My nominations for the 2015 FFDU awards

While the mainstream media has over the past few years, given more attention to football, in most cases hasn’t yet reached the same amount of space and analysis given to sposts like AFL, NRL and cricket.

I think because of this, an alternative media, consisting of podcasts, websites, blogs and specialised publications has arisen to fill that gap.

Here we need to thank Football Fans Downunder for organising awards that recognise football media in general, and especially the efforts of those who give up their own time to provide information (and in some cases entertainment) for football fans.

Here are my nominations for this year’s awards:

  • Football website of the year: http://www.ultimatealeague.com/
  • Podcast of the Year – Professional: Fox Football Podcast
  • Podcast of the Year – Amateur: Out of Our A-League
  • Best Use of Social Media: Shoot Farken
  • Twitter Character of the Year: ECP @ecpkoko
  • Print Publication of the Year: Thin White Line
  • Photographer of the Year: Keith McInnes
  • Writer of the year (print): David Davutovic
  • Writer of the Year (Digital): Joe Gorman

Best wishes to everyone who will be nominated!

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Tony Abbott. A product of a series of unfortunate events

AbbottUnfortunateSo, the man that was hailed as the most successful opposition leader in history is at risk at being remembered as on of the most unsuccessful Prime Ministers.

How is it come to this? Various pundits have written their reasons.  The electorate is volitile Or as Mark Latham say ‘Baby Boomers’ (I hate that term) PMs do not dig economics (but then backs Turnbull who was born in 1957, go figure).  I think the closest explanation comes from ‘Jack the Insider’ which does not think the electorate is not volatile at all.

In the midst of this shift in voting behaviour, the major parties increasingly have reacted by pandering to their bases, shifting incrementally to extremes on the spectrum and leaving swinging voters feeling unrepresented and either parking their votes with minors and independents or swinging from side to side depending on political and economic circumstances.

In other words, if there is an increase in electoral volatility it is because both the Labor and Liberal parties have increasingly left the centre abandoned.

If there are lessons to be learnt from the weekend’s summary punting of the LNP in Queensland it is that Australians will wear tough decisions but they won’t cop bad decisions camouflaged as tough. Australians have an intrinsic sense of fairness and they won’t cop inequity.  Similarly, they won’t cop bad decisions made in fits of hubris without consultation and discussion.

I would disagree with that analysis in the fact that the ALP did not go extreme.  The Liberal Party did and with that shifted the whole political spectrum (including the ALP) to the right.  What I agree with is that Australia electorate is overwhelmingly in the centre and it is the Liberal Party that has gone too much too the ideological right leaving the centre stranded.

The situation we are now is the cause of a series of unfortunate events.

It all started with Rudd winning the election in 2007.  I think Rudd was not that much liked by many in the parliamentary ALP.  A bit of an outsider, someone who did not suffer fools gladly.  But he was popular in the electorate, he defeated Howard who was hailed as unbeatable by the commentariat.  However the parliamentary ALP went along until the polls went down.  At the first whiff of unpopularity the MPs took their revenge and ousted him.  I believe that if Rudd was better in human relations with his MPs the outcome would have been very different.  Of course we know the story. It really didn’t matter that the ALP passed legislation, that Gillard very ably negotiated a minority government etc.  People were sick of hearing about the instability.

Many ALP supporters blamed ‘the media’.  But the media (especially in a hothouse environment like in Canberra) loves this stuff.  We can see it now with Abbott.  It is uncanny to read how Liberal tweeters blaming the media for Abbott’s predicament are almost the mirror image of ALP ones blaming the media when Gillard faced the same.

This was like shooting fish in a barrel for the opposition and especially Tony Abbott.  Any achievements from the Labor government were lost in the noise of leadership issues, and it has to admit that some in the ALP were fueling the speculation.

This sort of instability of course helped the opposition enormously, but also suited Abbott’s confrontational style. He and the Liberal Party were high in the polls and it was inevitable that they will gain Government.

The seeds of Abbott’s and the Liberal current predicament started then.  Buoyed by the surge of discontent about Labor and the polls, and also aided by a friendly News Ltd. media and the rest following their songbook they probably thought that they, and their philosophy, was more popular in the electorate that it really was.  Lots of people voted for the Liberals because they wanted stability.  The leadership issue made the ALP look dysfunctional to many and Abbott offered someone who at least could lead a united government.

But once the Liberals took the reins of power they started to implement a very ideological set of policies.  They thought that their substantial electoral mandate gave them permission to have carte blanche in governing, but that wasn’t the case.  They thought that by eliminating the Carbon Tax, the Mining Tax and being nasty to refugees and make them stop coming was enough to have eternal gratitude and do whatever they wanted.  The problem was that the Carbon Tax was more a trust issue.  The Liberals successfully gave the impression that Gillard lied to the electorate.  But the Carbon Tax was something payed by the polluters, not by the taxpayers themselves, so not many saw much improvement.  Those who went to Canberra and held ‘Ditch the Witch’ placards were a minority and the Liberals mistook this to represent the vast majority of the electorate,  Same with the mining tax.  It didn’t really affect much of the electorate.  The ‘stop the boats’ maybe a bit more.  But even this was swamped by a budget that attacked the unemployed young people, the sick poor and, eventually, aged and disabled pensioners, Where someone in the top 4 per cent of taxpayers on $200,000 a year would be paying $7.70 a week extra tax, while a single-income couple with kids will be losing a lot more than that, and someone under 30 denied the dole for the first six months will lose $255 a week.(source Ross Gittins).  Despite the Government screamed ‘Budget Emergency’ the electorate did not feel it.

Voters are happy to take a bitter medicine if they think is warranted.  This is what happened with Jeff Kennett.  As a ALP voter I have to admit that the last term of the Kirner government was quite dire.  The Victorian economy was quite bad and Kennett for better or worse came to government with the mandate to fix it.  I know, I was one of the public servants he sacked.  But Kennett lost when he continued to govern as an emergency Premier when things started to get better.  Stephen Mayne, who was an adviser for the then treasurer Stockdale, turned against Kennett when he thought he could not change from an emergency Premier into a growth one, and so did a majority of the electorate.

So voters did not buy the emergency budget.  Only the partisan Liberals believed it.  So when the budget measures came they basically though WTF.  They just wanted a government who was competent and kept things chugging along.

It is amazing how quickly things can turn around.  But it would be so easy to avoid it.  Just look at previous governments, who had MPs from a variety of backgrounds, did not rely only on advisors and were not obsessed by polls all the time.

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Australia’s football belongs in Asia.

Imagine this scenario.
The Kazakhstani football team becomes good. Really good. So good that it goes to the World Cup and Euro Cup regularly. Their clubs start to take places in the Champions League and the Europa League. This starts to get countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Norway really pissed off. Why should we have a country such that borders with China and is next door to Mongolia be part of UEFA? It should belong to the Asian Confederation.
In fact Kazakhstan situation is very similar to Australia, but in reverse. It was part of the Asian Confederation. But the Football Association of Kazakhstan, requested admission to UEFA after leaving the ACF in 2001, was eventually admitted as a UEFA member by the UEFA Congress upon the recommendation of the UEFA Executive Committee in April 2002. In the same way Australia left Oceania and the AFC Executive Committee admitted it in 2006. And it is on the edge of Europe. Only the far western part in the Urals can be considered in Europe, a bit like our own Christmas Island can be considered in Asia. But Kazakhstan national team and its Premier League do not seem to worry the powerhouses of Europe. If Kazakhstan won the European Cup and its teams European Club competitions who knows whether they would face the same rumblings of kicking them out of Europe and we have heard about Australia and Asia.
This issue has been raised recently in the wake of Australia winning the Asian Cup. Most tweeters congratulated the team, but we also had a few that questioned our right to be there in the first place.

AsianTweets

But the idea of Australia in Asia was not only questioned by people who came from an Asian country, I’ve read plenty of Italian tweets being baffled why a country in Oceania was playing in an Asian competition. And even in a major UK newspaper they advocated the exclusion of Australia.

The bottom line? It shouldn’t have been allowed. (admitting Australia in the Asian Football Confederation) Had FIFA treated the Oceania confederation with more respect and guaranteed one place at the World Cup, Australia might not have felt the need to break away; and, when they did, FIFA should have stepped in and outlawed the move. Countries cannot choose their continent as if from a catalogue. Yet FIFA, and Asia, are already complicit in a convenient illusion, highlighted on the AFC’s website as their tournament progressed.

I personally find the concept of an ‘Asia’ ranging outdated and anachronistic. It is and Eurocentric concept, and it is surprising that it is used by some living in ‘Asian’ countries to exclude Australia. Do Lebanon and Japan have more things in common that Australia and Japan? Would a Korean see a Syrian as a ‘fellow Asian?’

Furthermore FIFA’s confederations do not strictly follow geographical imperatives. Guyana and Suriname are geographically located in the South American continent but because they are considered “culturally” Caribbean, they play with the other Caribbean nations in the CONCACAF. Not only Kazakhstan is an ‘Asian’ country in UEFA. Azerbaijan is in UEFA although it is primarily situated in Asian Transcaucasia. Pacific island territory of Guam should be in Oceania but is in the AFC. And of course we have Israel, which won the Asian Cup in 1964, expelled for political reasons in 1974, and it is now in UEFA.

It is also true that the Asian Confederation is huge, spanning half the globe. Many have supported the idea of creating a ‘West Asia’ confederation and a ‘Asian-Pacific’ confederation which would include East Asian and Oceania countries. That concept is much more in tune with the real geopolitical situation in the world, rather some antiquated Western idea of geography on the 19th century. However logic and FIFA haven’t really being together. I think many in Asia would not want to endanger any power they have in FIFA or risking having less World Cup spot.

But while the idea that Australia doesn’t belong to the Asian Confederation is ludicrous, we do have a responsibility to be an involved and valuable member.

Australia has to take its membership seriously

One of the reasons why Australia was admitted to the ACF it was because it was felt it would improve the level of football in the confederation. But apart for providing more competition and winning championships it has taken this responsibility as much as it should have? Janek Speight has mentioned about the lack of players from the ACF and reiterates an idea that has been discussed for some time, and that should be implemented in the A-League.

Most Asian countries employ the 3+1 rule, which states the club can have three visa spots from any nation in the world, with an extra spot open for a player from a neighbouring Asian nation. The same rule applies for participants in the Asian Champions League, which means Australian clubs can only use three of their five visa players when competing in the prestigious tournament.

Changing A-League visa rules to a 4+1, and slowly moving towards a 3+1 (if FFA is determined to reduce the total number to four) would be a smart move, and could open up a lot more doors for clubs wanting to cash in on the fastest-growing region in the world. With current foreign imports signed to multi-year contracts, it’s certainly not a short-term option, so planning needs to start now to give clubs a chance to prepare.

The idea has been floated around FFA before, and David Gallop has admitted the advantages of the move. He realises that our links with Asia need to strengthen.

The other issue that Australia needs to address to remain a good ‘AFC member’ is promotion and relegation. I’ve discussed the problems and merits of promotion and relegation in the A-League in a previous post. Michael Lynch also outlines the dangers. But the AFC apparently wants all domestic competitions in its confederations to have this system. There are problems in having relegation in a league where teams can be financially unstable and where being relegated may mean their demise. However if that’s what our confederation requires, we can’t put out fingers in our ears and sing lah lah lah. But we should be intelligent to be creative. We can’t be part of an organisation and ignore its requirements. We are not ‘special’. If there are difficulties I am sure we could come up with some creative solution.  As it happens politically we want to be part of the region but often we turn our patronising noses up by feeling somewhat ‘better’.  This is beautifully explained in a great article by Scott McIntyre.

 

There will be always members in the AFC that don’t want Australia, but we have every right to be there. However we have to be actively a participant and be an equal amongst many.

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The whoary chestnuts of Australian soccer – Part 3: Free to air TV

If there is a really important part for the survival of any sport in this day and age is television.  Without TV a sport aiming to be a major sport would be marginalised to be watched only by the true believers.  Without TV exposure there will be no substiantial sponsorships and therefore no money. One of the main reason Lowy engaged Ben Buckley as FFA CEO was because Buckley successfully negotiated a TV deal for the AFL.

 

Where a sport is shown on TV gives an indication of the pecking order of where a sport sits within the Australian sporting culture.  AFL is on the top with Rugby League and cricket next.  The A-League probably come next.I think that lots of the credit for the viability of the A-League has to go to Foxtel.  They were there to provide TV broadcasts since the start when it was an unknown product and no one knew whether it would prove a success.

 

The issue with Foxtel is however that it is not free to air.  That is that only people that are interested in football are motivated to pay to get it.  This raises the issues that it doesn’t broaden the viewership beyond the committed fan and the perception that unlike AFL, Rugby League and Cricket, football is not on a free to air channel.  And this is somewhat galling to some football fans that we are not ‘popular’ enough to be on FTA like other sports.

 

This season Foxtel made an arrangement with SBS to show the Friday night match and this has proven to be fairly successful, but could the A-League be on a commercial free to air channel like the AFL and the NRL?

 

Leaving the secure bosom of Foxtel would be risky.  As I stated earlier Foxtel was there at the start when no commercial interest was interested in the A-League and they provided a stable partner.  Some see SBS as still the ‘ethnic’ station and not mainstream enough.  The fact is that SBS has been committed to football since they started showing NSL and national team matches.  They believe in football and they are committed to the success of the sport.  They know football and treat it with the respect that it deserves.

 

So how would the A-League go if it was given to a commercial FTA channel?  Channel Nine has the cricket, Channel 7 has the tennis (albeit just in January) and then whe the AFL pre season starts in February/March it concentrated on that sport as it is the traditional AFL channel.  Channel 10 has the Big Bash.  Would they make way for football?  Also while football may be a good options for the non rating periods of December – January I do wonder what would happen during the rating months of October-November and February-April.  How would an A-League match fare in scheduling?

 

Commercial TV have their digital channels.  At the moment I can see how Channel 7 is broadcasting one match on their main channel and another one on 7Two.  Same could be said about Channel 10 and One.

 

But the question is how well those digital channels would rate.  If we have the A-League only shown on 7Two or One, would it be bettert to leave things as they are with Foxtel and SBS?  How much more ratings would the A-League get if it gets relagated to the secon tier digital channels?

 

If football wants to be on equal footing with the AFL and the NRL it should command to be shown on the main channles like them.  Otherwise it is not worth the risk.  Let’s stick with TV that appreciate football and understands it.

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The whoary chestnuts of Australian Soccer – Part 2: Promotion and relegation

Another big permanent discussion point about football in Australia is whether we could introduce a promotion relegation system.

I am conflicted on this issue. Although more and more I am starting to think that we must have it and find a viable method of doing it.  Having a promotion and relegation system would have so many pluses.  In  the A-League by the time we reach the half of the season some teams have little or no chance to reach the finals.  So some matches are relatively insignificant.  A battle for staying in the first tier would spice up the competition.  It would also invigorate any lower league as teams will now have a chance to step up to the ‘big time’, something that they had no chance to do before.  Also having the same teams every season in the A-League can become stale.  A relegation and promotion system would allow new teams to come up and refresh the league.

But then I come to the possible problems.  One of the arguments that I feel is the weakest regarding promotion and relegation is that ‘we should be like other leagues overseas’.  but that’s exactly the point, we are not like other leagues overseas.  Football in Australia is, despite its growth in the past years, not the most popular code.  It  is not like football countries where a relegated team can rely on a substantial core of supporters that follow the team come hell or high water.  Would a relegation spell the end fotr some teams? We can see in the A-League teams with small following have been in trouble and have fallen by the wayside.  A-League teams are businesses and most of them lose money.  Would current owners of A-League teams have been interested in putting their money in a concern that could have fallen away from the premium competition in Australia? Would they still do so if a relegation promotion system is introduced?

The other issue is the current state of potential second tier teams.  Would a team such as the Bentleigh Greens (that did so well in the FFA Cup) be able to cut it in the A-League in its current form?  The FFA would have to implement some sort of initiative to ensure that such teams are not starting behind the A ball if they were to be promoted to the A-League.

I think we need to debate – without prejudice – this issue, and separate it from the argument of ‘old soccer vs. new football).  The fact that traditional teams have been treated badly by the FFA is indisputable, but we won’t progress the debate if we get stuck in whether old NSL teams deserve to be in the A-League etc.  We need to look forward.  We need to think creatively such as ECP and Simon Hill have done and debate the proposals on their merit.  The success of the FFA Cup has shown that involving state teams is a winner.  Relegation and promotion should not be discounted out of hand, but it is something that should implemented whan all the ducks are lined up.

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The whoary chestnuts of Australian Soccer – Part 1: Expansion





As I relax at the beach I can say that this month of January offers to the sport fan a cornucopia of riches. A major international football tournament, the Australian Open and plenty of cricket for those fond of that sport.


As I watch sport on the telly, my mind wonders of course on my favourite sport, that is football (aka soccer) and the recurring themes that are continuously bantered around.  I can identify three. Expansion, relegation and TV rights.


These issues have been debated to death on social media, so why would I raise them again?  Well I am on holidays, what the heck?  Is like reading a trashy novel.


So let’s look at the first issue: Expansion of the A-League


Lots of debate where the next A-League team or teams should be located.  I have been somewhat baffled by some of the actions and statements coming out of the FFA about this.  It seems that they look at a demographic map and look where the higher population densities are and plan to plonk a team there.  This seemed to be the model for Melbourne Heart.  Yes Melbourne has lots of people that love football but does it mean that it it can necessarily have two teams?  I could not understand why someone who wasn’t following Melbourne Victory was going to follow Melbourne Hearts.  There was no point of difference besides ‘not being Melbourne Victory’.  And let’s face it, football is going ahead in leaps and bounds, but it is still not the main code and the proportion of potential fans for a team is not necessarily related to the size of population.


Of course the FFA got it right with the Western Sydney Wonderers.  But the elements were all there.  The  fact that Western Sydney has a distinct identity separate from the rest of the Sydney metropolitan area and it was a location which traditionally had lots of football followers and a football tradition allowed for a separate entity.  But this is not present in Melbourne City.  I suspect this would be the same in Brisbane or Adelaide (I am happy to be corrected).  The Gold Coast was another example.  Besides the location of the ground and the loopy owner, I never thought that a place which consisted basically of Rugby League fans and retired AFL loving Victorians was a place for a new team.  Yes, it is one of the major population centres in Australia but that doesn’t mean there is a ready substantial fan base.


I hope this false high population = new team thinking is not applied to a new team in South Sydney (or the Shire).  I’ve asked some of my Sydney twitter followers about whether they thought a Sutherland Shire A League team would work and they were doubtful. Let’s face it.  An area with a relatively low number of migrants (or their offsprings) from football nations is an issue.  And from what I hear the Sutherland Shire is pretty ‘Anglo’.  Some point out that the junior participation in football is very high.  But as Les Murray stated this is no indication of potential fans.  I had personal experiences here in Melbourne of children playing fooball as a sport but not interested at all in following Melbourne Victory.  They played football in the mornings and then went to watch their AFL teams in the afternoon.  They played sport because they enjoyed the activity, or their parents thought it was a good sport for children to play.  But there was no connection in following a team at all.


So where the next team should be?  Canberra?  They have a W League team that has done well.  There has been a local community that put their heart and soul in a bid some time ago and they had a NSL team. And it is the national capital after all and if we want to follow overseas leagues we should have a team representing it .  The question again is whether we would have enough fans.  From memory the Canberra Cosmos had pretty low attendances, and the population is very transient.


What about re-surrecting the Fury in North Queensland? Some stated that it was created for the World Cup bid to show that the competition was covering all the areas of Australia and ditched when the bid failed.  North Queensland is not represented by lots of Australia wide teams, also it can claim that it has a football tradition with its European migration in the cane growing industry.  It  also can be a vehicle to provide opportunities for indigenous players.  But again distance and potential fans is an issue.


One location that I’d love to have a team, but totally impracticable is Tasmania.  I know that there is a healthy local competition.  But enough people to follow a team?  Also I believe there is a strong north south split where Hobart people wouldn’t follow anything from Devenport and vice versa, so a ‘Hobart’ team is already problematic.  There could be a ‘Tasmania’ team but matches would have to be played between Hobart and a north town which would make it messy.  While the opportunity to have the only team in Australia that represents Tasmania in a national competition is enticing (not to mention the great away trips for us Melbourne Victory supporters) it is not enough for an A League team there.


So where?  

As a Victorian I am wary of yet another NSW team, but to me the best bet would be Woolongong. I was surprised why the FFA didn’t include a team there when the A-League was established.  The Wolves had a great tradition in the NSL and a healthy fan base to build on. The idea to establish a Shire team that would somewhat encompass Woolongong won’t cut it.  No idea whether the Wolves can be re-surrected in the A-League (I believe they still exist in the state league?) but I believe they could be a great inclusion in the national competition.

Right.  With expansion dealt with next up will be relegation and promotion. 

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Can we please stop comparing football to other sports?

So the Asian Cup is on in earnest.  Australia despite its loss to South Korea is in the quarters.  But more importantly it seems that other contests are also being attended quite well, causing some sort of relief that matches between North Korea and Saudi Arabia were going to attract the sort of attendance that you could fit confortably in a outer suburban lower grade ground.

But as it seems that once football gets a ‘win’ some of us become like the daggy kid in class that managed to get a date with the attractive girl st school, becoming a casanova overnight and embarissingly telling everyone that yes he is going out with that girl.

Case in point is an article by Micheal Cockerill in The Age of Saturday 17 January 2015.  It is titled ‘Cup Success puts pressure on cricket’ Really? Why would that be the case?  Where this ‘pressure is coming from?

Cockerill writes:

I’m loath to make comparisons but it will be fascinating to see how next month’s Cricket World Cup stacks up (with the Asian Cup).  Will for instance, the crowd for the International Cricket Council match between Bangladesh and Afghanistan at Manuka eclipse Sunday’s Asian Football Confederation match between China and North Korea, also to be played in the national capital?

Well….who cares?  Apart from some journalists that are hyping up this contest to increase the clicks for their articles and social media banter and regrettably some CEOs of their respective sports that indulge in these dick size competition exercises.

Inevitably these articles attract a swag of twitter exchanges between the fans of the two sports.  Foremost amongst them is Malcolm Conn, a cricket senior manager, who the main activity in the summer seems to be tweeting about how much cricket matches (especially the Big Bash League) is killing football in the ratings.

Why we have this ‘war’ baffles me.  For a number of reasons.  Of course different sports will try to show that they have higher ratings to get more sponsors, that is obvious.  But comparing a short form of cricket designed mainly for TV especially when is in the desert of the the summer non ratings period, with a full competition that stretches for six months doesn’t make sense.  As a football person who doesn’t follow cricket I am happy to state that cricket holds a special place in Australian culture that football does not yet has.  Having said that the progress the A-League and football in general has made in Australia has been staggering, but does it really matter it doesn’t match the overall ratings of cricket?

When talking about the Cricket World Cup I expect that overall the ratings and overall attendances will be more that the Asian Cup.  The Sri Lankan and Indian community in Melbourne alone is considerable.  I would expect an England vs. India match to be pretty close to a sell out. I am sure after the Cockerill article the likes of Malcolm Conn will be out in force on twitter telling us about it.

But most importantly of all that is that comparing ourselves to other sports show that we still feel a sense of inferiority to other sports.  Rarely I see the AFL and Rugby League comparing themselves to other codes, football should do the same.  By highlighting any success in attendances or ratings with hubris only shows that we feel inferior.  We are not,  and we should not feel that way.

Football has made great progress in the last decade.  Inevitably there will be setbacks and advancements but this progress will continue.  Let’s stop forget about other sports. Let’s run our own race.

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