Australia's national football competition has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and supporters should now be able to shed their inferiority complex
In season one of the A-League, the good games stood out.
In season eight, the bad ones did.
Proof positive that as season nine beckons this weekend, the A-League has evolved into the competition people hoped it would since starting from humble and uncertain beginnings in 2005.
Then it started life as effectively NSL-lite.
Its blueprint was a government report.
A couple of acceptable former NSL clubs were mixed in with shiny, new franchises without ethnic connections – one of the main criticisms of the old domestic competition.
Yet there were no guarantees of success attached, nor any real barometer for what success might be.
If you had tipped then that Alessandro Del Piero would be playing in the A-League, Manchester United and Liverpool would travel here to play against the competition's best in the off-season, a club would be valued at $15 million and the governing body would say no at that price to a potential buyer, or that the A-League would house and nurture key Socceroos, you'd have been praised for your confidence.
Then you'd have been ushered to a padded cell.
No, it's not perfect. Yes, there are problems and areas which need improvement.
Australian football's past still means any incidences of fan trouble are highlighted – fairly or unfairly. For the TV viewers at home more suited to AFL and NRL, nothing scares like flares.
Clubs should not be drowning in red ink. The fact several clubs have gone to God shows sustainability is still not this competition's strong point.
What is a strong point is the A-League's entertainment value. A salary cap-controlled league will obviously put some limits on quality.
But that comes with upside – that of close games, where any club can beat any other on any given day.
Five of the 10 A-League clubs have been champions. All have played in finals. As the new season kicks off, none can be ruled out as contenders.
Teams genuinely think they can win any time they take the field, so it's rare teams put up the shutters – even deep in matches. The Brisbane Roar-Central Coast grand final of three seasons ago is the most famous A-League late show. It isn't the only one.
Fans who have embraced the A-League are a committed bunch. They don't like it being put down.
But this is a season in which those who love the A-League shouldn't feel they have to beg for and demand mainstream acceptance. The competition doesn't need to any more. It's a big boy now.
Let the Euro-snobs and EPL nerds who put down its quality and refuse to embrace it do so.
Let media outlets who report on its negatives do so without fans feeling the need to defend its honour.
These days, the product speaks for itself. And it does so with an entertaining eloquence.
Like Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
So A-League fans should recognise how far the competition has come, and not worry about preaching to the unconverted.
There will be more than 50,000 at the Melbourne derby on Saturday night. Theatregoers will be in the minority.
Starting season nine, the A-League can feel very comfortable in its own skin. Its fans should too.