IT ALL began on a cold August evening in Newcastle, the unlikely birthplace of a sporting and broadcasting revolution.
When the A-League kicked off in 2005, and Carl Veart headed home the opening goal of a brand new national league, it was Fox Sports’ cameras which broadcast what has become a historic moment.
It wasn’t just a new league born that night, but the start of a partnership between the A-League – and later the W-League – with Fox Sports which has created a back catalogue of the beautiful game in the decade and a half since.
It was a leap of faith on all sides – by the Frank Lowy-led Football Federation Australia in building the new competition, by the thousands who went to the opening games, and by Fox Sports which had signed an initial one-year deal to cover it.
Few remember this detail but the opening rounds were only partially covered live – until a few weeks into the new season, when the strong crowds and public interest sparked the broadcaster into showing all games live.
As the months and years unfolded, so too did a unique and innovative brand of coverage, from 3D virtual graphics and super-slomo cameras, to the “flying Fox” and “Fox copter” aerial cameras. Cameras in dressing rooms caught coaches’ rants and tactical classes (as well as, on three awkward occasions, accidentally revealing aspects of players not normally shown on family television), while Fox’s midweek magazine shows showcased the leagues and entertained great debates about the future of the game.
“Looking back, there was a real sense of achievement from the onscreen talent to the very dedicated production staff behind it all,” said Murray Shaw, who was Fox’s head of football from the beginning until 2019.
“We all have a lot of passion for the game, and I think it showed. We had really high production values and went into every game trying to think of something innovative – it was just really good TV.
“Football was never the No 1 sport as a product so we were very conscious that we had to match the other codes and do more. We prided ourselves on our features and packages, and of course we brought the Mark Bosnich laugh to the nation.”
Bosnich joined the coverage in 2009, paired with another former Socceroo, Robbie Slater, whose work with Fox predated the A-League.
“Working with those two, every week in the green room was like a comedy show every week,” said Adam Peacock who presented the Matchday Saturday Show with both from 2009. ‘It felt a bit like being made stepfather of a pair of twins whose sole aim was to tip rubbish on each other.
“Football has the ability to take itself too seriously – we never shied away from the serious side, like when Bozza asked John Aloisi live on air whether he would resign, but we’ve always tried to make it fun and watchable.”
The breadth of coverage widened significantly when Fox began covering the W-League in 2015, initially broadcasting one game a week as a doubleheader with an A-League game. Gradually that expanded, with the advent of standalone W-League games on Thursday Night Football, until by 2017-18 all 57 games were being shown live on Fox Sports.
“We worked with Football Federation Australia to introduce Thursday night ‘Hersday Night’ stand-alone matches so we could give the W-League the same treatment as the A-League,” said Murray Shaw.
“In other words, games at prime time with all the bells and whistles that viewers were accustomed to on the A-League.
“That exposure was really important for the growth of the W-League into one of the leading female football leagues in the world.”
THE level of technology involved in broadcasting games was always significant, as shown by the enormous broadcast trucks and kilometres of cabling brought to every game.
With up to 12 cameras at some games, over the years some incredible footballing drama was given high-end treatment by its broadcaster.
“Football is built on rivalries and as they developed in the A-League, I was fortunate to be describing some brilliant occasions,” said Simon Hill, Fox’s lead commentator from 2006 to 2020.
“I particularly remember the first Sydney derby at Parramatta Stadium, the way we covered it was amazing, capturing all the noise and the colour. That electricity was there from the start.
“Similarly the Melbourne derby when we had 50,000 people crammed in, or Newcastle against Sydney in the finals in 2007, they were nights when you inhaled the atmosphere.
“I love the personalities and the human stories – the personal triumphs, like John Aloisi scoring a rocket to win Sydney the minor premiership in 2010, or the clashes like Kossie grabbing Kevin Muscat by the throat. The emotion and the drama are why we love football!”
For the Fox staff who have been on the journey for much of it, Sunday’s grand final marks the end of an era as the A-League and W-League move to a new home on the 10 Network and Paramount+.
“It would be appropriate if Fox Sports were to bow out with an epic grand final, as they have broadcast all the seminal moments of the A-League and W-League’s history,” said Danny Townsend, managing director of the Australian Professional Leagues.
“As we’ve said before, Fox Sports has been a great friend of football, and given us some great memories. Even as we prepare for a new start next season, it’s a good moment to enjoy all the high points of the last 16 years.”