The FFA Press Conference Australian Football Fans Deserved (Or ‘Gallop Through the Looking Glass’)

Date: Thursday 3rd December 2015: 2.00 PM Eastern Daylight Savings Time

Scene: Football Federation HQ Press Room. Assembled are the intellectual elite of the Australian football media across all formats; television, media and radio. Also in attendance are journos from the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph. Outside the office a calm gathering of passionate football fans await details of the press conference announced by Steven Lowy and David Gallop. Said fans keep busy by sharpening their pitchforks and loading their blunderbusses. A smaller, separate group of older, sadder football fans wearing South Melbourne Hellas and Sydney Croatia shirts stand across the road, cooking Souvlakis and Cevaps on a barbecue fueled with copies of the NCIP. Now and again the second group laugh at the larger, younger fans, with a few cries of ‘Farken Anglos.!’ or ‘Serves you farken right!’ echo in the cool Sydney air. Security agents from the authorised FFA covert agency Hakunamatata try to blend into the background as they try to surreptitiously film the protesters.

Hakunamatata Secco Agent Kevin Bogan secretly films sokkah hooligans and suburban terrorists

At the appointed time Steven Lowy, recently installed Czar of the Football Federation of Australia, and his fellow gray haired Anglo with an equally limited connection to the round ball game, David Gallop, FFA Chief Executive, saunter into the room, beaming with confidence wrought from the contents of a  couple of bottles of Xanex. Neither appears too stressed or strained, though at one point FFA communications director Kyle Patterson is asked if there was any sighting of Hektik Hektor in the building. Reassured that the man with the itchiest neck in the A-League is not on site, both Gallop and Lowy sit in their seats. The press conference is ready to begin.

FFA Faceless Lackey: “Right, David & Steven are ready. If I could please ask you to turn off your mobile phones and turn up the power on your self-delusion, we can start.”

David Gallop: “Thanks to all of you attending today. As we are all aware this has been a fractious and difficult week for the football world in Australia, going beyond the usual strife we have with trying to find a buyer for Newcastle, trying to kick out the Nix, producing yet another documentary blaming FIFA for our abysmal 2022 World Cup Bid, looking for one more reason to boast about the Socceroos winning the Asian Cup, and bashing the PFA without any specific reason. I would like to now pass the microphone over to FFA’s Il Duce himself, the one, the only, the boy who came here for a Dad’s Day at Work Excursion and for some reason has never left, Steven Lowy.

(The journalists murmur a few grumbles about not being able to ask questions first, however they decide to keep quiet as they want to see what kind of junket they could snag from Westfields at season’s end by remaining silent.)

Steven Lowy: Thanks very much David, and by the way may I say you look radiant in that grey suit, steel rimmed glasses and a very well coiffured hair cut.

(Gallop blushes and tries to blow a sneaky kiss towards the man who has allowed him to stay in a job for another 24 hours)

SL: “Now, to matters at hand. So that this news conference can be conducted efficiently, quickly and with the minimum of fuss I have both a prepared statement plus I’ve have tied Damien de Bohun to the back of a Hyundai i30 which is currently driving to Perth so that he may examine the pitch at nib Stadium. At the end of the statement I would be happen to open the floor to questions, or failing that the door to a rapid getaway followed by six years exile somewhere in North Korea.”

“Okay. As we all know approximately eleven days ago Rebecca ‘Please Blow into the Bag Miss’ Wilson helped to create this shit-storm, when she decided (undoubtedly with the assistance of certain people in the SCG Trust and NSW Police Force) to release via her turgid rag ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ the details of 198 Australians who have received ban notices from the FFA. Of course we all know that the Daily Telegraph has the editorial integrity of ‘Der Sturmer’ circa Kristallnacht 1938, and Wilson herself…a vicious, gossip-mongering fool who couldn’t write a factually based and impartial article about anything even if her life depended upon it, made certain of exposing herself and her employers to legal action which we will be starting as soon as this conference is over. We have also offered to provide legal assistance to every person cited in that scurrilous example of gutter press reporting, and whilst anyone with a criminal conviction and a ban will be unable to claim further help the FFA is considering either reducing the terms of the bans applied for matters such as swearing, entering the pitch or calling Kris Griffith Jones a useless twat, or perhaps even giving them an amnesty.”

“We have also been in contact with radio station 2GB and with Alan Jones. We have spoken to all those people who have specific information about a certain incident that happened in a London public restroom, and have advised Mr Jones, also known as The Parrot, Jonesy, or ‘The Defendant’ to either apologise for his slurs on football and our fans, or expect to see photos, statements and semen swabs supplied to Interpol, ACMA, Media Watch and some Twitter account that goes under the name @scouse_roar. And if Alan Jones wants to sue us we invite him to do so, as we have been reading up on what happened to Oscar Wilde when he took the Marquise of Queensbury to court for libel. I wonder if Alan is aware of what can happen when soap gets dropped in specific locations.”

Alan Jones asked if would prefer to do jazz hands rather than face legal action from the FFA over his xenophobic bullshit

“Regarding the Sunday Telegraph, as well as the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and other News Limited papers, we have decided to end our commercial relationship with them. There will be no more cross promotions, we refuse to take a red cent from them, we have banned all their reporters after this conference from speaking with anyone with anything to do with football, and will no longer allow any of their Yellow Press publications to pollute the grounds where any FFA sanctioned match is played. Words have consequences people, and when it comes to the print agencies of a company that has scant regard for facts and considers journalism now an art form designed to attract clicks, instead of balanced and articulate examinations of all relevant issues affecting our game, well that cooperative relationship has ended as of today.”

“As for the likes of Sam Newman, Neil Mitchell, Susie O’Brien and anyone else who slags off our game, supporters, or makes a snide or baseless comment about football, well we will be ensuring that from now on everything you say that has the merest whiff of xenophobia or inaccuracy will be reported to bodies such as ACMA, the Australian Human Rights Commission and any other agency that can bring calumny or punishment onto your heads. I have also instructed FFA legal team to establish a sub-committee that will look into class actions against slanderous and libelous utterances in the main stream media that draw our game into disrepute.”

“We have also decided that due to the failings of our media consultants they have all been sacked, and we are looking to start anew straight after this conference. Simon, if you want to swing by my office down the hall way in about an hour’s time I have a proposal for you.”

“The FFA board and senior management team would also like to announce that we have decided to give Andrew Jennings access to all our documents relating to the use of our security consultants Hakunamatata, the 2022 World Cup bid, the franchise licences issued to past A-League club owners Nathan Tinkler and Clive Palmer, and the minutes and associated materials that led to my election as chairman of the FFA. If Jennings finds any evidence of corruption, nepotism, favouritism or general malfeasance he will be asked to present that to an independent body consisting A-League fans which has the right to vote a no confidence motion in the FFA executive board.”

“Regarding the involvement of the fans in the political structures of the A-League, we have decided that by the beginning of the 2016/17 a representative on behalf of all A-League clubs’ supporters groups as well as from the membership of NPL and other lower tier clubs shall be brought into the Executive Committee. This will be based on a election with ballots to be held during the 2016 FFA Cup. That representative will, during their one year term of office, be allowed to both speak on behalf of the fans to the executive board and sign off on any changes to FFA policy that affect the general welfare of supporters in this country, or if his or her approval is not met the policy change proposal will fall into abeyance until after the next representative’s election.”

“With specific reference to the Sydney derby, we have decided that from now on any Sydney FC hosted games will not be played at Allianz Stadium, but moved to ANZ Stadium in Homebush. We understand that this is not going to be overwhelmingly popular, however let’s be brutally frank here. When you have a board of trustees at the SCG Trust including the bed mate of Rebecca Wilson, that right wing nut job racist Alan Jones, an ex-CEO of the Sydney Swans and a muppet involved with the Manuka Midgets, why the fuck are we providing their venues with such a huge money spinner when the Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers fans congregate at Moore Park. Let’s take one of the biggest annual sporting events in this entire nation away from the pricks who profit from it, and keep it that way until they either change their membership by getting rid of a few of these arseholes, or they specifically invite a football friendly candidate onto their committee. Also, we not provide any political or financial support or influence regarding the proposals to renovate or rebuild any stadiums under the SCG Trust’s governance as long as we believe there is an agenda of opposition to our sport being followed by this body.”

How Allianz Stadium will look after the Sydney derby is removed from the SCG Trust

“Now, as for the banning policies and procedures we have in place, and what we will be doing with immediate effect. They are as follows:

  1. Our security consultants Hakunamatata have been advised that our contract will not be renewed until they are willing to sign off on a document that allows all fans to review and examine any evidence they provide to the FFA which may lead to a ban order.
  2. No Hakunamatata security person has the right to issue on the spot bans unless if a criminal act has been committed and this has been duly dealt with by a police officer. The fan may be ejected from that ground for non-criminal matters however his ban is provisional until a hearing is held to examine all the relevant evidence. If at the time the hearing proves that the ejection and ban was illegitimately applied then costs will be passed onto our security consultants.
  3. No security staff member at any FFA sanctioned event can hide his or her identity as such a person. They also must wear ID markings as per normal police officers.
  4. There will be no more secret filming of football fans in Australia. Every football fan who wishes to review any footage taken of their bay or seating area up to one (1) year after the relevant match can pay a small fee to the FFA to have access to any general footage of their presence at said game.
  5. Any Hakunamatata managers at any FFA sanctioned match must consult with a club based security assistant during the game.
  6. All security staff used by our consultants at any FFA sanctioned match may be liable to being subpoenaed to appear in person in any tribunal or court of law that is called upon to examine any banning order, and this will be integral to any amended or future contract.
  7. Any clauses within the current or future contracts with the existing or alternate security consultants that may be deemed as prejudiced against the football community, or commercially enriching for the consultants will be be placed into the public domain by the FFA. These clauses can then be reviewed by any registered member of any FFA affiliated club, and if sufficient feedback necessitates the removal of said clause this will take place.
  8. The FFA’s jurisdiction vis-a-vis banning and any other discipline issue begins and ends with the entry gates of any Australian football stadium. Once outside those parameters any discipline issue falls under the relevant state or federal criminal or public legal frameworks in place.
  9. We will begin this week to meet with representatives of each club, their active supporter groups, and the relevant security, local government and police officials to discuss all these issues and any others that have not been dealt with in the previous 8 points. My personal undertaking is to have in place before the end of this current A-League season a definitive framework that restores equity, justice, football fan engagement and probity to our banning system.

“Another measure we are going to implement is a reduction in overall football registration fees, as both a sign of our appreciation of the huge, passionate and engaged core of Australian football fans and players who have every reason to feel aggrieved about how the administration has run the game this last few years. We are not perfect, far from it. As part of our desire to remedy those errors and make good on them this seems one concrete and positive step to take.”

“Now, I think that has covered all the main points we wished to raise today, although we do have probably more work to do that may expand our brief. David?”

David Gallop: “Thanks Steven. Would anyone like to ask a question of myself and Steven?”

Simon Hill: “If I may David. Steven; can you tell me what you felt, what you think about the statements made by the likes of Wilson, Jones and O’Brien, among others who are afraid of football?”

SL: “Frankly Simon their pig ignorant knobgobbling fucktards. They lie, they dissemble, they ignore their own preferred sports histories of violence and racism, among other anti-social behaviours, and it’s because deep down they are scared little narrow minded Anglo-Saxons who would rather live in White Australia circa 1913. I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire. We should be accepting the next boat filled with Middle Eastern refugees and then putting the likes of these pricks on said vessel and sending them out into the Timor Sea. Australian society would have a double win there folks.

Ray Gatt: “Simon, what is your position on the boycotts this weekend?”

SL: “The business side of me is gutted but you know what…how fucking…oops, I forgot myself for a sec there…how good are our supporters? In the eggball codes they have their administrators run roughshod over their interests and they just bend over, part the cheeks and ask ‘Please sir, can I have some more?’ Look at cricket. James Sutherland etc decided that Perth didn’t warrant a test match last season…did anyone of those so-called cricket tragics in any other capital complain, gather in unity with the West Australian fans and use people power to remind that sport’s administrators who was their most important stakeholder? Nope; stuck their collective heads in the sand and did SFA.

David Gallop: “If I might chime in on the issue of other sports Steven, I think I have a decent insight into how the league supporting cro-magnons react. Look at what happened when Shaun Kenny Dowell was arrested and charged with domestic violence, what did Easts fans do? Yep, they got right behind their so-called ‘man’. And where was that self-righteous ignorant so-and so Wilson re this? No-fucking-where.”

SL: “To be blunt Ray, our fans are politically aware cosmopolitan modern Australians who reflect a wider range of values than either the reporters, promoters and fans of the other codes. We hate the boycotts, but we love the boycotters.”

Lucy Zelic: “David, do you think you and the FFA in general erred when Boozy Bec’s initial piece of garbage appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. Should you have been more strident, more hasty in knocking back the bullshit, correcting the lies?”

DG: “Christ Lucy, I screwed the pooch big time over that one. I’ve got no excuses, no explanations. Mea fucking culpa. Steven has already told me one more stuff up and I’m gone. Plus I feel personally gutted by my inaction. I let politics, my own lack of an affinity with football, the business of keeping the press onside interfere with defending the people who are responsible for football’s amazing growth this last decade. That’s the family who head down to Coopers Stadium every home game, proud to wear the Red. That’s the retired teacher who hands out throat lozenges for the chanting masses in the Wanderers’ RBB. That’s the little boy or girl who smiles when Ante Covic signs their soccer ball. These are the men, women and children I forgot. I’m very bloody sorry.”

Joe Gorman: “Steven, what are your thoughts re the NCIP? Should it stay in place as it is, or will you look at that as well as part of the overall rapprochement you are endeavouring to undertake with the fans?

SL: “Fair call Joe, and yes…I think it’s time we took a geek at that too. One of the reasons why the haters of football get away with bringing up the racist slurs, talking like that hulking great turd Sam Newman, is because we have given them the high ground regarding perceptions of the old ‘wogball’ days. Okay, we know it wasn’t perfect in the NSL or beforehand, however for fuck’s sake for how long do we have to keep grovelling about Croats and Serbs having a punch up in 1983? Why do we have to keep trying to telling people this is an Australian sport with an Australian history? Seriously, it does my freaking head in that some Reclaim Australia types will get on social media to say “Yeah, we’re right with ya Rebecca. We hear you AJ.”, then later that night they’ll grab a pizza or kebab for dinner. I don’t have all the answers and this is not something we can fix that easily. However perhaps it’s time to let South Melbourne reclaim the Hellas tag, let Brisbane Lions use Hollandia. At least it’s far truer as a description of these clubs’ values and community, unlike such plastic franchises in other codes like the so-called Greater Western Sydney Giants, or the Melbourne Storm.”

DG: “Look, I hate to bring a pre-emptive close to this conference, however Steve and I need to get back to our offices, cancel our holiday plans for the rest of the season, and start making some phone calls to people in the RBB, North Terrace etc to sit down with them. If you want more details or want more information about how we are going to turn this godawful mess around, one that we certainly helped happen, don’t be shy. Simon and I will be here till 1.00am and should have some opportunities for a one-on-one session.

SL: “Actually Dave we might be pulling an all-nighter. I want to call up some contacts in the Bundesliga about the fan-owned club model they have in place over there.”

DG: “Okay boss. So, thanks to all of you for coming, and in closing,” (Gallop looks straight down the barrel of the TV camera filming the conference) “Australian football fans..we fucked up, but we’re going to fix this. And (points directly at the lens) we’re going to do this with you, for you.”

v6kj9

Why I Am Boycotting This Saturday (Or I Got The Game Against Roar And I’m Not Going Because I’m Protesting the FFA Blues)

For the first time since I became a foundation member of the Western Sydney Wanderers I am deciding to not go to a home game when I have absolutely no impediment to stop me from doing so.

And it fucking hurts.

It hurts because I feel that if I were to go my presence would be used as a tacit approval of the weak-kneed, submissive, politics-first/fans last approach taken by the likes of David Gallop and Damien de Bohun, the latest pair of (mal)administrators to inflict a wound on the body of Australian football. A sport and a community that has for decades endured incompetence, ignorance, passivity, kamikaze-like business decisions and general fucking-it-up-since-day-freaking-dot.

Of course the original spark to this incandescent flame of rage I feel came from the latest in the long line of haters of football in this country, i.e. Rebecca ‘Boozy Becs’ Wilson and Alan ‘I Won’t Sue Because I know What Happened to Oscar Wilde’ Jones, and their disgusting stunts of media-based fuckwittery. You can also throw into the mix a ‘social commentator’ (i.e. someone who failed communications studies in Year 10) from Melbourne who decided, having spent more time tweeting about Channel Nine’s ‘The Block’ than seeing the Red and Black Bloc in person, decided that football fans were ‘suburban terrorists‘ (a downgrade from the ISL aligned murderers in Paris as described by the Parrot on 2GB).

However, for all their vomitous, ill-tempered, baseless, right-wing-nut-job, borderline racist burblings, these demagogues of white bread mediocrity, whose opinions if translated into Hochdeutsch would not sound out of place in an English language dubbed version of ‘Triumph of the Will’, are not the reason why I will not be walking into Wanderland this Saturday. They are like the toddler who, due to a lack of toilet training, accidentally unleashes some semi-formed fecal matter into a pool, befouling  a pleasant place for everyone. It’s in their nature to dribble shit and with undeveloped mental acuities wonder why the grown ups are upset with them. It’s who and what they are

No, the causi belli in this battle, which for the Wanderers game against the Roar will take the form of joining a boycott, are pride, respect, anger and a sense of justice. Four characteristics, four traits that I hope to live up to, and which our current FFA board and management seem to lack. If David Gallop is going to spout such weak-kneed, self-wounding, la-la-land drivel as he did in yesterday’s press conference, then I find it a betrayal of everything good and proper that football in Australia is, as well as what the Western Sydney Wanderers and our community of fans are.

First off, what kind of out of touch emperor with no clothes talks about “Use your energy from now on in a positive way”, when his regime in the last few months has done everything to make football fans across the entire A-League feel exceedingly negative. Even before this contre temps there was the unseemly humbuggery of Gallop using both the A-League launch and the W-League launch to have a dig at the PFA and the men and women who play our game through those competitions, as well as the Socceroos. Having accused the striking Matildas of being dragged into the dispute, in itself an utterly false premise when those female players who boycotted the plan USA tour were party to the ‘whole of football’ negotiations, he made a bad situation worse by effectively using the platforms of the games’ premier domestic competitions as a place to play ‘bash the union’. It was as if he was a new car salesman who, on the brink of closing a sale, decided to back the vehicle into a wall.

Then there was the little matter of the FFA playing a game of brinkmanship with the Wellington Phoenix re their A-League licence. Putting aside the merits and the problems with the arguments both for and against the restricted offer of a four year licence to the New Zealand-based A-League club, the public manner in which it was played out and the ludicrous arguing over an imaginary Southern Sydney alternate franchise, gave everyone the impression that the FFA were making it up as it goes along. As demonstrated by the recent pronouncements re the FFA’s systems for banning, making it up as it goes along seems to now be the modus operandi of our game’s administrators.

This brings me to the fourth motivation for my boycott of this Saturday’s Western Sydney Wanderers’ match; a sense of justice. Before any mono-browed unreconstructed league, rules or cricket fan lurches into some ill-founded attack, I echo the sentiments of Simon Hill:

Now, everyone knows there are still some hoodlums who go to football to cause trouble. No-one in their right mind defends them – nor the pathetic death threats that were allegedly directed towards the writer of last weeks Sunday Telegraph article. (source)

I’ve already written about my distaste for pyro at football games in Australia, and it is a no-brainer to consider anyone who is proven to have acted violently and criminally at any football game deserving of censure and punishment. However, my sense of justice is outraged that until the current crisis exploded, according to the FFA:

“Please be advised that Football Federation Australia (FFA) is not a government agency and, as such, the obligation to adhere to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice does not apply to our organisation. For this reason, FFA will not consider any appeal.” (Banning notice tabled at Senate Economics Committee enquiry, 3rd November 2015)

Bottom line; if you were banned by the FFA for what was considered to be an act contrary to their rules and regulations (even if their was no criminal conviction, or indeed if you were proved to be innocent by the police), you had no right to appeal. Also, as the FFA made their judgments to impose bans based on evidence only they had access to, nominally provided in many cases by a private security firm that is commercially engaged to reduce anti-social behaviour at football matches, then the core legal construct in western judicial systems, innocent until proven guilty was blatantly ignored. There could be no trial by peers, no independent oversight of the process, no ability to review and challenge the evidence.

To my mind that is bordering on a fascist sense of ‘justice’; a bullying, blind, biased system that is not only antithetical to what I believe in as an free-thinking, law abiding Australian citizen, but absolutely incompetent as a means to meting out appropriate punishments. As Joe Gorman accurately stated when assessing the FFA’s banning process and the current Wilson-ignited furore:

It may be that FFA are furious that the banned list was leaked to the media, but ultimately, the original sin is in their own processes. By not having a clear appeals pathway for supporters from the beginning, fundamentally they loaded the gun and then left it lying around for the Telegraph to pick up and fire off a few rounds. They are accountable for this mess. (‘FFA’s concern for its own reputation outweighs that for its constituents’ The Guardian 30/11/15)

To make matters worse, in the last few days we’ve had a litany of conflicting, self-serving, unfulfilled BS spouted from the Dumb and Dumber of the FFA, de Bohun and Gallop, re there actually being an appeals process, but it needed tweaking.  First it was de Bohun:

“We will be formalising a process that if a banned spectator can prove to us through new evidence that there has been a mistake made, they can bring that evidence to the club,” De Bohun told reporters.”That club can then work with us and the fan to work through the issue. If it is proven that fan has not engaged in that behaviour, the ban will be overturned.” (FFA confirm formal appeal process for fan bans, SBS World Game, 29/11/15)

Funnily enough this statement only came out after both the Melbourne Victory’s North Terrace, and the Western Sydney Wanderers Red and Black Bloc staged march outs in their respective Round 8 matches, and CEOs like John Tsatsimas (WSW) and Ian Robson (MVFC) issued releases backing their clubs’ fans.

Then, like a straight man in a fifth rate Vaudeville comedy duo, there was David Gallop with a shambolic farrago of promises, red herrings and rhetoric:

“We have absolute discretion to decide who enters our grounds,” he said. “We don’t ban people trivially. These are serious offences, many assaults, many ignitions of flares, the throwing of projectiles and invading pitches.

“If there’s proof that you did not engage in anti-social behaviour, then of course the ban will be overturned. But it is not enough to say you are sorry, or you didn’t mean it.”

There would have to be “strong evidence” to clear a fan’s name, Gallop said. But he promised the FFA would “fine tune” the appeals process, after confusion due to what he described as “a communications problem” (David Gallop offers ‘fine-tuning’, but insists FFA has the right to ban fans, Joe Gorman ‘The Guardian 1/12/15)

So from not having to answer to ‘natural justice’, to ‘formalising a process’ to ‘we don’t ban people trivially’, Gallop and de Bohun have been all over the place like a dysentery victim’s shit at a baked bean dinner. How can I, an average Australian who likes to think that justice is more than just a slogan for those in power to throw out like a bone to a starving dog, an ordinary non-active football fan, have any faith in the FFA and their banning processes? If boycotting helps bring down this inchoate, unfair mess of a banning system, and also fits into my beliefs when it comes to justice, then so be it.

Another motivation for my boycotting the next Wanderers game is pride. I’m not talking seven deadly sins pride, bordering on an arrogance that has no concerns over my actions and how they may impact upon those who play in the red and black, or fellow supporters not just of my club but of all parts of our game. The kind of pride I feel in boycotting is simple; it’s feeling both valuable and valued in a way that the FFA can’t comprehend, when for them a fan is just a commercial commodity. Not a someone but a something, a metric, an advertising tool. It’s liberating and very satisfying to know that when it comes to an issue as big as the FFA’s continual efforts to drag my preferred sport and club through the mud, or fail to defend me and my comrades, I can stand up and say”No.”

This is the sort of pride one can revel in because it is not selfish and it is not motivated by personal gain. In some ways it is the natural corollary of finding pride in being a ‘westie’ through the agency of the Western Sydney Wanderers. It’s the kind of pride that I can share with my fellow fans who boycott because we want a better outcome for our sport; one that may have a longer legacy than just turning up week after week and doing the Poznan at the 80 minutes mark. It’s the type of pride you have when you find yourself doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone, challenging your own perceptions of yourself.

Perhaps I may be too esoteric in exploring the construct of pride within this situation, however the next trait that brings me into the realm of boycotting fans is one that is far more palpable, more sociable, more external. It’s respect. I have a strong and reasonably large group of friends that I have made through football and the Wanderers, and I respect each and every one of them. As most of them are boycotting it would be disrespectful of me to ignore or reject their actions. It doesn’t mean I will follow them blindly, sheep-like. However, I believe I know the characters of each of my close friends who wear the red and black at Pirtek, who share a stein with me at the Bavarian, who sit with me as we drive to and back from Newcastle or Gosford for away games. I respect their opinions, their attitudes, their characters. I would lose my own self-respect to not take these friendships and these good characters into account when making my decision to boycott.

I would like to note that I also respect those who will not be boycotting this weekend, if not because of their reasoning, but definitely because they have that right to support the sport and their clubs. Unlike the FFA and the haters who troll football, I have no scruples against offering best wishes to those who don’t fit the model of what is acceptable, and what is not (within the boundaries of socially sanctioned behaviour) when it comes to being a football supporter. If you attend the Wanderers versus the Roar match on Saturday, please do whatever you (responsibly) can to spur on our team for a sixth straight win. However I hope you can respect the choices I and thousands of other football fans are making when we don’t attend the matches this weekend.

My last motivation for boycotting this weekend is anger, and I’ve already touched upon this when discussing the FFA’s failures, plus the bilious shite spewed forth by the haters. I’d also like to add as a ‘reason to be angry’ the frustration of seeing errors and calumnies perpetrated by both the administrators of football and its critics in Australia repeated from years gone by. Have the FFA not learned from the fuck-ups and bullshit of their predecessors the Australian Soccer Federation and Soccer Australia? The incestuous, nepotistic regime that has grown in ‘new football’ during the Lowy years is beginning to look more and more like the same bumbling, self-enriching autocratic administrations that continually took ‘old soccer’ one step forward then two steps back. The inability of Gallop, de Bohun and both Frank and now Stephen Lowy to listen to the fans reminds me of the era of David Hill and his ‘de-wogification’ of late 90s Australian soccer. The strife riven years of the Sir Arthur George ascendancy in the 70s and 80s, when the NSL became first a promising rebirth of Australian football and then was brought low, seem eerily similar to what is happening now. It pisses me off that we are seeing yet more self-inflicted wounds being wrought on football when common sense and being more receptive to the fans could’ve been avoided so much of this shit happen again, and again, and again…

I’m also infuriated by the submissiveness of the FFA under the current leadership, as they have utterly failed to mount a vigorous and fact-based defence of my sport, fellow fans, and by direct association, me. I can’t say it any better than how Simon Hill frames the anger of being let down by Gallop:

When fans are labelled thugs, criminals, even likened to terrorists, you’d expect one of the main faces of the game to stand up and be counted. After all, those same supporters are the ones used incessantly in FFA marketing campaigns, to promote our point of difference.

We expected to see a football version of Braveheart, all fire and brimstone, ready to charge forward in defence of the games greatest asset.

What did we get? A man trotting at a sedate pace, armed with a damp sponge, subsequently used to gently mop the brow of the games accusers. This was appeasement of Neville Chamberlain proportions. (Simon Hill: David Gallop missed chance to defend football, now game is fighting with itself, Foxsports, 2/12/15)

'Peace in Our Time'...The Great Appeaser easing Code War tensions

‘Peace in Our Time’…The Great Appeaser easing Code War tensions

There are literally dozens of facts, arguments, histories and plain, simple stories from those at the coal face of football that Gallop could’ve used in rebutting the lies, exaggerations and hate spewed forth since the Sunday Telegraph went at football like an Afrikaaner’s police dog at the Soweto uprising in 1976. Only last Friday, November 27th 2015 a report from the NSW government advised that the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust stadia (i.e. SCG and Allianz Stadium was one of the most violent venues in the state, and of the 12 verifiable incidents that led to this situation four were during NRL games, three during cricket matches, and two each from union and AFL. Football, the supposed sport where thugs and suburban terrorists put families at threat of all manner of harm could only manage one incident (source)

It makes every passionate football fan’s blood boil that when we wanted someone to stick up for us, to tear down the scaremongering, inaccurate falsehoods and exaggerations about our sport, the man who should’ve lead the charge instead did a half-baked impersonation of Sir Robin the Not So Brave from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. He could not have been any more submissive if he had been written into the plot of ‘Venus in Furs’ by Sacher-Masoch. Instead of Churchillian defiance we got Mussolini standing outside the Villa Feltrinelli in his puppet Salo Republic circa 1945, presiding over a regime that had lost the support of all bar a few delusional hangers-on. Gallop failed to honour those very supporters who, without their passion, money, time and belief that has been committed to Australian football, would leave him and everyone else associated with the FFA and the A-League unemployed.

So when the Foxtel cameras scans around Wanderland this Saturday and seat upon seat upon seat is shown to be empty, there will be at least one of those vacancies that hopefully has been explained. I am boycotting because the push has come to shove.

Gallop Out

de Bohun Out

Reform or resign FFA.

The Socceroos: Ange’s Way Forward?

Like every other person who has watched the Socceroo debacle unfold since the losses against Brazil and France, I have some ideas as to how the team needs to progress and what we as a football country and culture need to see implemented by all the relevant powers-that-be. With Ange Postecoglou appointed as the next national team coach, here are my thoughts on how he may (with the assistance and support of the FFA) move us forward on the international football stage

  1. Ange’s agenda must be defined by the long term role he has been appointed to,. Whilst no one would want him to fail to record improved results in the coming months or at next years World Cup Finals in Brazil, the strategy must be to accept potential bad results now for long term gain further down the road. The FFA and Frank Lowy particularly don’t want to see the national team embarrassed, however if Postecoglou can begin a more youth focused approach over the next 12 months, improve the reputation of the team and get the best out of the squad in those crucial games next year then maybe some losses will be accepted more equanimously than those recently incurred during Holger’s regime.
  2. Postecoglou must work closer with the coaches of the junior Australian teams such as the Olyroos and the Joeys. In the last decade or so our youth players have not done as well in international tournaments as we have done in the past, and as we need to see in the future. The most recent examples of this decline were the defeats suffered by the U-19 team against Vietnam (5-1 in the AFC U-19 championship qualifiers), and the failure of the U-20 Young Socceroos to escape the group phase in the U-20 World Cup in Turkey earlier this year. The so-called Golden Generation was built upon a swathe of great young players who did well at junior World Cups and the Olympics (such as the 1992 Barcelona Olyroos), and there needs to be more connection across the entire board regarding the progress of our juniors to senior representation. Technical skills being introduced as part of the national training curriculum by Hans Berger are very important, however how is that being utilised by our national coaches as a means or a goal for squad development and success? Our national coach needs to be both informed of and informing this process; to all intents this never happened with any of the imported coaches like Osieck, Verbeek, Hiddink, Venables etc.
  3. The FFA must be willing to be both harder in its approach to critiquing the national team and its coach, but more flexible in giving Postecoglou the support and directions he needs. One of the failures seen under both Osieck and Verbeek was the scant regard given by either for the supposed goal of rejuvenation of the Socceroos, or the lack of definitive publically expressed directions regarding the the implementation of a football philosophy beyond winning as many games as could be achieved. Frank Lowy set parameters for recent coaches that brought concrete successes but they were hardly ones that will have long term benefits, nor were they a result of a cooperative and informed ethos within the teams, the coaching staff and the administrators joint collective. It’s a very fine line to walk, being both unobtrusive in the day-to-day coaching and management of the Socceroo squad, but being willing to call a spade a bloody shovel if things aren’t being done the way the FFA wants. This is a crucial challenge for Lowy, Gallop and others, and it will be interesting to see if the current or future FFA are up to the task.
  4. Too many of our best young prospects have been seduced by lucrative contracts and the lure of going to a European club into career choices that have led them down a cul-de-sac. Whilst much of the criticism aimed at Holger Osieck’s squad was rightly directed at the coach, a great deal of opprobrium needs to be directed at the players. Part of that critical reaction has to be targeted at younger players who went overseas to clubs that have either not served them well, or have led them into dead-end situations (either of their own or of the club’s making). Right now I believe there has to be a significant question over Tom Rogic’s decision to go to Celtic, although his is not the only example. Whilst Celtic are a substantial team in the SPL, his recent lack of fitness and more importantly inability to get quality game time is a major concern. It would seem to me he may have been better going to a Belgian, Dutch, or maybe if possible a Bundesliga I or II team, as per Robbie Kruse or kiwi Marcus Rojas. I would argue the likes of Matthew Spiranovic and Dario Vidosic lost a great deal of their prospective growth and momentum as key young Socceroos for this campaign because of badly managed overseas excursions early in their career. Even younger players like Eli Babalj and Aaron Mooy have had misadventures in Europe, whilst those that are a little older like Brent McGrath, Ruben Zadkovich, Nathan Burns and Bruce Djite have also learned from their foreign sojourns and come back to the A-League. Whether any or all of these players could have been or maybe will be major Socceroos in the future is debatable, however I firmly believe that longer and more consistent involvement in the old NSL was a hallmark of the development of our so-called ‘golden generation’ and in the last 10 years there has been an inordinate rush for much of our talent to look for foreign clubs as their first or most important early signing. It would do the Socceroos cause some good I believe for the FFA to try and manage the timing and targeting of foreign adventures in a cooperative manner that doesn’t leave players looking back at wasted times or unsuccessful engagements overseas. Ange must be ready to be up front with players looking to make less advantageous career choices, when talking to them regarding their national team selection. If Postecoglou can help inform and guide these career choices then that will be very helpful for the development of the Socceroos. Perhaps with Ange’s deep knowledge of the A-League and junior talent, and the coaches who are involved in the development of younger players he may have more impact as an advocate for more careful foreign club choices.
  5. Concomitant with this aspect of misadventures in timing when committing to overseas clubs is the actual league which those players, whether young or old, are playing. Naturally everyone wants to play in the best European leagues, however identifying which ones these are and how easy they are to crack is always difficult. In my opinion the four giant pillars of UEFA (EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A) are the obvious leagues we would want our current and potential Socceroos to play in. Within that structure I believe it would be more beneficial if we had more players in the Spanish and German leagues, insofar as they both have incredibly high standards and reflect two differing football philosophies that I think our players can learn from. For all its money and power the EPL to me seems to offer less, although it has to be said the money and reputation of the league is a powerful lure to those who want to further their careers. The problem I see however is that the great majority of those players we have trying to break into the EPL are languishing in Championship, League One or lower clubs, and may never escape the perennial battle of promotion and relegation. Now in light of this our best players who are heading to Europe may be better served by spending more time in those leagues they can get regular quality game time in, and at this time it looks as if the Belgian, Dutch and Swiss leagues are where they should be aiming. Mat Ryan, Jason Davidson, Adam Sarota and Tommy Oar have already shown the way and it looks as if Oliver Bozanic and Dario Vidosic are following up on this. I wouldn’t discount the efforts of the players in the Bundesliga II either, specifically Rukavytsya and Leckie, and there is hope that these guys will form a significant part of our next generation Socceroos. If the next national coach and the FFA can work to facilitate these kinds of pathways in Europe then that will be of greater benefit than what we see right now, with a raft of players in nondescript Middle Eastern leagues or in China.
  6. The non-European leagues need to also be looked at from a national team perspective and where possible have Postecoglou and the FFA again try and work with the players to help them avoid the dross and find the quality they need to develop. The Middle Eastern leagues have been the graveyard of quite a few Socceroos (arguably with the exception of Mark Bresciano) and unless that player is looking for a superannuated career end and has nothing further to add to the national team the coach and administration should be doing all in their powers to discourage any current or potential Socceroo from going there. China is also a problem, in that the CSL has the sniff of too much cash, too many old stars and some major corruption issues to deal with. Comparing the CSL with it’s more senior Asian counterparts in South Korea and Japan is like chalk and cheese. The K-League has potential but it’s the J-League where any Australians should be focusing if they can’t crack Europe and aren’t back home. Standards are higher than the other Asian leagues plus some European competitions. Josh Kennedy has certainly not gone backwards since he started playing for Nagoya Grampus. Away from Asia I would love to see some players head to South America to play in Argentina, Brazil or Chile, as I am a firm believer we need more of the Latin flair in our national style of play. However the cultural barriers as well as the sheer murderous competition for players in those leagues must be taken into account. Finally the MLS could be another promising league to work in and with, and whilst Tim Cahill is the only major success story right now from an Australian perspective I can see in the future the Americans making more of their competition. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to look there for opportunities down the road.
  7. Ange Postecoglou must find a way to either coordinate and/or polish off the technical attributes of younger players coming through the new national curriculum and have them performing regularly well in the national team, within the general frameworks set up by the FFA, or take a top-down approach to the improvement of our players. Having some knowledge of his work with most recently the Victory and the Roar  I think we can assume he will be taking the former approach. Robbie Kruse would be perhaps his star pupil with some other notable achievements from players like Matt McKay, Connor Pain and Mitch Nichols. Postecoglou has shown a propensity for working up a squad that meets his tactical vision whilst inculcating and refining certain skill sets or qualities, which fits more into a longer term vision built around a deeper foundation than simply assembling what are supposedly the best players and going from there. It will be interesting to see how his preferred style of play melds with the tactical principles being taught through junior structures under Hans Berger’s technical guidelines.
  8. Our new coach must also be willing to take on overseas and domestic clubs as well as the FFA itself to protect and enforce his vision for the national team. As an Australian he will encounter nominally more resistance from particularly European league clubs if and when he wants to use one of their Aussie signings, than someone like a Guus Hiddink would. He may also be held in a slightly less respected position by the FFA, partly because there is an aura still around the foreign ‘gun’ coach as well as Ange’s history both as a junior Socceroos coach and his past media commitments. He will need to be strong in voice and forthright in communicating what he wants and how he is going to get there to the key parties directing his squad’s evolution.
  9. Thankfully Postecoglou should be something Pim Verbeek never was and Holger Osieck less so, and that is fully cogniscant of the capabilities of the A-League players. As demonstrated by Ricki Herbert and the All Whites at the last World Cup Finals there is plenty of competitive quality in the ranks of the local league, and there were plenty of good signs in quite a few of the players given a go by Holger in recent years from the A-League. Duke, Juric, Milligan, Zullo, Brillante, de Silva, Mooy, Pain, McKay, Galekovic, Spiranovic and Antonis are just some of the A-League players who might be given more consistent runs with or will continue to be part of  the national team. If Postecoglu can take the bits and pieces team that played under Holger at the two East Asian Football Federation tournaments and use those players to add depth and competition for other more established or foreign league based players he will be accomplishing something very valuable.
  10. Postecoglou must be given free reign to develop his own support staff team. The problems with Holger’s coaching must not be purely his burden alone; Aurelio Vidmar and the conditioning team must also be looked at and if found wanting on past achievements or potential with Ange then the new coach must pick who he wants in there.
  11. In what is a huge plus for his future role as Socceroo coach Postecoglou has a very prominent and well respected voice in the media in Australia, and he has a lot of goodwill in the back from both his preceding clubs in the A-League fans, and I would suggest a lot of his colleagues in the game. His style of play and his results are but part of his public image which is very important to the Socceroos future, if not crucial like issues of the transition of players and on field success are.

Let’s be blunt; the next few years could be pretty bloody and not too enjoyable for those who want to see lots of Socceroos wins. The stocks in quality junior players demanding inclusion in the national team are lower than they should be. We have still immense problems with the transitional phase of our squad and we also have stylistic and tactical challenges that may take years to resolve. Our competitors in Asia and further afield aren’t happy to just watch and wait; they too are working on new squads, coaches, systems that in the specific case of Japan demonstrates the growing gulf. Every national team and football administration goes through these patches, and as the Hungarians, Scots and other past champion teams understand it’s easier to lose national football momentum and status than it is to gain it. We are on the cusp of something rather unique now, when the domestic game in Australia is roaring ahead and the Socceroos are the ones in need of help. However I believe unlike his predecessors and perhaps his rivals Ange Postecoglou can take our game and our national team into a new era, where we no longer ride the cycle of just qualifying for the World Cup Finals, but instead look to excel across the board, in as many arenas as we can compete in. Like thousands of other football fans in Australia I wish him good luck.

The End of The Osieck Era

Well, for the #HolgerOut crew it’s mission accomplished. Which now leaves the far more hard questions that need to be answered open for review, discussion, evaluation.

However, before that complex and multi-faced dilemma is confronted I think it is only fair to look at the past regime under Holger and try and make some sense of where we were, what happened to get us to this point, and the context of Oiesck’s dismissal. I must state as a starting point that I genuinely liked him and unlike many of his critics actually met him and talked about the team and players. I am also happy to put my bias towards any coach who actually gets us to the World Cup finals on the table, considering many who arguably were more charismatic, more responsive to the media or the fans, had better squads etc didn’t. On the other hand I agree 100% with his dismissal at this moment.

So, starting with the obvious question, why was Holger picked and what was the mission he was handed. I honestly believe that the most crucial aspect of his selection as coach was not necessarily his credentials with teams like the West Germans in 1990, Canada or Urawa Red Diamonds. It is a matter of record he had some success with these teams, although that with the 1990 World Cup champions was as an assistant coach to Franz Beckenbauer. Therein lies the crucial factor in his selection, insofar as the close relationship around the time of his appointment between FFA head Frank Lowy and the German legend (and FIFA executive committee member) Beckenbauer.

I believe it is valid to think that Osieck’s appointment, which was guided by personal conversations between Beckenbauer and Lowy was probably influenced by the then FFA bid on behalf of Australai for the right to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. I am not saying that it was the sole reason, as Osieck did have some important indicators that related to his potential value for the Socceroos. However as in any situation when the candidates are equal and you have a very powerful referee who may influence your other activities, it is going to be natural to place their candidate ahead of the pack. If I was being very cynical I might bandy around phrases like nepotism, however that is unfair or inaccurate without any concrete evidence. I do believe it’s fair to say there is a slight smell about the original choice however, and I note today that Craig Foster has raised at least the insubstantial nature of the process :

Irrespective of any views on his effectiveness, or otherwise, Osieck was appointed reportedly because Frank Lowy called Franz Beckenbauer for advice, which is hardly a rigorous process. (source)

Now when Osieck was appointed there had already been a reaction against the previous national coaching structures, due in no small part to the failures of the two men who took over the Socceroos after the 2006 World Cup Finals and Guus Hiddinck’s successful reign. Graham Arnold was deemed a failure because of his period as interim coach during the 2007 Asian Football Confederation Cup, and Pim Verbeek had shown an almost monomaniacal desire to offend everyone in the local game. Verbeek had been unwilling to bend to any official or unofficial desire for the national team to be drawn upon either A-League players or transition through a new generation of players. His results during the qualification process through to the 2006 World Cup Finals was efficient and arguably the best ever seen in Australian football history. However at no time did he endear himself to the majority of Australian football fans, journalists and local players thanks to his attitudes, and when the calamity of the 4-0 rout against Germany in South Africa happened he was a dead man walking. Having achieved his key task and got the Socceroos to South Africa there was no more requirement for his duties.

As a point of reference here is the statement from FFA supremo Frank Lowy upon Holger’s appointment:

“They must have demonstrated the capacity to rebuild teams and to work with young footballers and develop them into internationally competitive players, be prepared to work with the national technical director and his department to enhance the elite player pathway program, have proven experience at international level and success in Asia and commit to be based in Australia and work with Australian staff to develop our own leaders of the future. 

Holger clearly meets these criteria and comes highly recommended as he has worked at all levels of the game and will combine his coaching expertise and experience with an ability to contribute to the future development of young players and in particular will act as mentor to Australian coaches as we develop our own national coaches for the future,” (source)

When Osieck was appointed he made it clear he was not going to be as dismissive of the local game and the domestic capabilities of the A-League. He agreed to actually live here, and from the get-go he made plenty of the right moves and sounds to the relevant people at the start of his work in the post. Issuing statements  like the following”I’ve seen a great deal of good, exciting games in the league and some good individual performances … I’m enjoying it’ and this quote showed Osieck’s more welcome attitude to the domestic game:

“That is why I opted to live in Australia. I’m not a distant coach, coaching a team via computer or laptop, I choose to live in Australia to be close to people, to get an idea about the excellent potential for development and I’m definitely interested. Wherever I go I try to promote the domestic league.” (source)

Over the three year regime of Holger Osieck he made plenty of effort to engage with the A-League and there can be little criticism of his willingness to integrate the leading A-League players into his squads. I recall from my conversation with him that he was well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Aaron Mooy’s capabilities, and the selection of plenty of A-League players such as Mitchell Duke, Tomi Juric, Jade North, Mark Milligan, Mat Ryan, Michael Thwaite, Archie Thompson among others shows he had a far greater depth of understanding of the best attributes of the local game than his immediate predecessor. Osieck was often seen at A-League games and in hindsight he will be seen to have been the coach to have laid the basis for many a future Socceroo’s international career. For prime facie evidence I would cite the two squads that played in the East Asian Football Federation’s Cup tournaments, the first being the 2012 qualifying tournament in Hong Kong, the second the finals in 2013 and in South Korea. Here is an incomplete list of young players (those under the age of 24) who made their debuts under Osieck in the national team in those two tournaments:

  • Eli Babalj
  • Connor Pain
  • Tomi Juric
  • Mitchell Duke
  • Josh Brillante
  • Aaron Mooy
  • Aziz Behich
  • Trent Sainsbury
  • Craig Goodwin
  • Mark Birghitti
  • Mat Ryan

Now of course giving such young players as those cited above a start in their Socceroo careers is not necessarily going to mean anything unless they get meaningful exposure to frequent game time, and these young players have not as yet made a significant contribution to the national team’s progress in arguably more substantive games. However there has been a couple of younger players (most notably Robbie Kruse, Tommy Oar and arguably Tom Rogic) who have been given opportunities and  mostly stepped up. So to some degree Osieck has met Lowy’s expectations as per his announcement back in 2010.

The problem is that for all these debuts for younger players and all these pathways established for a development of a new team since 2010, the bulk of the heavy lifting when it came time for meaningful World Cup qualifiers, or in several major internationals, was left to the responsibility of senior Socceroos who were part of at least the 2010 squad if not the 2006 outfit. Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Mark Schwarzer, Brett Holman, Josh Kennedy, Luke Wilkshire, Mark Milligan, Dario Vidosic, David Carney and Nikita Rukavytsya are still being seen in the green and gold as late as the last qualifier against Iraq in Sydney, or the friendlies which lead to Osieck’s demise against Braizl and France. So in a context where results were seen as the driving force youth was mostly sacrificed for the sake expediency.

It also needs to be said that many of the younger players who should be driving the national team’s progress in the last year have not been able to rise as high or as quickly as everyone as hoped, putting Osieck in the invidious situation as to having to look for answers from some of those old hands who he should have been able to ease out in other circumstances. Two games are very informative as examples of this dilemma,; the 2-2 draw against Oman was saved through the efforts of Tim Cahill and Brett Holman, whilst the final qualifier against Iraq in Sydney came down to a goal scored by Josh Kennedy from a Mark Bresciano cross. It may be that younger players may have not got us into the invidious situation of having the older guys need to ‘rescue’ the Socceroos in the first place in these games, but no one can deny that the results were earned by men who had dozens of games under their belts.

So there was the the Catch-22 situation that Osieck was faced with; he was asked to develop pathways and begin the transition of the team which he did to some effect, however with the importance of results in the World Cup qualifiers and expectations of wins against most opponents in other games driving most of the FFA’s agenda and much of the public perception of the Socceroos, he could never continually satisfy every stakeholder. The praise that he and the squad received for a generally excellent AFC Cup in 2011 where the Socceroos made their first final of a major confederation tournament, or the win over Germany in Germany (admittedly with Die Mannschaft fielding a sub-strength team), or for that matter the performances against  Japan in the World Cup qualifiers, the demolition of Saudi Arabia…all these results meant nothing when the cumulative effect of a myriad of factors led to the Brazil and France debacles of the last month.

It has to be said that probably the most striking flaw in Osieck’s management of the squad was that he never seemed to be able to right answers to positional problems that perhaps needed more revolutionary thinking from another coach who could have taken the youth route more consistently. The back four for the Socceroos has been without doubt our recent downfall, and much of the problems lie with the age of Lucas Neill and the absence of a quality dedicated left back. It would be remiss of me to not refer to the continual use of Matt McKay and David Carney in this position, where neither were truly at home. McKay has been probably the most ubiquitous left back however he made his mark in the 2011 AFC Cup through his work in the midfield, not at the back. David Carney is simply incapable of sustained fitness and quality play in a position he is not really suited to. Which leaves the only other options being the likes of Rhys Williams (who has had some serious injury issues), Michael Zullo (who has left FC Utrecht on loan to go back to Adelaide Reds), Jason Davidson (who plays with Eredivisie side Heracles and who has had a less than spectacular start to his Socceroos career), Shane Lowry (who for some reason never made it into Osieck’s starting team) and Aziz Behich (who had some useful game time in the EAFF Cup tourneys).

Then there is the Socceroo captain, Lucas Neill, who in the past few seasons has struggled for regular game time in reasonable quality leagues and teams, and at 36 has definitely slowed. No one can say he hasn’t served his country well, however there is also a pressing argument for his time in the team to be brought to close at the age of 36 for a younger centre back who won’t impede the shape of the defence through lack of space. In this spot I believe Matthew Spiranovic’s development is crucial, as he should be a natural successor to Neill. However, as per other candidates for other positions in the Holger era Spira has not always been able to press his case strongly enough with quality game time in quality leagues.

I could examine every position and every existing or potential candidate for those positions and come up with a myriad of solutions, comments, queries or questions and still not get anything right. Therefore it has to be said that Holger’s situation was far harder than armchair critics like me. Throw in the problematic directives either explicitly or implicitly issued by the FFA under Frank Lowy, and is it any wonder Osieck never could find a settled squad that performed at its peak in the vast majority of circumstances? With injuries or performance levels down in some vital candidates Holger seemed to run into selection cul de sacs again and again, and whilst he was able to cobble together a World Cup qualification the next phase in the Socceroo’s development was badly hamstrung.

Perhaps the most potent or emblematic Socceroo who has risen and fallen through the Holger period is Brett Holman. The former Eredivisie and EPL midfielder was without doubt the find of the Socceroo’s 2010 campaign in South Africa. In the period 2010-11 there were arguably no other players in the squad who has the industry of effort, the skill sets and the ability to turn a game (except perhaps Cahill or Kewell), and Holman should have been one of if not the senior ‘next generation’ players to carry on the legacy of the earlier 2006 squad. However since his move to the EPL and Aston Villa the wheels have well and truly fallen off Holman’s career, and he has returned to a similar position of ridicule that saw him pilloried in social media as ‘Lolman’. The brilliant strike he scored with against Oman in the 2-2 draw in Sydney earlier this year was if anything an imitation of what he should be now, and having seen and met him before that game I can say with some justification that Brett is simply bereft of any confidence in his capabilities or skill. To compound this misreable situation with his move to the UAE domestic league, one can’t sense his career as a Socceroo is probably at an end. Unfit, down on motivation and confidence, displaying only fleeting glimpses of his once very good skills, Holman has been one of the leitmotifs of Osieck’s time in charge of the Socceroos.

So, with a job description that had arguably paradoxical tensions (i.e. World Cup qualification versus youth transition), positional problems and issues with players not being either fit enough or good enough to sustain regularly good performances, a well-intentioned but haphazard youth policy, an early period of success followed by mediocre to horrendously bad results, the senior next Generation players like Holman not really coming on, and finally a personally autocratic style of communicating with the media which certainly put many people off, is it any wonder that Osieck was up for the sacking he got last Saturday morning? Caught between the cross hairs of a football culture in Australia that has developed dramatically increased awareness of what the fans want and don’t want, where the mere act of World Cup qualification is no longer seen as enough, and where the A-League is becoming a senior partner in the public face of football in Australia, Osieck was literally left up shit creek without a paddle by the time the whistle blew in Paris. The tide of football history in Australia turned in the post-2006 era most notably under Holger Osieck and for a man who should have been able to find a new course his ultimate failure was he actually navigated an incomprehensible or effective path for the Socceroo’s future. Obviously any coach lives and dies by the amount of wins they accumulate and perhaps just as importantly how they get those wins. Osieck’s wins and especially his losses seemed to never really indicate that he could take us further.

The verdict on his tenure as coach will be without doubt cruel and arguably unfair, however his regime reflects a missed opportunity for the Socceroos. Our game has gone a long way forward since the dim, dark days of the 80s and 90s, but it now demands more and Holger Osieck could not meet this challenge. Here’s hoping the next man to be our national team’s mentor can rise to the challenge.

The Perils of Active Support In 2013

In one of the most controversial and provocative stories to have affected the entire sport of football since the turn of the century, it was reported by Melbourne’s Herald Sun that the FFA and the Victorian police, in conjunction with the Melbourne Victory and part of its active supporter base was looking at some stringent and draconian measures to end so-called ‘soccer hooliganism’ (see the story here). This has without doubt led to much consternation, anger, debate, fear, loathing and cast a very heavy pall over the eve of what should be the greatest A-League season yet. For example, the discussion on the West Sydney Football forum exploded into reams of posts within a very short time of its opening. You can visit it here, and as you will see the reaction of some of the most strident active supporters of any football club in the A-League, if not in Australia’s overall sporting community has been nothing but vociferous, angry and hurt. Yet the changes proposed and promoted are (as yet) to impact directly upon any RBB or Wanderers supporter.

I’ve already posted in that thread some of my opinions and thoughts, however I’d like to expand upon and add where I feel necessary points that I believe need to be considered. I expect that in some places my opinions won’t be welcomed by one side of the debate or the other. Let me make one thing clear however; whilst I am not an active RBB member nor do I see myself as a flag bearer for either their attitudes nor those of the FFA, I do see myself as a concerned football fan who is opposed to all forms of self-destructive and extreme reactions that are utterly disassociated with the most important mission for all involved (i.e. the growth and development of football in this country into its potential status as a premier sport with global significance).

My first issue with both sides of the debate is that already trench lines are being drawn and the combatants seem to be hunkering down without any meaningful dialogue. Some of this problem is due to the basic passionate nature of the sport and its active supporters. Those who love football to the depth and magnitude as demonstrated by the RBB, the North Terrace, the Cove, the Squadron etc etc are inherently fierce in their loyalty to each other, the club and the sport. We are not talking about people who might cheer a lengthy rally in tennis with a few ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ chants; the active fans in the A-League take passion to a level not seen anywhere else in any sport in Australia. In many ways they parallel and either (depending on your point of view) copy or honour overseas groups of a similar ilk. There are political, cultural and social bases to the active A-league fans that someone from Australian Rules, Netball, Rugby League etc would never recognise within their own fan strata.

Concomitant with that is the (I believe mostly) justifiable sense of persecution experienced felt not just by some active football fans in Australia, but I would suggest almost all supporters with a reasonably extensive history of following our sport in Australia. I have referred to before and will continue to do so  in future the excellent paradigm of understanding Australia’s football heritage and culture as described by Johnny Warren’s autobiography, ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Pooftas’. The constant message that Anglo-Saxon male Australian sporting culture delivered for decades was that football was only played by ethnics; Balts, Lebos, Wogs, Gypos, Krauts, Dagoes, etc etc. It was a nancy’s game, a soft sport, a football code played only by those not tough enough, not manly enough to be able to play the more socially and culturally acceptable forms of football where hard men would bash the living shit out of each other. Seen as effeminate, alien, unAustralian and perhaps worst of all we were any bloody good at it, there was and still is an historical burden for football in this country that unfairly judges almost every aspect of the sport.

This unwanted and undeserved historical stigma has been felt most keenly over the years by the fans who are most passionate, most devoted, most dedicated to football, and whether it be those active fans from the days of the NSL or those in the ranks of the North Terrace, RBB etc they are the ones who most quickly and most aggressively reject anything that smacks of this age-old persecution of football down under. This not unwarranted siege mentality has been created not through some willful social movement of antagonism towards the rest of supposed ‘civilised’ Australian society and sport,  but through an unfortunate and undeserved course of historical incidents influenced quite often by forces hostile to football. There is no doubt that part of this most recent reaction against active fans is partly due to hostility within sectors of (in this case Victorian) power elites that are actively seeking to negate aspects of football that are not compatible to their vision of acceptable or approved sporting culture.

So straight away, before anyone can find a rational and respectful discourse between the involved parties there are strong emotions, long-held antagonisms, feelings of unwarranted discrimination on one hand and hypocritical misunderstanding on the other. However this isn’t the whole story, not by a long shot. My discussion so far can only be described as a broad and loose contextualisation of just one side of this fierce debate. There are many more to take into account.

Before there is any crocodile tears over how badly the active fans have been treated over and over again let’s not shy away from some of the uglier aspects of individual supporters and some cultural issues that have at best made our sport hard to understand from an outsiders point of view, and at worst vilified and hated as the venue of the worst types of soccer hooliganism. It is far to simple for active fans no matter what their club to go on the attack against the police, the media, other sports, the FFA, the clubs, without casting a critical eye over those behaviours that seem to perennially crop up at the game. They may not be isolated to football and they may not be welcomed by every active fan, but let’s call a spade a fucking shovel…some idiots who rip flares, king-hit other fans, call out racist or offensive chants, who think it’s funny or appropriate to pelt the pitch with refuse because a decision doesn’t go the fans way are doing no one any bloody favours.

Of course it is fair to point out that violence, abuse, public mischief and acts of vandalism can happen anywhere and any time. However in almost every other circumstance or context where these things happen there isn’t a pre-existing stigma attached to the people involved. We can all find ready references to brawls, offensive and loutish behaviour, general acts of public bastardry at almost every sport in Australia and overseas. I recall with great clarity some of the worst spectators were those who got a belly full of piss at them at the one day cricket at the SCG and decided to lob full cans of beer or bottles of soft drink at other spectators or the players themselves. It wouldn’t take too long to find through Google video and text detailing fisticuffs at AFL games, at the NRL.

The problem is that football and its most passionate supporters in this country are carrying a burden of past errors and past misconceptions that make it all far too easy for those who either don’t understand our game or have an active agenda against the code to then use every smoke bomb, every obscene chant, every wrecked chair as a casus belli for yet another war on ‘soccer thugs’. Is it any wonder that the Herald Sun and other organs of the News Limited media can go to town on the sport and its most passionate fans when complete morons disregard both basic social norms and the law and commit acts of vandalism.

Of course these prats are in the minority, however by their actions they are keeping the stigmas alive for the rest of us. It annoys the crap out of me that in social media kids who think it is tough or cool to have photos of themselves throwing smokies at games within the stands, without any sense of responsibility or reflecting on what the rest of us have to live with in terms of our reputations. For fuck’s sake it took the sport decades to gain some degree of acceptance in this country after years of clashes between fans, mismanagement and maladministration of the sport at all levels, overseas reports of thuggish behaviour in Europe, internal and external fights across every strata of the game, and there are still neanderthals out there that make it far too easy for the sport’s haters to point their fickle fingers at all of who love football and write us off as hooligans.

Another point to consider is that the current football administrators are in an almost impossible situation, partly of their own creation, partly thrust upon them. Everyone who is party to this debate must recognise above everything else this entire situation is governed by what is legally acceptable and what is not. We can debate until the cows come home the hows, the whys, the wherefores of those laws, but if (as is happening in Victoria) the police are putting into place a program aimed at curtailing what they perceive as football’s inherent problems with active supporters the FFA cannot simply say ‘fuck off’.

This doesn’t excuse the FFA from the moral and social contract it has with the fans, in acting as an advocate for them and attempting where possible in representing their interests where best possible. It is to so many football fans despair that we see our administration either unwilling or unable to be our voice when bodies like Andrew Demetriou’s AFL can dominate any political or legal debate. In a sport where the most passionate fans feel most aggrieved because of the attitudes of those who don;t follow our glorious game, to have the administration buckle or wilt under hypocritical pressure is one of the most egregious examples of cowardice and ignorance. It hurts the most that the FFA seems unable to communicate to either side effectively (as demonstrated most egregiously with the use of Kevin Muscat as the face of this new fan discipline agenda).

However it must be said that the FFA is probably in the most precarious of positions when it comes to being the public face of any major sport in Australia, and unless the dynamics of the sporting landscape change drastically it will be hard put to surmount these handicaps that direct issues such as the aggressive policing of active fans. There is a huge political, social and media industry built up around the two leading football codes in Australia, and each one of these particularly in the last year have lurched through crisis after crisis, scandal after scandal. Both on and off field the AFL and NRL have had to try and surmount some of the most self-destructive behaviours of players and fans and administrators alike in any sport. However each of these two codes have the billion dollar plus TV revenue streams, the acceptance of their political status in all three tiers of government, the institutional acceptance of their cultures across many organs of the state. We have seen AFL players in state and federal government, we have seen police officers playing first grade rugby league. Even Rugby Union is more at home with the power elites thanks to the relationship between the sport and political leaders like our current Prime Minister.

The FFA on the other hand is stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, without the political, social, media or economic power to demand more respect whilst escaping the burdens of past problems, at a time when it is overseeing the most brilliant flourishing of the game in its Australian history. Like the chicken and the egg dilemma, the only way the FFA can be more assertive as the voice of football and its fans in mainstream Australian culture is when it becomes rich, powerful, integral to political structures of this country and the sporting landscape, and it can’t do this as long as those same power elites set the public agenda for what is acceptable and what isn’t. With the domestic game still living in a hand-to-mouth environment financially the administrators will continue to take some kicks it doesn’t deserve.

It must also be mentioned that the cancer within the FFA is also not necessarily of its own making (though it may have facilitated it) thanks to the specific provincial problems being experienced by football in Victoria. It would be far harder for the crackdown on football’s active supporters to gain traction there if Victorian football wasn’t riven with internal division in the administration of the game, within active fan groupings, the obvious problems recently brought to light regarding corruption in the VPL and the legacy of illegal acts at past games. Would the FFA be in the position they are now if the king-hit at the Heart vs Wanderers game had not happened? Would the media and the police down in that state have such an easy target if it wasn’t for the failures of the clubs and administrators to talk to each other, sanction the worst incidents and promote and facilitate the best aspects of the active support? Have the owners of the Victory and Heart made the FFA’s job far harder than it need be by helping to create an atmosphere of loathing to very party? I can’t answer these questions, but surely they deserved to be asked before anyone launches a missile of vitriol at FFA HQ.

It must be said that while active fans, the FFA, the clubs and the average punters try and find a way through this confronting issue the overwhelming evidence is our sport is a safe, friendly, enjoyable, open and viable part of our society, our culture. The growth of football we have seen in the recent past reflects a challenge to the existing power elites of sport and media in this country and by either kowtowing in subservience or going all-out confrontational is going to do no parties invested in our sport any favours. It could be argued that this reaction is in fact a recognition of the nascent power of our sport, a backlash against it when it is beginning to make inroads. I don’t doubt part of this issue is at heart a PR storm-in-a-teacup, with the News Limited press in Victoria driving an agenda that cannot be refuted by fans stating honest and simple facts. I could rely on conspiracy theories and make reference to the timing of the Herald Sun article. There is also the definite integration of resentment against those who don’t understand our game with resentment against the FFA who supposedly do.

I’m not sure if there is a quick and ready solution, however I am very certain that many more hours of offline and online debate and argument will follow. I understand the desire coming from many of the most vociferous active fans to basically turn their back on any figure of authority or power in this situation. However at day’s end will their views win out over the police, over the government, over the sporting culture of a country that has always had a problematic understanding of football. And can groups of active supporters be held responsible for or coordinate the actions of every individual that may form part of football’s constituency? Is it appropriate for the RBB or North Terrace or whoever to lay siege to the FFA and the organs of state out of some kind of groupthink, when similarly general attitudes are taken up by the supposed suppressors? Is it possible for the 2500 active fans in the northern bays of Wanderland to stop that one person who decides throwing a flare is all part of the game, and he or she may have no affiliation whatsoever with the RBB?

I honestly do not know. My hopes are that dialogue and fact are the foundations of any response to this situation, and extremism on any side of the debate is minimised. I love football far too much to see anyone hijack it for their own polarising ideological aims, whether they be an anti-football hack journo, a copper with self-esteem issues, an official stuck in bureaucratic brown-nosing or an Ultra who would rather burn a flare with righteous indignation over their pure and true football passion. We can all love football differently, and we all deserve respect so long as we do nothing to encourage its antithesis.