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?
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.”