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The A-Leagues’ controversial grand final sale to Sydney could be reversed in a move that has the potential to mend fractured relationships between the struggling competition and angry fans.
According to sources with knowledge of the discussions, who were not authorised to speak publicly due to the sensitivity of the matter, the NSW government and the Australian Professional Leagues are in talks to scrap the remainder of the $12 million, three-year deal which guaranteed that Sydney would host the men’s and women’s grand finals through to 2025.
The A-Leagues’ grand finals could be on the move from Sydney.Credit: Getty
That contract could instead be spun off into a “Magic Round”, in which a full weekend of fixtures in both the men’s and women’s A-League would be played in NSW, with grand final hosting rights to return to the team which earns it – a tradition in domestic football stretching back to the National Soccer League.
While the sources have cautioned that nothing has been finalised yet, if an agreement is reached, it will signal the end of one of the most tumultuous chapters in the A-Leagues’ history.
The decision to sell the grand finals to Sydney, via Destination NSW, was announced in the days after the Socceroos’ inspiring run to the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Instead of harnessing the Socceroos’ momentum, the domestic game was plunged into immediate chaos, with players and clubs speaking out against the APL, former Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro stepping down from the APL board, and active fan groups announcing a boycott of matches.
Fans show their disappointment with the APL before the December 17 Melbourne derby, which later descended into chaos.Credit: Getty Images
Some Melbourne Victory supporters were so incensed they invaded the AAMI Park pitch in December’s derby against Melbourne City, with the man who threw a bucket of sand at goalkeeper Tom Glover jailed for three months.
The APL, which was motivated primarily by financial considerations in selling the grand final to Sydney, was taken aback by the ferocity of the backlash from all corners of the football community, with fans broadly rejecting the premise that the deal was the start of a “new tradition” for the game in Australia.
Last season’s A-League Men grand final was held at CommBank Stadium, where the Central Coast Mariners thumped City 6-1. The women’s version was played at the same venue – despite Western United, who lost 4-0 to Sydney FC, having earned hosting rights under the previous model.
The APL declined to comment. Destination NSW was also contacted for comment.
The sources claimed the NSW government was behind the move to revisit the deal, after choosing not to support a mooted A-Leagues All Stars clash with Bayern Munich earlier this year due to budget restraints, but that the APL also saw it as an opportunity to cut its losses.
The APL’s original concept for grand finals in Sydney revolved around an All Stars clash against a high-profile European opponent held on the same weekend as the men’s and women’s domestic league deciders.
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