The week 10 Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory match was described in the Hyundai A-League website match report as “scrappy and often ill-tempered” and I think I know why.
The game started off with a bunch of 22 grumpy old men.
For the first time ever in Australian national league history, this match kicked off with no player aged 25 years or under – the youngest starter being 26-year-old Glory goalkeeper Danny Vukovic.
The previous oldest youngest player to start in an Australian national league match was aged 23.
Remarkably, this previous all-time record was set just two weeks earlier, when 23 year-old Iain Ramsay was the youngest of all 22 starters as Adelaide United took on Newcastle Jets in week 8.
The relatively old teams for these particular matches reflects a general ageing of Australian national league players since the old National Soccer League (NSL) kicked off in 1977.
In terms of age of each player who took the field for each match, the first few years of the NSL (1977 to 1981) saw the average age hover around 25.0 years old each season, increasing to around 25.6 years for its last few years (2000 to 2004).
For the first six complete A-League seasons (2005/06 to 2010/11) the average age on match day was 26.7 years old – higher than for any NSL season.
For this season so far the average age is at an all-time national league high of 27.2 years.
And why wouldn’t a club field older players?
While we all like to see exciting youngsters strutting their stuff on the pitch (and we probably don’t really want to be watching grumpy old men), it is the greater level of players’ overall experience that makes a team more likely to win.
We see this when we analyse the results of all Australian national league matches played since 1977, and compare the average age of each team in each match.
In all 1436 non-drawn NSL and A-League matches to date where the average age of one team was more than two years older than the other, the older team won 861 matches, and the younger team won just 575.
In other words, when there is a significant difference in average age between teams (two years in this analysis), the older – and therefore more experienced – team has a 50 per cent better success rate than the younger team.
But while the A-League is generally made up of players older than those in the NSL, the former national competition had its fair share of golden oldies too.
Legendary players such as Adelaide City’s Milan Ivanovic, former national goalkeeper Ron Corry (Marconi) and New Zealand’s own Oceania Player of the Century Wynton Rufer (Football Kingz) played regularly in the NSL aged 38-plus.
And England’s 1966 World Cup hero Bobby Charlton played a one-off match for Blacktown back in 1980 aged 42; Welsh legend Ian Rush, aged 39 at the time, played a couple for times for Sydney Olympic in 1999; while another England star Peter Beardsley also had a short guest stint in the NSL, with Melbourne Knights in 2000 aged 38.
When it comes to finding influential old guys in the A-League, you only need to look at the past few grand finals.
I remember 36-year-old Patrick Zwaanswijk’s non-stop performance for Central Coast Mariners in the marathon two-hour 2011 decider, where the Mariners came oh so close to knocking off hot favourites Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.
I also recall 34-year-old Clint Bolton saving a Melbourne Victory penalty shoot-out shot in the 2010 Grand Final, leading to Sydney FC’s Championship glory.
I also remember 35-year-old Kevin Muscat captaining his Melbourne team to victory in the 2009 season decider against Adelaide United.
And so while there’s some awesome young talent taking a lot of the attention in the current A-League season – the Mariners’ teenage trio Amini, Ibini and Ryan for example – don’t forget to respect your elders.
Current old-timers such as Zwaanswijk (Mariners), Bolton (Melbourne Heart) and Ante Covic (Melbourne Victory) could all legally play in an over-35s competition.
Yet history shows that the experience of the league’s senior citizens can make all the difference – in not just getting to the A-League Grand Final, but winning it.
Follow Andrew Howe’s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto
This article was amended on 14 December.