Australia and soccer: ‘It’s complicated’

There is no game on earth supported, played and loved more than soccer. This is no real surprise. It’s a phenomenally great game and with the ability to be played by anyone, anywhere and at any time it brings together all people regardless of race, creed or culture. At it’s best, it is the most beautiful and captivating game to watch and play.

Except Australia didn’t get the memo.

If sports were bodybuilders, soccer in Australia would have the muscle definition of ‘linguini.’ More people turn up to watch Chris Judd play compared to Lionel Messi. Flares are much more likely to be seen in emergency rescue situations than during sporting contests. If you asked an Australian what a ‘handball’ is they are highly likely to mimic a bizarre hand-thumping manoeuvre. Soccer is the poor cousin of AFL and NRL, and (to a lesser extent) basketball, tennis and fishing. Yes, even fishing.

Now this isn’t drastically surprising. Take a look at our local league, for instance. First-touches look like more like first-touch passes. Crosses sail into the stands behind the goals. We parade washed-up, money-grabbing “superstars” as, well, superstars. Then we wonder why many people would rather spend their attendance money on Foxtel subscriptions where they can watch Swindon Town play Rotherham United and it looks like the Premier League by comparison.

But it runs deeper than the woefully inept local league. Unlike more popular sports in this country, soccer is stuck in the dark that is the past still groping at thin air for the light that is technology and modern sensibility. A blatant handball (the illegal kind) can be the difference between a World Cup place. It cannot be overturned on review, or replay simply because it may ‘disrupt the game’ – a notion so bereft of logic as much as Christmas in July. More than make the game a better spectacle, technology means you don’t have to start a riot to vent your frustration at obvious errors during the course of a game.

Many Australians look at this view on technology from the bigwigs in soccer with utter disbelief. And rightly so. Many sports (cricket, NRL and tennis, to name a few) have all made the jump with increased levels of satisfaction and viewership from players and spectators (except Indian Cricket). And none of these sports hang so crucially on a single decision that can wholly determine the outcome of a game, or the outcome of a nation’s four years of hard work at a World Cup. But at least that didn’t happen to Australia. Oh, wait – there was that pesky little incident at Germany 2006. But that couldn’t have done any damage to the game at home, right?

Soccer's reputation in this country dived accordingly

There are other parts of the world game that many Aussies frown upon. Like the fact you can watch a game for 90 minutes and no goals are scored. Or the elaborate diving and subsequent injury-feigning to run down the clock. These things are not exclusive to but are synonymous with soccer. However to help the profile of the game in our country, time wasting acts and diving should be more heavily scrutinized. As should our reliance on “superstars” and blatant money-spinning marketing exercises like the David Beckham/LA Galaxy experience we could all do without.

Also, maybe we shouldn’t spend millions of taxpayer dollars on the possibility to host a World Cup and rather more wisely spend the money in investing in the domestic game. These acts cheapen the brand of the game on our shores. As much as they may draw in new followers they diminish faith with more knowledgeable supporters.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes or instant solutions. Many of the problems in Australia result from perception and a lack of understanding. As true supporters of the game we have to support our domestic league, (as painful as it may be) we have to support our local clubs and we have to gather as many friends and family to help us in doing so. Hopefully then we can change the perception and add some meatballs to the linguini. Then our game will be the best game in Australia.

 *I realise it is actually “football” and not “soccer” but decided to use the latter so as to differentiate from all the codes that call themselves “football.” 

-Adam

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4 Responses to Australia and soccer: ‘It’s complicated’

  1. Brad of Melbourne says:

    This is the same anti-Australian football drivel I expect coughed up by those of the News corp persuasion (‘Rebecca Wilson’ http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/rebecca-wilson-says-a-league-to-concerned-with-quick-fix-solutions/story-e6freyar-1226123146993, ‘Cate Swannell’ http://www.goldcoast.com.au/article/2011/12/29/377391_cate-swannell-opinion.html etc.)

    I for one am sick of: 1) focusing on the A-League’s downfalls and forgetting the long history of the code in this country; 2) comparing it to foreign leagues/codes & 3) LACKING EVIDENCE TO BACK UP CLAIMS.

    You’ve used a Chelsea v Blackpool mockery when Man U def. Arsenal by more (4-0 & 3-1 vs. 8-2); an english 4th tier match-up with lower average attendances than all but one a-league club (http://www.ultimatealeague.com/records.php?type=att&season=2010-11), which is televised once every three months by their own countries provider (http://www.football-league.co.uk/page/TVGamesDetail); and tried to fob off the LA-Galaxy/World Cup bid as money wasted by the football powers when in reality the money goes to other ‘events’ in the absence of football’s quest to have their own slice of the pie.

    Please, let us champion the defensive nous of low-scoring games; let us parade the gamesmanship and not lack of technology for Grosso’s ‘travesty of justice’ and let’s actually all contribute to the bigger issues at hand for the sport rather than sign off an article with a pathetic attempt at corralling support through family and friends in an order to overcome ‘a lack of understanding’ which, unfortunately for followers of this blog, shines through the brightest in this article.

    If you are pro-AFL; NRL & cricket for their apparent greatness in their uptake of contemporaneous Aussie culture (notwithstanding World Series, Super League, C7 pay tv & expansion/merger controversies), then by all means, blog away about those. But, for those football-loving persons of this country, please do us all a favour and provide either an elaborate analytical attempt at exposing issues and/or solutions, or sod off and leave us to enjoy football in all its beauty for what it is. Not the apples-and-oranges numbers game but “the most beautiful and captivating game to watch and play”… or didn’t you get the memo.

  2. MikeOrTheDon says:

    Thanks for your passionate and knowledgable comments Brad.

    I don’t believe this article was a critical analysis of the game of soccer but rather a piece taking a look at why soccer isn’t as popular in Australia as it is in other countries. Now while TV figures and attendances are healthy for soccer in Australia there is no doubt other sports are more heavily supported. We stated possible reasons, or theories as to why this is the case, and more so why some people merely don’t make time to follow soccer. Do I have evidence to back these up? Well, no. But to call us uneducated, or prejudiced (as some have done) is a bit of a harsh call as we are as passionate and knowledgable in our support of soccer as the next person.

    We would love to conduct an elaborate analysis of the game and solutions to issues out there, but if anyone could do this then we wouldn’t have anything to write about! All we are doing is expressing various opinions as sports fans.

    Finally, we take offense to the idea that we dislike soccer. True, this piece did not show it in the most glowing light – but writers of this website regularly watch, play and support the game and will continue to do so. It is merely our opinion that it can be better and deserves to be better in this country.

    And for the record Rebecca Wilson or similar views were not referred to and will never be pawned off as our own.

  3. pintopix says:

    Ok, I’ll give my point of view about soccer in Australia (and in USA by rebound).

    First off, there’s no perfect or best sport in the world. Every opinion in a sport, being good or bad is biased. The phenomenon of a sport over a nation or region is more a habit or custom than cultural.

    Rugby gave origin to American Football the same way that it did with AFL. Same thing cricket and baseball. They are old sports, older than soccer. If soccer was around when Britain started their colonies in America and Australia, believe me, this discussion over AFL and Soccer woldn’t exist here.

    I’m from Brazil, and I work for FFV as a soccer referee. I don’t have soccer in my blood or genetic code as many people may think about brazilians. There’s no such thing. I started to enjoy soccer in a very much late age (14) and I think my story exemplify very well what I’m trying to point here.

    My dad liked soccer, but he wasn’t sick about it. He didn’t introduce me to soccer, he didn’t force me to go for his team.I grew up indifferent to soccer. I really try to force myself after a while (I was feeling like a sort of outcast, when my friends would gather to watch a match of a sport I wasn’t fond of). But as I said I was trying, so I wasn’t having any sort of resistance to like it. So with time, surrounded by friends sick about the sport, I ended up LOVING IT!

    It’s hard to believe in that now. I love soccer since my 14 years of age. I’m even a referee now. To have to stand against abusive players every weekend, you really have to love it.

    So, why every aussie prefers AFL over Soccer? Is not because one is better than the other. Is just because that’s what they are used to. That’s what Americans are used to. But time is ruler of everything. Things change constantly. Rubgy in Brazil, is facing the same thing (but waaay worse) soccer is facing here. But maybe, if Brazil wins something big or do very well in a International Ruby competition (like Australia did in 2006 in the world cup), things might change there.

    I see a massive growth of soccer in Australia (due to the 2006 world cup). Those kids playing today, they really enjoy it. They play with passion. They will grow up enjoying soccer and footy as well. And they will pass that to their children. So it’s just a matter of time that people here will realise that soccer is just like footy. A sport.

    Thanks.

    PS: I’m not into footy completely yet. I’m living here for just a one year and a half. But I’m still getting used to sport. I really believe that, in a few years, I’ll have my beloved footy team and I’ll go for it the same way I go for my brazilian soccer team (see? I don’t even have a soccer team here in Australia yet. Time… It’s all about it).

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