Australia. A maturing football nation?

We have heard stories about weddings being held during Grand Finals, where invitees (male mostly) desperately attempt to keep in touch with the game.

I will be in a similar situation tomorrow morning. As the Australian football team start their match my alarm will go off as I prepare to take a 7 am flight to Cairns.

Not that I am complaining mind you. I have been looking forward to this North Queensland holiday for a while, and when I booked the flights I was unaware of the implications. I will try to follow the game but my mind will have to concentrate on the task to get on the plane. Maybe once checked in and all our bags loaded I may be able to sneak a view from a TV somewhere.

As readers know I write more about how Association Football, and events such as the World Cup show aspects of Australia that I find interesting than an analysis of the game in itself, something I am not very qualified about. To read that I would recommend ‘The Football Tragic’.

I don’t really think that Australia will go through. All I hope is that whatever is the result, our National team shows the spirit and commitment they showed with Ghana. And not going through is no disgrace, we will be in company of other more quoted football nations.

But even after the disaster with Germany I saw some unexpected silver lining. While most fans realistically expected that winning against such a powerful nation was difficult, after the shellacking we received I expected a wave of the usual ‘the Socceroos are hopeless why we even bother’ type of arguments. But instead I saw (mostly) anger and demands why we capitulated. In other words it showed that people cared, instead of dismissing it as a sport that ‘Australians don’t play’ which perhaps would have happened ten years or so ago.

The team redeemed itself against a tough game with Ghana, and the benefit was that at least we didn’t lose meaning that the narrative that we can still make it ran through the media instead of being dead in its tracks.

I would have made more extensive comments about the World Cup and its Australian implications, but as you know I am unsure of how easily I will have access to the computer. But I think that one negative issue that does put people that mainly follow other codes is the ‘diving’ and the histrionics to make the referee book some player.

This is undoubtedly a scourge in the game and most Association Football fans don’t like it either. Unfortunately unless FIFA stamps it out somehow this is outside Australia’s control, and those who are not into the game will continue to point out this issue as one indication of why the game does not reflect the Australian spirit and traditions of fair play.

In October last year the Age journalist Greg Baum (who despite what some fans say, he likes Association Football) wrote about this issue.

…… is something of a proud Australian tradition not to betray even acute pain. A batsman, when struck, will not rub the sore spot. A heavily tackled footballer will gasp for a moment, then stoically carry on. A tennis player will not call for the trainer until his leg begins to detach.

The thinking is not necessarily profound. It’s about machismo, about the mental battle, about projecting a sense of indestructibility, about not admitting to your opponent that he has had even a moral victory. It is probably more reckless than it is wise. But it is us.

And it is why many Australians who have warmed to soccer in this, its first golden age in this country, still are bemused by – even contemptuous of – the apparent frailty of so many soccer players, including Socceroos. They see it as antithetical to their idea of sport.

They cannot dispel the suspicion that some of these apparent axe murders are no more than elaborate but tired tactical ploys, meant either to slow down the game or draw a sanction for an opponent. And they cannot help but think that all these boys crying wolf cruel it for the player who is genuinely injured.

Here, the Socceroos have the chance to make a virtue of a vice. They could establish themselves as the team that plays the game, but not games. They could as a matter of policy make light of glancing slights and blows. They could, uniquely among soccer-playing nations, resolve to get on with the game………

Critics doubtlessly will say that I do not understand the game. They ought to consider this: much as the Socceroos are striving to impress the world, they are still tasked with trying to impress Australia. Much ground has been gained, but much has still to be made; the barely passable crowd on Wednesday night says as much. Australia is an earnest and honest team, but despite the yellow shirts, it is not like watching Brazil, not yet.

It is not enough to say Australia must accustom itself to the world game; the world game must also adapt to Australia. It must be a game with which all Australian can identify. It has shown a willingness already, for instance, in the format of the A-League, which meshes league and knock-out competitions in a way would be a curio elsewhere in the world, but makes sense here.

Mostly, Australians prefer their sporting representatives to be hard, robust, impervious to pain. The Socceroos have a chance to take a stance. Upright.

When this article came out Baum was accused to be anti-soccer. However I thought he made a good point (and people regularly coming to this blog would know how alert and irritated I get by uninformed soccer bashing).

A team that reflects at least what Australians would like to see themselves as will attract respect, no matter the level of success it reaches.

And with that thought I will leave you. If I am able to contribute to this blog I will be somewhere in tropical Queensland.

1 Comment

Filed under Football, Musings

One response to “Australia. A maturing football nation?

  1. Alex

    Have a good holiday

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