Australia national football team has now become mainstream and does capture the nation. But it now needs to take the next step.
The day was the 16 of May 1981. I think that was my first memory of a Socceroo heartache. Australia was playing New Zealand to progress in the World Cup qualification for Spain 1982. With other teams like Taiwan, Fiji and Indonesia in the group it was clear that to be on top and proceed to the next round it was between Australia and New Zelaland, and I expected that Australia would be on top.
But as inevitably we would experience in world qualifications until 2005, Australia unexpectedly lost 2-0. Not only the world cup campaign finished even before it started, the coach Rudi Gutendorf resigned leaving the rest of the campaign in disarray.
Apart for the result, what is notable about that match is the number of spectators in Sydney, 12,000.
From what I can remember of those days hardly anyone knew that there was a qualifier on. No front pages articles asking for this or that other player. You would get a small article in the bottom of the back page – if lucky. Like this Canberra Times piece published the day after the match.
In those days football fans wanted firstly to reach the World Cup finals, but also to be respected and recognised in Australian sport.
Fast forward to 2018 and we have achieved those objectives. We have reached World Cup finals and the Socceroos are one of the most prominent national teams in Australia.
That is why, remembering how in the past very few people outside football fans knew of the National team, let alone who was playing in it, I don’t mind people who watch the matches only every four years calling for Cahill’s inclusion.
Have we reached the next level in expectation?
One aspect of getting old is that I can see that attitudes change. Generally speaking my peers (I am 57) I think still have the mentality of 1982. Football (or soccer as they would call it) would not be in their radar. In my case in Melbourne is Australian Rules Football, and I don’t blame them. That’s how they grew up in their childhood.
And a bit the same with my peers who are football fans. Battered by 30 years of failed world cup qualifications and near misses perhaps we feel that making the world cup finals is enough. And considering that qualifying is really hard, it is an achievement in itself.
But as the National Team has now captured the nation’s imagination, so there is now a group of young football fans who either have dim memory of, or didn’t experience the heartache of not qualifying for a world cup. Someone born in 2002, the last world cup without Australia, is now 16.
So for them making the world cup is not enough. They want more, and I sensed this much more this time than in previous world cups. This can be seen as a positive development as a sport nation. The question is, how do we go about it?
The perception from an unlearned person..me.
As someone who, while a fan, hasn’t been involved in football, either as a player or in a club, and therefore has little knowledge trying to understand how Australia could become a significant football nation by reading opinions from different sources could be baffling.
For example a prominent person in this area is Tom Byer
Yes, a good example of a team that had great players, athletes, work ethic, determination, fighting spirit, etc., but were lacking those technically proficient players able to create havoc for opposing defenses. Arzani was certainly a shining light. https://t.co/lOCipolZKp
— Tom Byer汤姆.拜尔•トムバイヤー (@tomsan106) June 27, 2018
But then I read from others that thinks his ideas are nonsense
Then today on twitter someone put a video of an interview made by Mark Viduka
…all I can think about over & over & over is what Mark Viduka said in 2014. Is anyone high up in Australia football listening?? Bleh. pic.twitter.com/BF6gyIczMm
— Pedro Martiиs (@Pedge21) June 26, 2018
But then the idea of re-introducing ‘traditional’ teams to the top tier would be wrong. Then we talk about the curriculum, academies, the youth league being too short, the A-League teams not developing talent, the fees for children being too high, NPL teams using children fees for themselves not to develop players, children should not be forced to get results, children need to be competitive and learn how to win, children need to play on a full pitch otherwise they won’t develop, children should play in small pitches so they can get skilled on the ball. Everybody seems to have its own opinion on how Australia could develop and be competitive in a world stage and dismissing the others.
Some say that this has been happening for years. Some say that the FFA does not have the ‘culture’ of developing players as they are interested in short term objectives.
Who am I to know.
But as someone who wants Australia to do well in football, to have a team that when picked up in a World Cup group is feared, and not as the easybeat team, I wish that some sort of plan is devised. Some look at Belgium, being third in the world, if they can do it with 11.5 million people, can Australia do it with 25?
I remember when non football people used to say ‘Australia sucks at soccer’ every time we failed to qualify for a world cup. Now they say that when we fail to get out of the group stage of the world cup. Progress? Perhaps. But it is not enough.