A-League calls on fan support for weekend debut

Australia's new domestic national soccer league kicks off this weekend with sound corporate sponsorship, a chief executive who successfully ran the 2003 Rugby World Cup, 30 overseas players and a pay television contract. All the competition needs now, reports Associated Press, is some fans

The eight-team A-League - including a New Zealand side - hopes to take soccer where it's never been before in this country. The National Soccer League - with many ethnic-based teams, was disbanded about 18 months ago, and the name of the national federation was changed from Soccer Australia to Football Federation Australia last year.

South Korean car company Hyundai has become the A-League's major sponsor and Fox Sports will broadcast most games live in Australia.

FFA president Frank Lowy and CEO John O'Neill say they'll need between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators for matches - about three times the average of the old NSL. A new television commercial is part of a 10-million Australian dollar marketing campaign aimed at youth and family markets as the league tries to distance itself from ethnic-related crowd violence that harmed the old NSL's image.

The ethnic-based violence remains, however, in state leagues in both New South Wales and Victoria this year. In Melbourne, two teams with rioting spectators were ordered to play their matches in empty stadiums; in Sydney a team thrown out of the league because of its unruly fans went to the state Supreme Court to successfully have itself reinstated. On Sunday, police were forced to use pepper spray in a 20-minute battle to bring 200 spectators under control after a brawl between supporters of two Melbourne-area teams.

"The ingredients for riots that were in the past are not there," Lowy has said of the new league. "There's no nationality, there's no ethnic division."