When I went to work in London in 1995, I was in Seventh Heaven.
Partly because I was doing interesting work in one of the best cities in the world, but mainly because of the richness and diversity of the football press.
Back in Sydney, in those days, I might have seen two column inches - once a year - on the NSL Grand Final. And the Socceroos? Nothing, unless it was another schadenfreude piece from an AFL or NRL hack delighting in us missing the World Cup again.
But when I landed in London, the first thing I noticed was the complete domination of the back pages by football. Eight, twelve, sixteen pages - every day in every paper (and there were a lot of them). Plus any number of magazines appealing to a range of demographies - but unified in their passion for football.
The quality of the writing wasn't bad either.
We never got to anything like that level in Australia during the heyday of the A-League but we did get pretty good coverage in the major press. It wasn't so long ago that you'd get as many as six pages devoted to football, on a Friday, in The Telegraph.
There were interesting writers as well. I always looked forward to (the lamented) Mike Cockerill's pieces. Michael Lynch was informative and entertaining and Tom Smithies had all the interesting scuttlebutt in his A-League Confidential with Carly Adno.
There were plenty of other household names also (well, in football households) like David Davutovic, Ray Gatt, plus multi-media contributors like Stephanie Brantz, Robbie Slater and Simon Hill.
It wasn't a huge community but it was passionate, talented and served the game very well.
So what on Earth has happened to the football press in this country?
The Telegraph (a paper I would never bother to read for news) used to be my favourite paper for sport - mainly because of its excellent football coverage. I can understand them reducing their commitment to football if they think the game less newsworthy these days, but to reduce their coverage to zero smacks of something darker.
The A-League (and the National Teams) are still mainstream in this country. Not as mainstream as AFL and NRL, but still mainstream - still news. If a newspaper decides it does not want to report on that news then what does that say about them? Especially in a year when the product has rarely been so compelling and competitive.
I truly fear a return to the bad old days when most of the Australian press refused to report on the NSL (and the Socceroos) because of a toxic range of factors from NRL/AFL sycophancy through to outright racism. (I stand corrected - the papers would certainly give football a full page spread - at the front - if there was a decent ethnic brawl to report.)
To be fair, the Sydney Morning Herald has retained its football writers (Dominic Bossi and Vince Rugari - plus Michael Lynch at The Age) but it seems to me that the output is somewhat reduced. That's not to suggest Rugari is not producing - 120-plus articles on the A-League in 2021 but I'm not seeing them in print.
Clearly the football media is evolving profoundly - changing shape, format, platform and function. These are the key questions for the industry going forward - what is the appetite for football news, commentary and analysis? Will people pay for it? Will they at least click on stories if that's the only way to generate advertising revenue?
Do they want their football "food for thought" in some entirely different form that no-one's nutted out yet?
As for the papers, what message needs to be sent? It irritates the crap out of me that the column inches have all but disappeared during one of the best A-League seasons in memory.
We are a very large community but a fractured community. United we could send a very powerful message to those publishers who couldn't be bothered with football - who are even hostile to football for whatever reason.
The game needs (and deserves) oxygen.
Now more than ever.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His new novel, Welcome to Ord City, is now available.