I usually don’t agree with what Jesse Finke writes, but in my opinion his latest piece raises some very good points.
It starts with the pretty odd proposition by Gold Coast owner Clive Palmer for a football State of Origin during the season.
“What we don’t have is Queensland playing NSW, or playing Victoria or other states – we really need representative soccer at state level in Australia,” Palmer said. But it get worse: “At the moment, unfortunately for a lot of Australians, football is still a game that’s played by a lot of new Australians. “I’m born and bred here and I’m trying to bridge that gap. Football’s a great game and it needs to have access to all the country.”
That latests statement is so wrong on so many levels. Look despite the fact that Palmer is one of the biggest donors to the Liberal Party, anyone who puts his money into Australian Association Football is good by me. But the idea of a ‘state of origin’ and that last statement about ‘new Australians’ betrays an antiquated idea of where football is and where it is going. As Finke states:
Both statements convince me he’s out of touch and the latter I find especially annoying because it presumes that if you’ve been born in Australia and grown up drinking in pubs with mates watching league, union, cricket or Aussie Rules, that you can’t appreciate the world game without it being repackaged as some made-for-TV, made-for-middle-Australia gimmick.
It is an indication that Association Football in Australia is still not a fully mainstream game, that we have to get financial support and administrative skills from people who come from other codes, that’s a reality. Melbourne Victory is owned by Geoff Lord, which was the chairman of the Hawthorn Football Club and initially confessed that he knew little about Association Football (but much to his credit employed people who did). We have Clive Palmer and now we have Nathan Tinkler which saved the Newcastle Jets from ruin (and again all football fans should be grateful that he did so) but his main interest is horse racing, how will he go in running a football team? It is interesting that while Palmer has raised the state of origin as a model, he didn’t mention the idea of an ‘FA Cup’ style competition between state sides and A-League teams which is much more in tune with football culture and I believe would be very popular, that is another indication that the model people who do not have a football background is what they are familiar in Australia.
But as Finke rightly also mention in his article, this unawareness of football culture also extends to the top administration of the game.
What the fans want and the A-League needs is for clubs to be allowed some freedom to shape their own destiny, free from interference by suits at Football Federation Australia who know nothing about being a football fan or following a football club.
It is the dearth of true “football people” at FFA that is the biggest stumbling block to the game becoming more “tribal”, not lack of representative opportunities for local players or “special events” for fans.
Take, for instance, its one-time banning of Eureka flags at Melbourne Victory matches (how “born and bred” can you get?), outlawing “pullovers” at so-called “high risk” games (those likely to actually have a crowd), the sucky “home-end membership” policy that removed general admission from areas behind the goals, restrictive rules on where clubs can go looking for sponsors and who they can talk to, or its engaging of the services of Hatamoto, a security company that is widely condemned by supporters for its overzealous presence in the stands.
If you listen to any fans (and FFA should; there are so few of them as is) you will hear how they regard this mob’s approach to “security management” as about as subtle as a brick through a plateglass window.
Clubs and their dwindling support bases have been given no licence to create their own identities or build their own traditions because they are being stifled from the top.
I think that the move to wipe the slate clean and create a new competition which was free from any ‘ethnic’ connection was the right one. Rightly or wrongly the perception amongst the mainstream sporting public was that in the old days football was what Clive Palmer did say. A ‘foreign’ game played by ‘foreign’ people who was not connected with mainstream Australian sporting culture. While many fans of the old NSL teams have eschewed the A-League teams as ‘plastic’ there was no other choice. But now the FFA is going the other way, stamping out any spontaneous expression of football support. Because big organised and choreographed support is not what AFL and NRL supporters do, it is somewhat perceived as a threat. I agree that any incident that may re-create the perception of an ‘old-soccer’ ethnic riddled competition would be poison. But people like Ben Buckley and others at the FFA who come from the AFL and other codes need to understand that by forcing football fans to behave like the other codes will first create resentment amongst active fans and they may stop coming to matches. But also would destroy the uniqueness of being at the football.
Often when I took non-football people at Melbourne Victory matches what struck them most was not the game (which they have seen on TV before) but the support of the Blue and White Brigade which has to be seen and experienced live. They said that they never seen support like that before.
We need to struck a balance. We need people with money that are willing to take a risk and support A-League teams. These people more often than not may not be aware of the culture of football. But they are welcome and it’s up to football people not to chide them, but to ‘educate’ them to the finer aspects of the culture of the game.
We also need somehow to at least attempt to re-connect with those fans who stuck with football and developed since the 1950’s and feel disregarded, unwanted and belittled by the FFA who somehow believes that anything before 2005 was bad in Australian Football. And with that we need the FFA (which no one denies has been fantastic in many parts of administering the game – two world cups qualifications attest to that) to develop an understanding of football culture as well.
All part and parcel of the development of the sport in Australia.