Grand final always the true decider

Grand final day is the day that counts. Always has been. Which makes you wonder why some question the wisdom of deciding the championship on the final day of the season.

Twenty six minutes on Tuesday, eight minutes on Wednesday, and two minutes on Friday. That's all it took for the Hyundai A-League grand final to sell-out.

Even the Allianz Stadium members, who are often more interested in other codes of football, are expected to snap up their full allocation.

Incredible as it may seem, Football Federation Australia officials are now wondering whether they might have sold-out ANZ Stadium, such has been the voracious demand. We'll never know, of course.

But what we do know is that grand final day is the day that counts. Always has been, always will be. Which makes you wonder why a noisy minority keep questioning the wisdom of deciding the championship on the final day of the season.

It will be interesting, for instance, to see how those Western Sydney Wanderers fans who insist the minor premiership is more important will react if their team wins the "toilet seat". With nonchalance? I doubt it.

Or what about Graham Arnold, who put two stars above the Central Coast Mariners badge this season to recognise their two minor premierships - a practice usually reserved for championships? Will "Arnie" be cool, calm, and collected if the perennial bridesmaids finally claim the title at the fourth attempt? Again, I doubt it.

Those pushing the first-past-the-post system generally present two major arguments. It's tradition. No it's not. Grand finals have been deciding championships in football, in this country, for at least half a century.

In fact I've recently uncovered a reference to the 1942 NSW "premiership" match (between Wallsend and Leichhardt-Annandale) being played before a record crowd. If that's not "tradition" I don't know what is.

The other argument is that first-past-the-post is the norm elsewhere around the world, mostly in Europe. True enough. But it was the actually the post-war European migrants who pushed hardest for the concept of a title-decider here in Australia.

Perhaps they were quick to recognise something others still refuse to see. That grand finals are an integral part of our sporting heritage.

Either way, there's no doubt grand finals have had a rich, and storied, history. Johnny Warren's last kick as a professional was the decisive goal in the 1974 NSW grand final. Max Tolson played for 60 minutes with a broken elbow in the 1963 NSW grand final, which saw the gates at the old Sydney Sportsground locked with more than 30,000 crammed inside.

Tony Henderson's final act as Marconi Stallions skipper was the winning penalty in the 1988 NSL grand final. Wollongong Wolves' comeback from three-goals down in the 2000 NSL grand final remains etched in folklore.

The 2007 Hyundai A-League grand final in Melbourne set a new record attendance (55,436).

Grand finals may not, intrinsically, be the fairest way to decide a championship, but they provide the spectacle, and the occasion, the game simply cannot do without. Not to mention the revenue. Depending on the location, the grand final is the only million-dollar game we have.

Truth is, you can't have two champions in one season. It's either first-past-the-post, or a grand final. It's worth remembering the 1987 season, the last time a final series was played when the championship wasn't on the line.

The crowd for the grand final between St George and APIA-Leichhardt at Parramatta Stadium? 6,961.

The grand final, as a championship-decider, is here to stay. David Gallop has again made that clear this week. Don't be surprised if prize money for the grand final winner is introduced sooner rather than later to re-inforce the fact. The FFA needs to draw a line in the stand.

In the meantime, the 2013 championship match promises to be a worthy celebration of arguably the best season in the Hyundai A-League's short history.

Once again, the top two teams (as has been the case in six of the eight grand finals) will contest the championship. The cream has risen to the top. Everyone talks about the Wanderers' fairytale. Which it is.

But what about the Mariners? For the fourth time the league's smallest club plays in the biggest day. Can you imagine if they finally win it? That, to me, is the ultimate happy ending. Let's see.