Soccer, in one form or another, is an ancient sport, with different sources reporting assorted versions of the game being played by the ancient Incans and across several Asian countries such as China and Japan.
It has been called ‘The World Game’ for some time and although it still holds a relatively fledging status on these shores, an estimated 3.5 billion fans worldwide can’t be wrong!
The modern game as we know it stretches back over the last two centuries where a strong tradition in Europe led to the creation of a range of football leagues, the most prominent today being the English Premier League (UK), La Liga (Spain), Ligue 1 (France), the Bundesliga (Germany) and Serie A (Italy). With such a strong European tradition, it might come as a surprise to many that given Australia’s rich European-derived population there was no nationwide, high-profile Soccer league until 2005 when the Hyundai A-League was formed.
Prior to the Hyundai A League, the National Soccer League (NSL) had operated since 1977 as the top-tier association football league in Australia but for a variety of reasons the NSL began to falter in the early 2000s. Frank Lowy, Chairman of Football Federation Australia (FFA) and a great proponent of elevating the game to stand among its football cousins (AFL and NRL), drove the creation of the new Hyundai A-League.
Eight teams kicked off the first season – Adelaide United, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory, Newcastle Jets, New Zealand Knights, Perth Glory, Queensland Roar and Sydney FC – and the FFA couldn’t have hoped for a better inaugural year with interest high, a media deal in the bag and a huge capacity crowd turning up to witness Sydney FC defeat the Central Coast Mariners 1-0 in the first Hyunadai A-League Grand Final.
Nearly ten years, later, the Hyundai A-League continues to grow in prominence, with two more sides (Melbourne Heart and Western Sydney Wanderers FC) having joined the fray (the Wellington Phoenix replaced the New Zealand Knights and Queensland Roar are now known as Brisbane Roar).
The season runs through the Australian spring and summer, concluding in mid-autumn each year. Twenty-seven rounds of Hyundai A-League action sees all ten sides take on each other three times, playing for three competition points per round, with one point being awarded for a draw. At the completion of Round 27, the Top Six ranked sides progress to the finals series play offs. Over three weeks sides are eliminated until two sides reach the Grand Final, with the winning side presented with the Hyundai A-League Trophy.
The A League winner’s list has been so far dominated by Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar, each winning two premierships, with the Roar managing back-to-back successes in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
The prestigious Golden Boot (the annual award for most goals scored in the Hyuandai A-League) has also been evenly spread, although Shane Smeltz, who has played for three sides – Wellington Phoenix, Gold Coast United (now defunct) and Perth Glory – took out the Golden Boot two years running in Seasons 2008-09 and 09-10. Adding to his trophy cabinet, Smeltz also took out player of the year in the 2009-09 season.
And, as with so many other sports, Australian Soccer punters love a bit of Hyundai A-League betting action. A huge variety of markets are live each weekend on every match throughout the season, plus, of course, season-long bets in the form of Top 6 Finish and A League winner markets.
Although the Hyundai A-League has been running for less than a decade, it is already gaining international attention, attracting big name players from the world football circuit – the 2012-13 season in particular saw three greats in Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono play in their maiden seasons, with no doubt more international stars to follow in the years ahead.
English Premier League giants Manchester City bought into Victorian side Melbourne Heart in early 2014, proving again that the game is gaining attention on the world stage and moving in an upward direction.
The success of the Hyundai A-League is one of those great Australian sporting stories. The league can now lay claim to being a permanent, exciting and heavily-watched component of the Australian sporting calendar, and there can be little doubt that it will continue to expand as more and more Australians embrace it as yet another way to satisfy their addiction to top quality sport.