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Soup of This Day #398: Nothing Else Could Set Fire To This Town

November 24, 2014

Kate Gill
Perth Glory Women striker Kate Gill driving forward with the ball against the Newcastle Jets’ defence in early November of 2014. Despite being in some hot form, Gill didn’t net in this game. It didn’t matter – The Glory won 4-2 – Photo: Longworth72, 2014. Image cropped by Longworth72.

On a Saturday, a little over a week ago, the Perth Glory Women won Australian soccer’s 2014 W-League premiership.

It was a brilliant success, although the timing of the achievement was a little off-kilter – The Glory Women didn’t get to neatly secure the feat on the pitch exactly – A draw for nearest rival Canberra United meant that the Western Australian side had an unassailable lead at the top of the table and this occurred around half an hour before Perth took on Western Sydney. Which meant that the result of that latter encounter could have been partly irrelevant.

Except all soccer games are mostly relevant and so the Glory Women outclassed the Wanderers for a five goal to nothing win. It was a pretty decent exclamation mark then to put on that premiership, the first in the Perth club’s history.

And a fitting exclamation mark too – The Glory Women haven’t just eked out this title. They have won 9 of 10 games so far this term, amassing 27 points from a possible 30. In the 6 previous seasons, only one other team has managed to at least equal that total (Canberra United, 2013/14) and they needed 12 games to get that far. No team has previously won 9 of their first 10 of the season.

Then there’s the distance to the rest of the field – After 10 games there were three other clubs vying for a finals berth and they were all tied on 17 points. One of those clubs, the Melbourne Victory, took 11 games to get that far. The closest approximation to that kind of dominance was in 2008/09, the debut season for the W-League. In that term Brisbane Roar won 8 of 10 with a draw and a loss, finishing with 25 points and an 8 point lead over Newcastle. The Roar had been sensational value for those points and that lead too, netting 27 goals while conceding just the 7.

The Perth Glory Women in 2014 have been even more prolific and almost as miserly, scoring a staggering 33 goals while giving up just 8, for an aggregate of +25. That’s 5 more than that brilliant Brissie side managed and it’s 18 more than current second-best outfit, the Victory.

There’s more: Perth’s (and the W-League’s) top scorer so far this season is Kate Gill – She has 11 successful strikes from 10 appearances. That’s one more than that Saturday’s opponents, Western Sydney, have managed as a team (10). Which isn’t to belittle the Wanderers or even Adelaide, who have scored less (7) – Those aren’t paltry tallies in a top-shelf national league. It’s more that Gill’s better-than-a-goal-a-game ratio is simply phenomenal.

The Australian national team (Matildas) striker isn’t alone either – The mercurial Sam Kerr, Gill’s strike partner, has 7 goals from just 8 appearances, while midfielder Caitlin Foord has 4 from 10. Elisa D’Ovidio and Alanna Kennedy each have 3 as well – Solid returns from an impact substitute and a defender.

This then is quality football. That shouldn’t be a surprise as, of those prolific scorers mentioned, four from five are Matildas – Only D’Ovidio isn’t and she’s no mug either. You’d be forgiven for thinking then that the Glory have bought their way to a premiership and you’d sort of be right – There was an influx of fresh and highly-rated players across the last close-season, with Kerr, Foord and Kennedy among the new arrivals. It’s probably not fair to say that team management spent big though.

The entire Glory Women program costs $240,000 per season.

I’ll try to help you digest that a bit. Tim Cahill, Australian men’s football standard-bearer, will earn $3.92m in 2014 playing for the New York Red Bulls in the US. For just one player, that’s more than 16 times the $240,000 it costs to operate one of the very best W-League outfits, studded with genuine international stars.

So the W-League isn’t exactly flush with money and the conditions for growth in that regard are marginal. Sport in Australia is seemingly an open market but only for some – It’s true that fans are free and driven to spend their hard-earned to see sport that attracts them. It’s also a true though that sponsorship dollars will follow those fans because they represent a market of potential customers. This isn’t just limited to those who pay to watch a game in the flesh either – It also encompasses those who will watch on TV. Simply, coverage of sport begets money in sport – Without coverage it’s hard to get the money.

That’s a substantial hill to climb for the Perth Glory Women and the wider W-League community and it’s about to become a decent sized mountain. This is because the Australian Government have just slashed 5% off of the annual budget for the free-to-air national and public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, otherwise known as the ABC, or more colloquially and (mostly) fondly as Aunty.

Aunty is a powerful storyteller in modern Australia, unmatched in terms of depth and reach by any other media entity. The organisation is not beholden to advertisers and so viewer numbers, sometimes called ratings, are not a factor for it. Aunty is instead free to show and tell what it can about this country and it’s people, untrammelled by prejudice.

Prejudice like the dismissal of women’s sport because it’s played by women.

Yep, Aunty covers the W-League, putting a weekly live match broadcast on TV screens all across Australia, with highlights of the previous week’s games and pitch-side interviews with players and officials. They’ve done this since the W-League began, stretching from that Brisbane-dominated first term, right through this current season, highlighted so gloriously by Perth.

And that’s where it’ll likely end.

It’s up to ABC’s management team to decide where the 5% gets docked. It looks like women’s sport will be one of their sacrifices, partly because they have to sell off the outside broadcast vans they use for coverage. That’s apparently not a difficult sacrifice to make – Women’s sport could be seen as a sort of optional elective you take for easy credit, like Planetary Science 101. Sure it’s interesting, beautiful even, but it isn’t going to pay the bills and so if you need to cut back on your study-load then it’s no great loss.

Except it really is.

You see; a. Planetary Science is truly important and you shouldn’t drop it because in learning about the other planets you will be wiser with ours; and b. That’s a terrible analogy anyway because women’s sport isn’t on another planet. It’s not just women’s sport either, or even just sport – It’s us. Humanity. People being people and it’s incredibly important because half of people are women and we’re really shit at just letting them be people.

Some of whom play glorious football and some of whom might want to without even knowing it yet but soon won’t anyway because they won’t be able to even see the promotional flyer for that elective.

That’s a big and disappointing mountain to climb. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll still have hope, in spite of Aunty’s cuts, and it’s because of those 2014 Perth Glory Women:

Such are the tight margins in women’s sport in Australia and the W-League in particular, that there is no trophy for winning the W-League premiership. Presumably that is an expense that has been jettisoned in favour of maybe buying extra balls. Or water bottles for the ball-girls. Or any one of the myriad of small details that surely get taken for granted in the men’s game.

This though was the first Glory Women’s premiership and a season of results so sublime that pragmatism needed some time on the bench.

They bought their own trophy.

It was a silver plate and as they posed with it for a team photo on their home pitch it seemed an apt marker, mostly because it seemed to reflect rather brilliantly on them, while making the men’s game and those who churlishly administer sport and it’s coverage seem all the more dull.

Nothing Else Could Set Fire To This Town

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