AUSTRALIAN football is on its way to be a powerhouse in the Australian sporting landscape, according to former Socceroos and Colo player Luke Casserly.
Casserly spent a number of years with Colo Soccer Football Club in his younger days, and his dad, John, is on the club’s committee of management.
Casserly played for the national team between 1997 and 2001, and is now head of national performance with Football Federation Australia.
With the A-League season starting tomorrow, Casserly spoke to the Gazette about the impact the league has had upon football in Australia.
The popularity of football in Australia has never been higher, and Casserly believes the key is the A-League.
In the past, the National Soccer League, which folded in 2004 and became the A-League, had trouble attracting fans, despite the growing popularity of football at the junior level.
Casserly said the high profile of the A-League, and the success of the Western Sydney Wanderers in particular, was case in point of the growing popularity of the sport.
‘‘I don’t think too many people are surprised at the impact the [Western Sydney] Wanderers have had, there has been an appetite for football in Sydney for a long time,’’ he said.
‘‘The challenge we’ve always had is there has been constant growth in participation but we need to convert that growth into a support base.
‘‘I think there has been a generational shift where parents take their kids to see football matches not the NRL.’’
Casserly said A-League crowd numbers were beginning to surpass those of the NRL, however, the NRL’s television audiences still far outweighed those of the A-League.
He said gaining supremacy in the television ratings war was the next battle for football in Australia.
‘‘The A-league has been fantastic,’’ he said. ‘‘It is a professional competition we’ve played for a long time.
‘‘The level of football and professionalism in the A-League means it is now comparable with some of the professional leagues in Europe.
‘‘We’re not naive enough to compare it to the English Premier League but it is at a level where it can be compared to other leagues in the world.’’
The A-League has produced more than just interest in the game as well. Last week, it was announced the Socceroos had moved up to 58 in the world rankings.
It was previously 61, and the move was largely thanks to the Socceroos being Asian Cup champions.
However, Casserly said the quality of competition in the A-League meant Australian players had to play at a higher standard to stand out and put their hand up for selection in the Socceroos team.
Casserly warned there was still a long way to go if the Socceroos wanted to keep climbing the rankings.
‘‘We [Football Federation Australia] have had some challenges, particularly with our elite junior pathways,’’ he said.
‘‘The old National Soccer League had a great junior development system but it didn’t have a great marketing system.
‘‘The A-League has come in and it has been great but a lot of the A-League clubs don’t have a lot of juniors.
‘‘We’re starting to introduce that, from next year the Wanderers will have juniors all the way down to under-13s.’’
The A-League season will kick off at 8pm tomorrow at Pirtek Stadium, when the Western Sydney Wanderers host the Brisbane Roar.