Imagine Samantha Stosur reaching the final at Wimbledon. A major newspaper runs something like this:
So we have Samantha in the Wimbledon finals. So whoopy do. Who cares? Tennis is a boring game where players who are over payed astronomically hit a ball over a net. Channel 9 is not showing the match live and nor it should, leave it to the losers who pay for this borefest with Foxtel. Andre Agassi said in his autobiography that he hated tennis “with a dark and secret passion’. We are with you buddy.
Or perhaps the Australian Cricket team reaches the final of their World Cup.
Really, why should we be all excited by this? Another match? Another manufactured enthusiasm? Cricket is such a boring sport that the powers that be need to shorten it continuously to conjure up some interest. Soon we will be having 10/10 cricket. Which will be great as it will be all over in an hour and broadcast hours of boring drivel will be spared for most of us that cannot stand an increasingly irrelevant sport played by an increasingly diminishing number of nations.
Of course we don’t. And neither we should, as both tennis and cricket are important sports and followed by many.
So why these types of articles are published when it comes to Association Football? This seems to happen around World Cup time, when the those following the oval ball codes get somewhat irritated that the World Game gets so much attention. Like the favourite child that gets jealous when it’s younger brother gets some attention during a birthday they protests and spit a dummy and state again and again that really ‘no one cares’.
So we had a couple of good examples so far. One was from the editor of the ABC opinion site ‘The Drum’, Jonathan Green which wrote a piece on the 25th of May titled ‘Socceroos snorefest a sign of things to come‘. In this article Green writes:
Dully the media will dwell on the Australian progress through an inbred sense of patriotic rite (either that or contractual sponsor obligation), but for most of us back here in the local winter, the next home and away round of the native game will hold more excitement, skill, dash and controversy.
Unless of course they win. And then we’ll never hear the end of it.
The question here remains whether Green would define barracking for Stosur to win Wimbledon or for the Australian Cricket team to win their World Cup (or the Ashes for that matter) just an inbred ‘patriotic rite’ or ‘contractual sponsor obligation’. But apparently for ‘most of us’ (ie people like him) the ‘native game’ (not the one played by wogs) will be more interesting. OK, right Jonathan, I am sorry that World Cup may interfere with the coverage of the indigenous game, I am sure you will manage to insulate yourself.
But the clincher is how terrible if ‘they’ won. By ‘they’ I imagine he means the Australian Football team. A team that has the privilege of representing our nation in the biggest sport event in the world. So they are not ‘Australian’ for you Jonathan? Then ‘we’ would not hear the end of it! What a shame. I wonder whether you would treat the cricket team, a Davis Cup team or a netball team as a ‘they’. I suspect not. But then they are not playing this terrible foreign game, are they.
So we go to another regular ‘anti-soccer’, that is John Birmingham. Now it is possible that Birmingham, as a writer, may just be a shit stirrer. He has written almost the same article in the now defunct ‘Bulletin’ almost exactly four years ago. What a gig. All you have to do is to rehash the same old tired arguments every four years and ‘volilà!’ you have an article with little effort.
This time his piece of wisdom has been published in a magazine supplement to ‘The Age’ and the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ called ‘Sport & Style’ which was otherwise very pro-football.
So what? You may shrug. It is only one negative article amongst a magazine full of positive ones. The issue here is however, as I stated with the Green piece, why?
Why there are editors out there that need somehow to publish a negative article about football? Do we have articles saying how unimportant and boring about cricket and netball before they start a major international event?
And it is not like Birmingham facts are inaccurate. It’s their interpretation.
He finishes his article thus:
Australian soccer is weak globally because Australian soccer is weak at club level. The competition is second rate, the support base too small and the lure of the big leagues overseas way too powerful. It’s not that we don’t produce great players, just that there is nothing to keep them here compared to Europe. They will always go, because they must, and without them the local game cannot progress. Loyalty in football, whatever the code, is not born of nationalism, but of the much intimate and intense bonds of family, neighborhood and club. But every four years we forget this. Or rather soccer does. And for one brief moment while the Cup dazzles us all, it seems we have arrived at a place where maybe, just maybe, Australian soccer might take a leap up to the next level and actually challenge the three established codes for a place in our hearts. Are we there yet. No.
The problem I see in this argument is that Birmingham has failed to comprehend the real aim of what Association Football can achieve in Australia.
Birmingham may have reacted against some ‘soccer fascists’ which irritate the bejesus out of me as well. Those anti Aussie Rules/Rugby people that with messianic fervor are convinced that once Australians ‘see the light’ they would abandon codes that have deeply rooted in the culture and conscience of sports fans and follow the true world code. Well, that’s not going to happen. But Association Football can (and in some instances already is) the second most important code in Australia. I know that here in Melbourne attendances for Melbourne Storm are on par with Melbourne Victory ones. And if he thinks that Rugby Union comes before Association Football in AFL states then his knowledge of sports’ popularity is pretty thin. It’s Aussie Rules first, and Association Football second (apart from Melbourne where of course Melbourne Storm and Melbourne Victory are probably very close to vying for second place) and Rugby Union a fairly distant third.
I don’t care as if Birmingham say the competition is ‘second rate’. And also compared to what? If he compares it to countries such as the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, France etc. then lots of competitions where Association Football is the main sport are also ‘second rate’. So should fans in countries such as Romania or Finland (which are ranked below Australia in the FIFA World Ranking) forget about their competitions because they are not as good as Italy or Spain? Do you think that any Romanian or Finnish player wouldn’t jump at a chance to play in the top European leagues if they did get the chance?
The fact is that Birmingham’s view, which is often put forward by those who don’t like ‘soccer’, show a very insular view. Probably caused by being brought up with a code which (despite being a great sport) is only played in one country (at a high level anyway) so by definition you will always get the best players.
As Birmingham rightly say Loyalty in football comes from the ‘ intimate and intense bonds of family, neighborhood and club’. But it can also come from loyalty to the sport in itself. For instance one of the reasons why I love going to a Melbourne Victory match is because it reminds me of my childhood, of the few times when my father would take me to San Siro. Yes, it is not AC Milan I am seeing, but it is the team that represent the city I live in – an that’s my connection, and others have similar experiences. And what I am seeing is a game where the rules are the same whether I am back in my childhood in Milan, or in Córdoba or Haywards Heath.
There is a fantastic thread in the Melbourne Victory forum titled ‘The Journey’ where Melbourne Victory fans recount how they became fans of Association Football. You need to register into the forum, but here is a taste of what they say.
I was brain washed as a kid on a diet of Pasta and Football 🙂
From the age of 3, My grandfather and old man started taking me to watch Essendon City Triestina on Saturday’s and Brunswick Juventus on Sunday’s.
I remember the old NSL days with Mike Hill doing the commentary. I remember the old Olympic Park number 2 ground with the Dog track around it. I remember watching my first World Cup match with my Dad in 1986 (Italy v Bulgaria) and never ever missed an episode of ‘World Soccer’ with Les Murray, or ‘On The Ball’ with Kyle Patterson.
I played Aussie Rules as a kid cos that’s what you did – but never ‘got it’, moving from wing to flank to bench. I cannot recall specific incidents but was brought up on the ‘Soccer is for girls, it’s boring’ stuff, and I think even thought that myself which makes me cringe.
Then when I was 13 or 14 out of the blue a mate’s neighbor who played with the nearest football club (about 20 min drive away) was going to their registration day and asked if we wanted to check it out. I had never kicked a football prior to that as far as I know and certainly never thought of playing. Anyway signed up and my mate, originally from QLD, didn’t. I still have no idea why I took that ‘leap of faith’ as it is totally against my character. That was 1979. I don’t think there was a single moment that hooked me, it’s been a gradual enjoyment – appreciation – obsession process. The Iran game was special in that at one point I felt that fantastic high and 20 minutes or so later, the heart had been ripped out. No other sport could have made me hurt so much.
The Uruguay game in 2005, I went to fed square to watch. That was special as well, an hours drive to stand with another 5 – 10 thousand people, all different nationalities, to watch a game being played 1000 km away (a game we could have watched from our lounges). Feeling every person standing there was willing the socceroos to get the result – it was very intense.
I spoke to a guy from Germany out on holidays at the end of the game, he congratulated us. In what other sport can you have those connections and camararderie?
I remember the NSL. remember the way football made me feel like i lived in the world. not just australia, the world. remember going to games, sometimes alone – Carlton, Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne, Cosmos, Parramatta – it didn’t matter. remember the players’ names, the faces in the crowd, the smells, the sense of family. remember the sense of not really belonging.
I remember turning up for a trial at Altona Magic in ’99. remember vomiting after the sprints having eaten too many pistachios before training. remember playing the rest of the season with East Timorese refugees in a local league in Essendon. remember orphans in Dili playing football amongst the rubbish at the tip, stopping only to scavenge for food.
I too had a VFL/AFL upbringing. Even played the game as a kid. It’s a bit odd but I became interested in football through music and I guess the subculture at that time. Started to take note of football. I watched the EPL highlights on tele, mainly followed Man U, but I wouldn’t say I supported them. It was here that I got my understanding and enjoyment of football. Mostly I go because I enjoy the game, I’m not sure how much I love the club but they represent the city and that’s good enough for me right now. Mostly its the catching up with mates and the epic away trips that makes it all worthwhile and long may it continue.
I grew up in Scotland, a mad Celtic supporter, an avid follower of fitba the world over. I travelled all over Scotland to watch my team play (often without my parents knowledge) and even ventured south if the border to see both Scotland and my Man U play. I emigrated with my family in my late teens and continued to play the game that I loved but really missed that match day experience that I was used to.
I tried the NSL, going to games at South Melbourne , and even working on match days at Olympic Village for Heidelberg, but it never felt right to me and I certainly never felt at home. I look forward to games like I did when I was a little kid, the excitement mounting as the week goes on, and usually leaving home too early on match days because it’s better than pacing around the house until it’s time to go.
But MVFC has become more than just the football to a lot of us. It has become a social scene built around the match. Not only do I look forward to the game, but also to seeing all those other faces you expect to catch up with. Even when we win I dont go home completely satisfied unless i’ve caught up with all those other people i’ve met thru the club or on here.
So maybe not as numerous, but there is plenty of bonds of family, friendship and what Association Football means to people to follow it. It’s not the same as the bonds associated with an Australian Rules football club perhaps, but strong bonds all the same. And that is something that non Association Football followers such as Birmingham fail to understand.