on the day, with any luck.

Off the pitch, the APL must make this weekend feel special and not just like another round of football. Supporter five-a-side competitions, harbour cruises with legends, and screenings of historic Socceroos games with panellists who featured discussing them are some concepts that can separate this round from others on the calendar.

The first Unite Round was a fun experience for everyone who attended, with some apparent issues due to multiple factors. Should this concept continue, the second edition must be a home run, and planning for it, which should include fan engagement, must begin as soon as possible to ensure success and, finally, the long-promised tradition of a festival of football heading into the future.

Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!

תגובה אחת

21 בינו׳

“Off the pitch, the APL must make this weekend feel special and not just like another round of football. Supporter five-a-side competitions, harbour cruises with legends, and screenings of historic Socceroos games with panellists who featured discussing them are some concepts that can separate this round from others on the calendar.”

1000% agree with this. There has to be more than just the regular games. It needs to be a celebration of football.

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