I wrote this post in May this year. It was a response to the news that Victory was going to play Olimpiakos and Juventus. The issue of ‘exhibition friendlies’ has risen again with the news that Manchester United will play a team comprised of ‘A-League All stars’. The opinion on twitter has been devised between those who enthusiastically have embraced this match and those, like me, that see an ‘A-League all stars’ team playing Manchester United in a exhibition match a demeaning stunt that shouldn’t happen these days in Australian Football.
If I had misgivings about a proper A-League team playing an exhibition match, I am even more disconcerted when the team is a concoction of players from the A-League. I know the arguments about why this match can be good. It attracts media attention to football (especially during the AFL/NRL season), it will attract many people etc. But as I said above this is demeaning to Australian Association Football. It’s like when you invite the most popular kid from your school at your party so more people come. He/She is the attraction. Wouldn’t be rather better than people came because of you? And throughout the party some people will say “I wasn’t going to come, but X is here’.
It will be fun. Yes. But there will be no gain for the A-League. Those who follow it anyway will continue to do so. While most of those who don’t because they see it as ‘inferior’ will continue to do so. In fact I would think many would seek confirmation that following an A-League team is a waste of time (and with a star studded team such as Manchester United it wouldn’t be difficult). And making a composite A-League team makes it even easier as they will be ready to to say ‘Is this the best they can come up with?’
And while some will say “who cares what they think’ we often go on that we want to become a ‘real football nation’. I’ll ask, how many ‘real football nations’ would arrange for a combined team to play a club from overseas? These stunts consign ourselves to the Micky Mouse level of nations where football is seen as a minor sport. Maybe we are. But do we have to confirm it this way?
As I said below I’d rather watch a meaningful match in the ACL. At least it means something.
I always been ambivalent about ‘Club friendlies’. On one hand I can understand why they occur. They are a money spinner, especially if clubs from football countries that have a big presence in Australia (which are mainly Italy and Greece). And has luck would have it Melbourne Victory will play the Greek Champion Olimpiakos, and Sydney FC the Italian Champions, Juventus.
It is expected that lots of people will turn up, and I would suspect most of them will be wearing the red and white of Olympiakos and the Black and White of Juventus. Perhaps (and I can’t prove this) I would suspect many may either fall in the category of Greek-Australians or Italian-Australians ‘Eurosnobs’ that is those who would not deign themselves to follow an A-League team, but will come to see and support a ‘proper’ European team. Or perhaps the old ‘NSL ethnic team’ nostalgics that refuted to do anything with an A-League team but will go and see and support the team from their country of heritage.
Really these matches are mainly a bit of a circus. And I am not saying that disparagingly. Circuses are great and lots of fun. But they have to be recognised for what they are.
Not all these visits by overseas teams can be like that. If they provide a good match before the season I think they are a good idea. This was the case for the match with Celtic which was played in July last year, just before the start of the Scottish Premier League and Celtic was going to use it to see as a good practice match. So players were more motivated to play well to ensure they were noticed. But these upcoming matches don’t fall in this category. The Greek and Italian leagues have just finished or are finishing, and won’t start until late August/September. This does raise the issue of whether the players, despite their professionalism, may look at playing Australian teams as a bit of a holiday.
The A-League may start even later, and both Melbourne and Sydney haven’t played a competitive match for quite some time now.
The other thing which I know I SHOULDN’T think about, but I wonder is how these games re-enforce the stereotype of Association Football being ‘ethnic’. While we should disregard the xenophobic comments, there is something odd in seeing young Australians supporting an overseas team. I guess now it is not as bad as when in the darker days of Australian Association Football no club was deemed to be good enough to play an overseas club. So we had the doubly depressing spectacle of the Australian national team playing an overseas club, and seeing Australians supporting the overseas team.
But really we should also look at many true and proved A-League supporters. Many of us criticise the ‘Eurosnobs’ that criticise the standard of the competition, but when an overseas team arrives we rush to see it, even if the result is meaningless. While Asian Champions League matches, which actually mean something still have paltry attendances.
So I will stay home. Waiting for when the real thing commences.