Tag Archives: Soccer

Welcome Mr. Gallop, but please leave the sleeping giant alone.

I was quite pleased when David Gallop was appointed as the new Football Federation Australia (FFA) CEO.  Unlike Buckley, Gallop had already been on the top of a major football code in Australia.  Therefore he knows the score, he knows about how to deal with the media and how to administer sport in Australia.

This is much more important than being a ‘football person’. I know that some fans feel that not having ‘one of us’ is a bit of an insult, that basically being from another code the CEO will never understand ‘the culture’. But unlike Buckley, who never experienced being at the top of leading a football code, Gallop is the best candidate that the FFA could ever had.

And I thought that his first media conference was fine.  He projected the image of someone from outside, but with some knowledge of the game (Socceroos and West Bromwich Albion references) and willing to learn more.  Raised grassroots issues and possible expansion. Except for one thing. :

“I can absolutely see a period of great growth and in that regard the other codes should be concerned about where football is placed at the moment,”

“They would be looking at the results of the last six weeks (of the A-League) and seeing that the Socceroos are now well on the road to qualification for the World Cup finals in Brazil and they would be concerned.”

“If football gets its act together, which we’re seeing right now, then the other codes need to be really worried about it”

“The giant continues to be not only awake, but on the move”

Ughh.  The reference to football in Australia as the ‘Sleeping Giant’ is one of my most disliked terms, together with ‘Own Goal’ when something negative has happened in the code.

As Warwick Hadfield righly said this morning:

“While we accept that the creative bits have been somewhat numbed by decades of being forced to read rugby league scribblers, he could have come out with something better that ‘soccer is the sleeping giant in this country, and you all have to watch out when it gets its act together’.  Blue Hills was still around episode two when that was first said”

Do football people talk about the Sleeping Giant anymore?  Did it exist in the first place?  I doubt it.  If a very successful 2006 World Cup campaign and a less successful one in 2010 (which we did make nevertheless) plus a reasonably run national league hasn’t woken up this Giant, then nothing will.

Also the fact that Gallop says ‘when football gets it act together’.  Hasn’t it done it already?  Of course there are huge problems confronting the code, especially in the A-League and the sustainability of teams etc.  But really with the Crawford report, the A-League, the admission into the Asian Confederation and being able to have a good chance to qualify for a world cup I think that is the best we can hope in the sense of ‘getting our act together’.  Of course there are issues, but that is part and parcel of running a business in a very competitive environment in a relatively small market.

Football is not going to overtake the AFL and probably the NRL anytime soon.  And that’s fine.  There is no need to feel like we need to become the main game unless we have to compensate for some form of inferiority complex.  Saying ‘other codes watch out’ is setting us up for failure.

Instead to go after the other codes what the FFA should do is to create and develop our niche and play to our strengths.  We saw a great example with Western Sydney, where the FFA listened to the fans and created a team that I think will do well in an area which was always football literate.  This is an example where football can be and is more successful than other codes. If we want to talk about ‘Giants’ we can look at the Western Sydney ones that unlike the Wanderers aren’t exactly setting the place on fire.

So all the best Mr. Gallop.  Don’t worry about other codes.  Let’s ensure we are doing alright.


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The World Game….really?

Jock: You did some nice things last week. Not one of your best games but you did some nice things. Glorious mark you took in the second quarter. You just seemed to go up and up.

Geoff: I felt like Achilles.

Jock: Who’s he?

Geoff: A Greek guy who could really jump.

Jock: [nods] Some of our new Australians could be champions if they’d stop playing soccer and assimilate.

The Club, Act 1. David Williamson – 1977

It is not everyday that I get an unsolicited tweet response from a newspaper editor (as I am sure they have more pressing things than reading and responding to my tweets) but I am always chuffed when it happens. I got one yesterday from Andrew Tate, editor of the Sport section of the Sunday Age in response of my questioning of two articles in the paper.

One was titled ‘The World Game‘ and was about introducing Australian Rules overseas.   The other was about exporting the game to China.

Other tweeters like Athas Zafiris picked up on the story.

Then Ezequiel Trumper continued:

Even Michael Lynch, who writes for the Sunday Age got into the fray.

The fact that the article was titled ‘The World Game’ was a probably a bit of a light hearted reference that that term is used when we talk about Association Football.  Interesting considering that some Aussie Football fans get a bit agitated when we use ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’. But this is a minor point really.

The article in question then quotes the AFL’s international development manager Tony Woods:

There is almost a paradox that we all share in the belief that it is the best game in the world and most spectacular, yet sometimes we are a little bit slow in opening our arms to letting other people play it.

I would not berate Mr. Woods stating that Aussie Rules is ‘the best game in the world and most spectacular’, but I don’t know if everyone in the world would share his belief.  In my opinion there is no ‘best game in the world’.  I say that to Association Football fans as well if they say soccer is the best game.
I remember when I went to Italy and as a Blues fans I asked a friend to send me a tape of one of the finals that I missed.  It was a great game as those Carlton-Essendon finals in the 90’s were. Close contests, athletic and skillful.  However when I showed the tape to my Italian friends, who were into soccer and basketball, they were unimpressed. All they could see were bodies clashing with each other and they laughed when players were scrambling for the ball on the ground, they found it messy and chaotic.
Maybe the AFL realises that it missed the boat with the more recent Asian immigration and it is now trying to make connections, which is good strategy – for Australia – but I fail to understand why we see in the media pieces about the AFL ‘going overseas’ what’s the point?
Despite Australian Rules being by far the most popular code in Australia it seems to be irked by the fact that they don’t have international status.  The comments of Mr. Woods seems to betray this fact. And the regular ‘Soccer is not really an Australian game’ that tend to appear before the World Cup tend to confirm this, Examples here and here ) which really I can’t understand.
And the mindset of the ever conquering AFL is shown in this statement:

“At junior and grassroots level kids are really looking for an alternative to rugby. That has basically allowed soccer in New Zealand to get a foothold.”

Apart from the fact that soccer was ‘allowed’ a foothold (heavens forbid) what escaped may have Mr. Woods, but more importantly the journalist Jared Lynch,  is that  in New Zealand soccer was there yonks before any kiwis even knew the existence of the Aussie game.  As Ian Syson states in a tweet:

Maybe the fact that a New Zealand team was able to represent (very honourably) their nation in the most popular sport event in the world (something that Aussie Rules can’t do) in South Africa may also have something to do with it.

Anyway, this banter must have attracted the attention of the Sunday Age Sports editor who tweeted:

I didn’t respond to this, because discussing issues on tweeter with a 140 character limit is very difficult. The article Andrew refers is about Lucas Neil and his perfect footballer. Which was interesting enough, but I think he missed the point.   One is a ‘AFL is the best thing ever’ story, while the other is about Neil idea of the perfect footballer.  They are not the same.  And again I have no problem with the article in itself.  The issue I have is that we hardly have any pieces which place soccer/football in the same cultural level.  Have we read about soccer/football importance in Australia’s history?  or that soccer/football has been part and parcel of Australia’s sport landscape long before post war migration?  And it doesn’t stop there.  On Saturday we learned that apparently AFL is going to solve the Israel  – Palestinian conflict. The power of the AFL knows no bounds.

What these articles show is not only the fact that the AFL, despite its hegemony in the mainstream media is strangely feeling anxious of not been international, but also ignores the fact that soccer/football is the international sport par excellence and the fact that the media, in general, doesn’t give it much credit.  Football doesn’t need to push to become international. It’s already there.  The worldwide audience for the recent Australia – Japan match dwarfed anything that the AFL or NRL could achieve, and Adelaide United is in the quarter finals of the Asian Champions League.  We don’t read much about that, and how that promotes the image of Australia overseas. And sorry, but playing in one of the major FIFA tournaments is a bit  more significant than a few kids playing footy in a paddock somewhere in China or India, in a sport that despite being a great game – will be probably as popular as lacrosse is here in Australia.  As an example we only have to read the FFA ‘s  submission to the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. That is the reality of the game.

And by the way.  It may have escaped the editors of the Sunday Age, but in the picture of the article the kids are playing with the footy are wearing  AC Milan, Tibet National Football Team and Chelsea shirts.  World Game indeed.


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A bit more gastronomical spice and variety at AAMI Park?

One of the great points of contention from some fans of the ‘traditional’ teams of the old National Soccer League is that the FFA has gone out of its way of removing any connection to ethnic groups in the A League.  To some even going overboard, being terrified of anything which can be construed as ‘old soccer’  where names like ‘Croatia’ or Hellas’ could crop up.  This is a topic for another time. But perhaps one area where the A League could use a bit more competition is the food choice offered at the football grounds. Don’t know in other cities,  but for a game that attracts its fair share of Non English Speaking Background fans and fans from a more mainstram ‘Anglo/Celtic’ background who arguably may be more open to experience other cultures, the food on offer at A League matches is boring and bland,.

The grounds are great, but the catering, in my opinion leaves a bit to be desired. Yes we have the standard pies and chips, but really couldn’t we have something a bit more?  Now Michael Lynch got criticised by some fans for mentioning making a link between ethnic teams, old soccer and food in this article, but I can’t draw the conclusion that one of the great things about Melbourne football fans is that they are not solely of the ‘pies, pasties and chips’ heritage and that adding a bit more exotic flavours in the food mix at the game is no great sin.

There is a great solution.  Something that would not fall in the stereotype of ethnics and food, but instead would introduce to the game the epitome of food hipsterness that say ‘Melbourne’ in this decade, and these are the food trucks.

Apparently this is a Melbourne phenomenon, so what’s the best way to say ‘Melbourne’ at a football match?  This plus as I said earlier it would allow a bit more variety to the food available at the game.

But not only food, coffee is important in Melbourne and while beer is essential for the younger set, there is many mature fans who wouldn’t mind a nice well made coffee.  There is a coffee stall inside the ground.  The coffee is actually not that bad (I’ve only ordered long blacks) but it is a bit dreary, and not much variety (only caffelatte, cappuccino, short and long blacks)  what about having something like a Kere Kere coffee stand  outside the ground?  Not only they make great coffee but the way they match the customer and the coffee is by giving out a playing card, when the coffee is ready they shout out what type of card it is and the customer returns the card and gets the coffee.  What about instead of playing cards you gave out replicas of Panini Cards?  So when your coffee is ready they would shout the name of the player on the Panini card you got and not only you get your coffee, but a general sense of fun would ensue before you can say triple shot chai latte with one sugar.

Image taken from Kere Kere website.

Added to that I also think that both Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Hearts should contact KeepCup and make reusable coffee cups in teams’ colour.  You may have seen the KeepCup cups around the traps.  They are great because they are of the same size as the disposable paper ones, so they fit with the espresso machines but can be used again and again.  Not only it is good environmentally it would be a great marketing exercise.  Cups in AFL teams colours are already available, so why not for the A League?

Image taken from KeepCup website

While it will be impossible for these movable feasts to offer their food outside the ground, due to restrictions place by council,  food trucks,  cannot operate within 200m of an open takeaway business.  In a way this is understadable.  The costs of a takeaway van are less than an established business which has to pay rent etc.  However there is one case where I wish they could operate to give more choice, and this is outside AAMI Park.I reckon it would certainly give plenty of yummy options for the fan, and perhaps even make a better atmosphere.

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Are exhibition friendlies all that good for the A-League image?

UPDATE 10/12/12

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.

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A place of our own

Not getting Foxtel was a family decision.  Well, if it was me I would have got it in a flash.  I would be able to see Italian TV from Italy and of course the A-League.  However considering that I am the only Italian speaker in my household and the only one interested in watching sport on TV, I knew that it was not going to be worth it.

But I can’t complain.  I live in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, and a pub only  ten minutes walk away from me has Foxtel, and it usually shows Melbourne Victory games.  I am happy to pay the ‘admission price’ of a lemon lime and bitters to watch the game.  Sometimes if the game is shown on a Saturday night there is no chance of listening to the commentary as the place tends to be a meeting point for young 20 somethings (with no interest in the game) who then proceed to other places of entertainment such as nightclubs or such. So it gets pretty noisy, and somewhat detracts from the experience, but better than nothing.  A few of us gather around and show the flag for the A-League.

However, once the AFL starts, we are immediately shown how the codes pecking order works in this town.  All three TVs (one is a big projection one) show the AFL, and perhaps we football fans are lucky to be relegated to the small telly outside where they store the kegs.

I could ask if one telly, even the one where the kegs are could be switched, but that’s not the point.  What I want is a convenient venue  where football is king.  Where there is no AFL when a football match is on (I am an AFL fan too, but there are heaps of pubs who show it).  There are gay pubs where gay people are not hassled by straights, why not the same for football fans? A place where we can feel comfortable and not feeling like we have to ask for a small TV in the corner to be switched on but  football but it is given pride of place?  A place where we don’t feel like a minority? A place where we don’t have to sometime endure snide comments from non-football fans as they go from the bar to their seats?

Yes in Melbourne there is such a venue, the Dickens Tavern  but while I commend its dedication to the World Game being in a basement I find it quite claustrophobic.  Also considering the A-League it is predominantly  played in summer, it would be nice to have somewhere with a garden, that would also make it easier for fans with children. Of course an honourable mention should also be given to the appropriately named ‘The Keepers’ Arms’ in North Melbourne near the Victoria Market, now defunct, that did cater specifically to the Association Football market.

But we need more pubs such as the  Rose Hotel in Fitzroy which has been saved from the developers, and apparently it is a favourite with the AFL fans as being a great place to  watch a game.  We need more pubs that primarily cater for Association Football fans, and during times of AFL/A-League clashes we can be sure we don’t have to go there and wonder whether they may be ‘kind enough’ to switch a TV to the round ball. To know that at whatever times you are amongst kindred spirits.

Inspired by many blogs that comment and review the best places to watch AFL in Melbourne, I stared one of my own for Association Football four years ago.  However, as I don’t really have all that much time to go around pubs in Melbourne and find out how whether they were showing football,  it is a project that didn’t get off the ground.  Perhaps it may be time to resurrect it, especially if I can get reviews from fellow supporters.


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So why Association Football seems to be the punching bag?

I actually have quite a bit of time for Kristina Keneally.  She courageously took on the role of being NSW Premier when the ALP government was on its last legs and was on a hiding to nothing and while staring at defeat she continued with dignity.  I admired her on Q&A with her progressive views (especially on same sex marriage) being a practising Catholic.  However, as it always happens when someone who I like say something which I think is wrong, I was quite disappointed when she wrote this tweet after the NBL Grand Final.



A great end to @NBL season- attendance up all year, no licenses revoked/returned, great grand final, no controversial calls in last min….

Obviously that was a dig at the A-League.  As the Chair of the Basketball Australia it is understandable that she is publicising the sport, but why the disparaging remarks about football?  This is not the first time that a non major sport took pot shots at football.

Back in March, V8 Supercars boss Tony Cochrane said:

“Any fair dinkum sport in this country has to be on free-to-air TV. You can be on all those other platforms, but if you’re not on free-to-air, you’re simply not a fair dinkum sport,”

“For that reason, I don’t think we’re sitting here worrying too much about what the A-League are going to do – whichever A-League it is this week.”

I guess that unlike Keneally’s tweet which appears to have come out of the blue, this was in response of a direct question about TV rights.  But Cochrane didn’t need to be so nasty about football and A-League in his response.  So while  I have written before about soccerphobia amongst the most popular sports such as Australian Rules and Rugby League, it seems that even those who share the second tier as football (in the domestic sense anyway, because few sport can match the interest generated by the National Football Team) want to go in for the chop.  Which I can’t understand why.

Maybe basketball is pissed off that football gets more coverage in the media than them and also got money from government and they haven’t (I think they do have a point there, basketball is also a world sport and has a high participation amongst youth).  But frankly it seems to me like the small kids want to join the big kids in bullying the kid who may be in trouble at the moment.  Can’t understand why.  Is being disparaging about Association Football some sort of Aussie cultural practice?  Because I don’t remember the FFA chortling away when in  2008, the NBL terminated the Sydney King’s team’s licence and the owners were unable to pay player salaries.



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Crisis, Danger and Opportunity in the A-League



Mandarin characters of Danger and Opportunity do not mean Crisis. But nevertheless it does give a point for discussion.

I have had the dubious distinction of being retrenched twice in my working life.  The first time was as a public servant under the Jeff Kennett regime when sways? Of public servants were being made redundant.

At least, probably to give the impression that ‘they cared’, they engaged a private ‘work transition consultant’ which basically meant someone that showed you how to write a good CV, enhance your prospects at an interview and so on.  Part of this was also a bit of a pep talk where they gave us a spiel about ‘seeing this as an opportunity’ to maybe take your life in new directions you always wanted etc. Yes, while the mortgage repayments loomed.

Anyway, most of us were understandingly pissed off, and not very receptive to any spin that losing our job was a new wonderful opening.  Matters were not made better when our trainer opened his talk saying that losing one’s employment was a ‘crisis’ but then stating that old chestnut that in Mandarin, the character for crisis was ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. Christ, here we were, some well into middle age, fearing if we were ever going to get another  job and this guy was spouting pop psychology straight out from an inspirational poster  (not only that, but a bit of research would have found that the word crisis in Mandarin is not a combination of crisis and opportunity).

Fortunately my work life turned out for the better. But even if the Mandarin character for crisis does not encompass danger and opportunity, it is still an interesting juxtaposition.  And I was reminded of this with all what’s happening in the A League at the moment.  There is no denying that the competition is in crisis.  Gold Coast gone, plus the Newcastle Tinkler dispute etc. Added to this the decision by the FFA to get a team in Western Sydney. Which is a good move, but many fear it is too rushed and in an area which is considered somewhat of a ‘holy grail’ of Association Football in Australia and therefore fatal to the competition if it fails.

So there is plenty of danger. But with this also come opportunity.  If, and I say if, the FFA takes on board the criticism levelled at them by the owners, start to consult with them and perhaps changes the model on which the A-League is being run and the A-League goes through this rough patch, it could actually come out stronger on the other side.

As Slater has said, it seems that with Western Sydney perhaps the FFA has learned that it  needs to get the community first, and that creating a club and then saying to fans: ‘here it is, now follow it and be grateful’ doesn’t really work.

Creating a new competition is not easy.  Many places the AFL as an example of stability and a well run organisation, and that is true, but they had a 127 year start comparing to the A League.  Let’s read the Wikipedia entry on the history of the VFA.

Foundation Senior clubs of the VFA were Albert Park, Carlton, East Melbourne, Essendon, Hotham, Melbourne, St. Kilda & Geelong. The Junior section of the VFA originally included such clubs as Ballarat, Hawthorn, Northcote, South Melbourne, Standard, Victoria United, Victorian Railways and Williamstown. During its early years, many clubs dropped in and out and there were erratic promotions between the Senior and Junior sections. Hawthorn, Northcote, Standard, Victoria United, Victorian Railways and Williamstown dropped out within a year or so but Hawthorn, Northcote and Williamstown were all to return at various times.

You can recognise some clubs that are currently in the AFL, but many have disappeared or playing in another competition. Of course in 1896 there was a split which created the VFL, which later became the AFL.

All this turmoil and changes was of course at a different time, before sponsorship and multi million TV rights. But this also happened when there wasn’t a huge media attention.  But the point I am making is that a new competition may need some time to settle.

Ultimately as a fan, and as someone who hopes that Association Football becomes viable and sustainable in Australia (and this doesn’t mean that it has to become the number one code, which I believe it will never happen) I fervently hope that this crisis will not kill the A-League but make it stronger.  As I said in a previous post it seems that some football fans would be happy to see the A-League fail.  There are issues with the FFA and the A-League, that is sure. But for the sake of the code in Australia let’s hope that it goes through the crisis and takes the opportunity to change and grow, the alternative is too dire to contemplate.

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How the West was won (or not) an anthology of ‘The Football Tragic’ posts

There is a lot of talk around the blogosphere/twittersphere etc. about the new A League West Sydney team.  The fact is that this has been happening for some time.  Mike Salter  had a great blog called ‘The Football Tragic‘ which alas is now not going anymore.  Although the link is still there and provides a fascinating record of events which have happened in Association Football, mainly in Australia, from 2006 to 2010, and part of this are posts about the ‘Western Sydney’ issue.  And considering that Mike was also a local, it provides a very interesting insight and context of what is happening at the moment.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How the West Won’t Be Won

Five years ago, you’d never have believed it.

The AFL attempting to expand its market in Sydney, not so much to wrest the market from rugby league (which is well-established anyway), but to forestall the continuing growth of football. When even hardened egg-ball columnists such as Roy Masters and Greg Baum can frankly admit that football is now a serious player in the scramble for market share, and was a serious factor in the mooted AFL expansion, you know the sporting landscape has changed.

And this only three years into the A-League. The architects of the post-Crawford domestic competition can afford a little chortle of satisfaction.

Of course, plans to expand the A-League in Queensland next year will have made the AFL sit up and take notice, given that, with the Titans now established and the new “Gold Coast Galaxy” looking promising, the lucrative Gold Coast market might just become a virtually closed shop.

So, the counterattack: staking out the ground in Western Sydney before the A-League has a chance to. And in my opinion, it’s a blunder.

Driving through Western Sydney, one is always struck by the vast areas of parkland set aside for competitive sport. But they tend to be arranged into rectangles, not ovals.

Western Sydney simply isn’t AFL country. As far as I can see, the Swans (like Sydney FC to a much lesser extent) have relied on the more affluent areas of Sydney and the desire for novelty and separate identity that often goes along with affluence; it’s difficult to see the same attitudes prevailing west of Parramatta.

A Western Sydney A-League team is also a little more problematic than some have made out, given the club allegiances (Marconi, Sydney United etc.) that already exist in that part of the world. Having said that, the crowds that Penrith-Nepean United attracted in the NSW Premier League last season, not to mention the excellent turnout at CUA Stadium for the final, would suggest that Penrith – with its proximity to the football-friendly Blue Mountains – would be a worthwhile candidate for A-League expansion. CUA Stadium is not too far away from being an adequate A-League venue.

As for the likelihood of the AFL move working, I’ll leave the last word to a former AFL great:

Skilton said he didn’t believe the competition needed more than 16 sides and said the game’s development in NSW had not progressed far enough to split the supporter base.

“They want to expand the game so they can get more publicity. But I don’t think we have the depth.

“How many NSW kids are in our side, let alone how many Sydney kids

Thursday, September 03, 2009

So the favoured Western Sydney bid has collapsed.

In all probability, this is good news for the A-League. It’s surely inconceivable that the FFA will consider the nebulous bid fronted by a Socceroo captain who can’t even find a club of his own at the moment; Canberra is the only realistic option if they are going to expand to twelve teams in 2010/11.

The further expansion has undoubtedly been precipitate. The market manoeuvres of the AFL on the one hand, and the blackmail of the Asian confederation on the other, have scared the national body into two jumps in two seasons, which would never have been considered in more “peaceful” times. The relief is that the high-risk insertion of two same-city franchises will not happen now, barring a bizarre turnaround.

And if they are still not prepared to accept Canberra, what’s it to be for next season? 11 teams would be extremely awkward; there are very few national leagues with an odd number of sides.

The other, dreadful, possibility is the removal of Wellington as a sop to the Asian confederation, thereby keeping it at ten teams. The Kiwis would have a right to be mightily annoyed should this come to pass: the Phoenix have been competitive for the last two years, they have established a decent fanbase, and the continuing presence of a New Zealand side in the A-League has been an important gesture towards our near neighbours, who probably still feel a little aggrieved about Australia jumping ship for Asia in 2006.

Instead, the FFA should take the plunge and allow the Canberra bid its chance.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Delayed Dozen – yet another update

It seems things are finally clear.

Although the whole process has made the FFA look both clumsy and devious, the ultimate decision to delay entry for a Western Sydney team is undoubtedly the correct one. 2010/11 will give the national body a chance to see how the two-teams-per-city dynamic will work in Melbourne, where the market is similar, though not exactly identical, to Sydney’s.

11 teams next season, then, with the awkward bye. It remains to be seen whether this will have a further adverse effect on crowds (given that there will be greater gaps between home games at times); given the alarming drop-off already in 2009/10, the league could barely afford this.

Re the Western Sydney franchise, the key question of location remains. With a more gentle lead-in period, hopefully Ian Rowden and his crew will be made properly aware of the problems ANZ Stadium would entail.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How the West Won’t Be Won – another update

The acquisition of Kevin Sheedy as coach of the AFL’s new western Sydney franchise has set plenty of tongues wagging, and keyboards clicking. The presence of one of the sport’s most charismatic figures in enemy territory is good copy…especially for rugby league scribes defending the bastions.

Greg Prichard has given Penrith’s Mark Geyer a free kick (or should that be a scrum feed?) in this morning’s SMH, while another Fairfax stayer in Roy Masters had his say a couple of days ago. There was also a rambling segment on the ABC’s 7:30 Report on Tuesday, which managed to subtly portray Sheedy as something of a performing seal.

Anyway, to the point. All three of the above pieces had one thing in common: football was not mentioned at all. Not once.

Rather worrying when you consider a couple of things: firstly, that the round-ball game was considered an important future player in the western Sydney market only a couple of years ago, and secondly that the new “Sydney Rovers” franchise will not have much of a headstart on a Sheedy-led AFL venture.

I still feel that a western Sydney AFL team is doomed to failure, but football is another matter. A little while back, another piece from Masters grudgingly acknowledged that football was likely to have its say in the war for the entertainment dollar in Sydney’s overpopulated west.

Things appear to have changed. And it’s not just the A-League’s falling attendances; the whole bidding process for the twelfth A-League licence, steered towards western Sydney from the outset, turned into an embarrassing pig’s breakfast. And all the initial statements from Ian Rowden et al. re the new franchise suggest that no-one really has a clue about how to proceed as yet.

A good thing they have another year and a half to get things together…by which time, one hopes, the A-League will be on a better footing than it is now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How the West Won’t Be Won – yet another update

And so it looks as if the final chapter is about to be written in the farcical Sydney Rovers saga.

The very first thing that the FFA should do is go hat in hand to the representatives of the Canberra bid, with a genuine assurance that future expansion bids will be assessed on their merits. This old article, from Half-Time Hero-in-chief Con Stamocostas, shows just how much was already in place in the nation’s capital over two years ago; that all this groundwork was ignored in favour of a bid based on nothing more than blind faith is symptomatic of the FFA’s style of management in the last few years.

Where to, then, for the expansion plans? The likelihood is probably that 2011/12 A-League will feature eleven teams once again, and one hopes that this time the FFA will give the competition the publicity that it deserves. Some of the football has been excellent this term, especially in Adelaide and Brisbane; the attendances have not.

In a way, given the dismal attendances at Sydney FC matches, things may have turned out for the best in more than one way. Considering that the NSW Premier League (with its western Sydney centre of gravity) will now clash with the A-League in any event, the Rovers crowds would probably have been pitiful. And had the matches been held at the cavernous ANZ Stadium, as was mooted at one point, the match atmosphere would have made Skilled Park look like a throbbing hive of excitement.


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Australian soccer fandom in need of psychotherapy.

In the new movie ‘A dangerous method‘ the first scene sees a hysterical Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley) in a coach being taken to a psychiatric hospital.  We later finds out that the reasons for her mental state is because of being punished severely from her father.

Lest me making comparison between serious mental states and football, but I couldn’t help reflect on yet another example of how some of us, as football fans, tend to react to what is happening to the sport.  Like a patient prone to melancholia and anxiety  it seems to me that perhaps negativity and dread is imprinted in Australian football psyche.  Maybe after decades  of being belittled being followers of a sport that was for (as Johnny Warren said)  ‘wogs, poofs and shelias’ may have created a situation where many of us fall into feeling low and despondent when something negative happens in football.  Also some go into some sort of perverted Stockholm Syndrome where some fans tend to join the chorus of those who denigrate Association Football in Australia .

The air of negativity is ever present.  Things that may happen are not seen as opportunities but as a sign that we are stuffed, that football in Australia is doomed and it is hopeless.  The latest example has been the announcement that the FFA will announce a new Western Sydney team today. I also believe that it is too early.  That the FFA should take more times to establish links with the local communities.  And that Western Sydney is traditionally a football area and the team should be given all the chances of success by proper planning.  However from the comments I heard it seems that this will be a total disaster. It will end in tears. It will doom the sport forever etc. etc.  This comes mainly from some Gold Coast fans pissed off that their team has been shunted for this Western Sydney team, and say they will never follow the A-League again and hope it fails. Those from places such as Canberra and Tasmania who believe they had already clubs well planned and ready to go, and will never follow the A-League again and hope it fails.  And the inevitable ‘traditional’ fans from ex NSL teams that are still outraged that their Greek/Italian/ etc. inspired team wasn’t included and wishes a total failure on the new team and continue never to follow the A-League and hope it fails.

While the disappointment and the anger from these sets of fans is understandable I am still struck by the red mist  behind those comments where it looks to me that they would rather have the A-League (and consequently the whole sport) fail in Australia because they didn’t get their own way.  I am also struck that this negativity is reflected in many comments from fans in cyberspace.

Now, before I go any further I have to agree with many that many aspects of the FFA’s management of the sport leaves something to be desired.  From the start the arrogant way traditional football teams and their fans were treated was a disgrace.  The fact that many at the helm were not football people, and consequently weren’t aware of the history of Association Football in Australia  didn’t help.  The perception that they went for the glittering price of the World Cup at the expense of local grassroots was a major blow.  An this with the belief that North Queensland Fury was created for the bid and then cut asunder when it failed.  The bid also raised questions about the all FFA accountability with that bid.  Also the whole Gold Coast United – Clive Palmer disaster has confirmed views that the FFA is not competent and worse not listening.  However the FFA hasn’t been a total disaster.  Whatever are its problems the A-League is still up and running.  Also let us not forget that we are in Asia which is extremely beneficial for football in Australia and also we qualified for two World Cups in succession, something that we could dream of only 15 years ago or so. (For a great run-down of negatives and positives of the FFA Michael Lynch did an article on it)

So I read comments in forums, or tweets where football fans after a loss in the youth team say that we will not qualify for another World Cup for another generation at least.  Or that no one cares about the A-League and the competition is doomed when one match draws a small crowd (when perhaps another match draws a healthy one).  What strikes me about these comments is that they echo many of those done by the soccerphobes.  Why we want to join them?

Many would say that we should not have rose coloured glasses.  That there are problems and should not be ignores.  And they are right.  But as any pop psychology book you pick up from the local book store will tell you, often the feelings of anxiety and negativity are caused by how we react to events, rather than the event itself.

A stark difference is how AFL fans and commentators react to negativity in their sport comparing to football ones.  Imagine if something like the Mifsud controversy happened at the FFA.  There would be a torrent of doom and gloom comments form football supporters on how the FFA lost the plot, how they could not find their way out of a paper bag etc. etc.  and that soccer is doomed in this country.  Sure.  The ‘non-football media’ would have had a field day with their ‘soccer own goal’ un-imaginative headlines (as we have seen with the Clive Palmer saga, does anyone now bothers about him?) but do we have to join them?

It seems to me that when something negative happens in the ‘other codes’ it is perceived and commented as something to be looked at and overcome, while with Association Football is further proof that it is a ‘fatal blow’ and basically we should all pack up and go home.

We all know that in many ways the cards are stacked against Association Football in our country.  We have Australian Football and Rugby League which over the history of Australia have become the most popular codes.  Let’s not dispute that.  There will be many difficulties in the future and many mistakes done.  Let’s comment and criticise. We should not be un-critical cheer leaders.  But let’s be constructive and think about the progress of the sport.  Not using carping useless negativity that ultimately sides with the anti-soccer brigade that would like nothing better than  Association Football to be totally irrelevant in this country.

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The Kewell effect.

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A lot will be written about Kewell coming to Melbourne Victory.  On the forum the reaction is overwhelmingly positive.  From ecstatic and over-optimistic “It will revolutionise football, Melbourne Victory will become bigger than the AFL etc” to the more realistic welcome, and let’s hope it works out.  There are also some negative comments though.  Apart from the impression that Kewell, and especially his agent were ‘money hungry’ (although it appears that the delay in signing Kewell was due to contractual issues) there is a sense that we have gone for the celebrity signing, and that perhaps, Melbourne may regret it.  That perhaps the money should have been spent on some other less famous player but which was fitter and younger.

But for me the advantage of signing Kewell is not primarily of him assisting or kicking goals (which I hope he does, because that is what he is paid for) but it is a bit like Cadel Evans,  where I bet that many people still don’t know any other bicycle rider beside him, but his success has given a boost to cycling.

The same will happen with Kewell.  His fame will help the team, and the sport to cut through the very competitive Melbourne sport market, which is dominated by the AFL.  I know that for the footbal true believers the fact that people who never heard of a corner kick before start asking us about Kewell and so on, and that it looks like all of a sudden there appears to be an increase in membership enquiries  which we can term ‘bandwagoners’.

True, we can ask why people may be interested in following Melbourne Victory now, just because probably the most famous Australian player is in the team.  Where were these fans before? Why didn’t come on board earlier?  Are they attracted by the sport in itself of just because they may know who Kewell is?

There is the risk that many of these ‘new fans’ will abandon the team once the novelty has worn off, but perhaps some will start to like the game and become permanent fans.  Today’s bandwagoner may become tomorrow’s committed fan.  Probably not the majority, but even if a proportion do stay, it’s worth it.

And as I said before, the media who often is indifferent, and in some cases hostile to football may increase the coverage of the sport and the team, and while we may ask again, why didn’t you cover us before? Any increase of media interest should be welcomed.

So I really hope that Kewell will succeed in the team.  That the fans, even those who are at the moment unconvinced about his value, will warm to him and that his stint at Melbourne Victory will provide the happy ending to his playing careers that he certainly deserves.


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