Australia’s national league: 40 years strong


The Hyundai A-League 2016/17 Season is a milestone one – it’s the 40th of Australian national league football, incorporating 28 seasons of the old National Soccer League (NSL).

With over 7200 games played, 20,000 goals scored and more than 3400 different players from almost 100 nationalities, there’s a massive history we can look back on. 

One with so many highs, lows and records galore in Australia’s longest-running national football competition.

Which player will score goal 20,000?

To mark the 40th national league season, the 294-page official Hyundai A-League 2016/17 Season Guide now includes a comprehensive all-time Australian national league chapter – 33 pages full of stats and facts covering the 39 seasons to date.

Our national league has a fascinating history.

A total of 52 different clubs have taken part to date, from South Melbourne with a colossal 791 games played from 1977 to 2004, to Canterbury Marrickville who competed in just 22 games in the 1986 season.

South Melbourne

In its first season the NSL had no Finals Series. The champion team from each of the first seven seasons 1977 to 1983, and again in 1987, was the team at the top of the final ladder. 

In all other years a finals system has been the undisputed way of deciding the national champions.

From 1984 to 1986 the league reverted to a dual-conference system, based loosely on a north-south division of teams, with the top team from each conference playing off in a two-legged national grand final.

The league controversially moved to a summer season in 1989, which saw an immediate increase in crowds and media attention compared to the previous winter-based years. 

Barely has there been a thought since of reverting back to winter.

It’s amazing to consider that the NSL survived with average crowds dipping to 2400 for the 1985 season – including finals. 

But it’s testament to the clubs from the time who sustained the league through some very challenging years, enabling Australia’s best players to continue competing on a national stage. 

With national league crowds averaging over 14,000 so far after Round 8 this season it’s – thankfully – a very different platform to that of the mid-1980s.

Victory fans show their club colours during their pre-game rendition of ‘Stand By Me’.

A new era – the Hyundai A-League

When the NSL closed down in April 2004 it heralded a new era with the birth of the Hyundai A-League in 2005/06. 

Of the eight inaugural A-League clubs, Perth Glory, Newcastle United Jets and Adelaide United continued their presence from the previous version of the national league.

Perth Glory is the oldest current continuing national league club, celebrating its 20th season at the national level this year.

Perth Glory

Having recently surpassed 400 national league fixtures, the Newcastle United Jets are also building a substantial history – only ten other clubs have played more games at national league level. 

Adelaide United’s first Championship success in the 2015/16 Season – coming after an all-time record-breaking rise from the bottom of the ladder for any first-tier football league in Australia – came in its 12th season of existence.

The four other existing clubs who were part of the first Hyundai A-League season 2005/06 are currently into their 12th seasons – and getting old enough to now consider themselves having significant histories of their own. 

Brisbane Roar, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC all hit the 300 A-League game milestone in the first third of the 2016/17 Season.

And Wellington Phoenix, who came in following the demise of the New Zealand Knights in 2007, will be 250 games old in Round 10.

Meanwhile the A-League’s newest club Western Sydney Wanderers took no time creating its place in national league history – taking out the Premiership in its very first season 2012/13, and becoming the first and only Australian club to win the AFC Asian Champions League in 2014.

Western Sydney Wanderers celebrate winning the 2014 Asian Champions League title.

As the 2016/17 Hyundai A-League season enters its third month it continues to deliver the excitement, controversy and unpredictable events that just adds to the stimulating stockpile of stories from an almost-40 year history of national league football in Australia.

The official Hyundai A-League 2016/17 Season Guide, incorporating the FFA Cup, AFC Champions League and an all-time Australian national league history chapter, can be downloaded from here (294-page PDF file).

Follow Andrew Howe’s Australian football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto