Football fans down under have never been more spoiled for choice than they are this year. While A-League draws to a close over the coming weeks, a brighter chapter has just begun. This winter marks the inaugural National Premier League season, the newest step in developing the world game in a country that has struggled to accept it.
Us Melbournians like to consider our city the sporting capital of the world, home to the AFL and the Grand Final, the Boxing Day test which regularly packs out the MCG each year, and even our NRL team dominates the national league despite Queensland and New South Wales largely being considered the major states for rugby league.
As far as football is considered, even while our new-born league is still a minnow on a worldly scale, Melbourne Victory is an undeniable powerhouse in the league – both on and off the field. It garners the highest average crowd numbers each year, despite a resurgence of Western Sydney reclaiming its crown as the national home of football.
Two former Victory players are now plying their trade in arguably the biggest league in the world in the Bundesliga – Mitch Langerak and Robbie Kruse – playing for Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. They are a fine example of just what our tiny league is able to achieve in terms of developing future stars, with Langerak second in line to one of Germany’s national goalkeepers and still widely respected amongst his teammates and coach.
“You think you are getting a beach boy from Australia, but what you actually get is an incredible hard worker,” Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp said of his No. 2 keeper in August last year.
Mitch Langerak shows the importance of the oncoming National Premier League. It was not long ago when football pundits in Australia would have scoffed at the thought of finding a player of his quality more than once in a lifetime. Coming off the back of a ‘golden generation’ of football players in Australia, the player development of that in the A-League, and even a small handful of youngsters in the few games I’ve seen in the NPL, suggests the next generation will be platinum.
It isn’t just about player development. It is about developing a brand, a game. In fairness, the inaugural NPL season has escaped the scope of the mainstream media. In fact, it has really only turned heads in the Australian football world which, while growing, is a small sphere. More so, where the men’s game has managed to gain some momentum, it would appear that the women’s game has been somewhat left behind.
This weekend marked the start of another Women’s Premier League season, this year with a major sponsor behind the league in Sportsmart. So baby steps are being taken in developing the game not only for men, but for women as well.
Adelaide United defender, and (more importantly) Monash University student, Alex Gummer is looking for a solid season with a young Boroondara Eagles side.
“It’s definitely a new sort of experience from being at Casey. This year the average age of the squad is about 16 or 17…It’s my time to help the younger ones and help them develop and play a style of football which will see us be successful this season,” Gummer said.
In previous seasons, Gummer played for Casey Comets, who have been a huge influence, but she awaits a nervous return.
“I’m not looking forward to it at all; that’s playing against Casey. I’ve played there since I was a little tacker so it’s a very important game which I just don’t want to lose,” she said.
“I started playing there when I was 14…they’ve enabled me to become the player I am today so I thank Casey very much and the coach, Ian Williamson as well.”
She is also studying engineering five days a week this year, which is one of the reasons for her switching camps from Casey to Boroondara. The 21-year-old defender may be one of the next generation of Matildas and, if so, the future of women’s football in Australia is looking bright.