The Unspoken Histories That Still Hurt (or How Australian Football Fell Between the Narrative Gaps): Part Two

In my previous post I attempted to explore the recent culture war being waged against football by certain demagogues within mainstream Australian media, and by those vociferous in supporting or echoing them through social media, newpapers, etc, within the context of how the sport’s Anglo-Australian history has been forgotten or is ignored. The rabid virulence propagated by the likes of Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones betrays not just their underlying xenophobia, but also their blinkered ignorance that WASPs like them have played football, watched it, enjoyed it and actually prefer it to other, in their view more ‘Australian’ football codes.

I would like to continue this analysis on a second theme, based on another historical ignorance or forgetting, which in this case is not based on what has occurred in Australian football’s tortured history. No; in this post I want to tackle the hypocrisy of the attitudes shown by those who continually live under the spectre of, or circulate with vivid passion, the villainous ‘soccer hooligan’, when it comes to crowd violence and illegal behaviour. Whether it be someone like Jones linking your common or garden member of the RBB or Squadron or North Terrace to terrorists in Paris, or NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart talking about ‘grubby pack animals’, there is a willful demonisation of the worst aspects of the (very small incidents in number) of anti-social behaviour at football games, yet over the decades other sports have had their moments of violence forgiven, excused, or even celebrated.

To illustrate the ignorant prejudice held against football in this country when it comes to violence, here is a random post from Twitter:

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Annie does her best to get in her two (cheap) shots, vis-a-vis the non-Australian aspect of the sport of football plus the ‘riots at the soccer’ that result in ‘destruction and deaths’. I wonder how comfortable she would feel reading this about cricket’s history of riots and destruction:

India v Pakistan, Asian Test Championship, first Test, 1999
The first three days of the Test passed without incident. On the fourth afternoon, chasing 279, India were well placed on 143 for 2. Sachin Tendulkar was on 7 when he clipped Wasim Akram to deep midwicket. He took two runs and was on his way back for a third when substitute Nadeem Khan hit the stumps with his throw from the deep. In the ordinary course of events it would have been a straightforward third run, even with the direct hit, but Tendulkar collided with Shoaib Akhtar, who was waiting close to the stumps to gather the return, and as a result was out of his ground, even though he may well have been just inside the crease at the moment of the collision. Steve Bucknor referred it to the third umpire, KT Francis, who, after a long delay, gave him out. The huge crowd erupted and started chanting “cheat, cheat”, pelting Shoaib with bottles and other objects as he returned to his position in the deep.

Eventually the umpires took the players from the field for an early tea and it was only after personal pleas from Tendulkar and ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya that the match was able to resume. However, trouble broke out again on the final day when India were reduced to 231 for 9. Wisden reported: “Spectators started burning newspapers in the stands and hurled stones, fruit and plastic bottles on to the field. The match was held up for over three hours as about 65,000 people were removed by police and security men. The crowd’s anger was still concentrated on Tendulkar’s run-out, but there was little viciousness in the riot; it was born of disappointment rather than anti-Pakistan feeling..” It only took Pakistan 10 balls to complete their 46-run win, but they did so in a surreal atmosphere of only 200 spectators in a ground that could hold 90,000.

Of course Annie and her fellow anti-soccer-hooligan advocates put such a disgraceful example of crowd behaviour in the context of ‘well it doesn’t happen here’. Funnily enough, our very first Australian Prime Minister had a brush with cricket hooliganism:

“To resume my account of the disturbance on the ground on the Saturday. I asked Gregory on what grounds the objection was raised, and he said at first general incompetence, but afterwards admitted that the objection was raised on account of the decision in Murdoch’s case. I implored Gregory, as a friend, and for the sake of the NSW Cricket Association, which I warned him would be the sufferer by it, not to raise the objection, but he refused to take my view of the case. Looking back in the midst of this conversation, I found the ground had been rushed by the mob, and our team was being surrounded, I at once returned to the wickets, and in defending Coulthard from being attacked was struck by some ‘larrikin’ with a stick. Hornby immediately seized this fellow, and in taking him to the pavilion was struck in the face by a would-be deliverer of the ‘larrikin’, and had his shirt nearly torn off his back. He, however, conveyed his prisoner to the pavilion in triumph. For some thirty minutes or so I was surrounded by a howling mob, resisting the entreaties of partisans and friends to return to the pavilion until the field was cleared, on the grounds that if our side left the field the other eleven could claim the match. I don’t suppose that they would have done so, but I determined to obey the laws of cricket, and may add that for one hour and a half I never left the ground, surrounded the whole time, with two short intervals, by some hundreds of people. At about five o’clock the crowd was cleared off somehow. I then took the opinion of the Eleven as to changing the umpire, and it was decided nem. con. that there were no grounds for the objection, and that we should decline to change him. I informed Gregory of the decision, whereupon he said, ‘Then the game is at end’. On Coulthard appearing from the pavilion groans arose from the crowd. I turned to Mr Barton, the NSW Eleven umpire, and asked if I could not claim the match according to the laws of cricket. His answer was, ‘I shall give it you in two minutes’ time if the batsmen do not return’.”  (source: An extract from Lord Harris’ letter to the Daily Telegraph, 11/2/1879)

This account of a cricket riot from Australia’s colonial past may be considered immaterial in the current context of so-called soccer grubs lighting flares etc, however it is a commonly held myth that ‘true’ Australian sports never have or never will see hooliganism like that seen in football:

A Fear Of Football (@FearOfFootball) - Twitter 2015-11-30 11-42-04

Of course it escapes the attention of this nasty, ignorant football hater that there have been no ‘slaughter of fans’ at any Australian soccer match. Yes, there has not been ‘slaughter of fans’ at the AFL as per the tragic events of Heysel, however as recently as this year we saw this disgusting example of fan violence at an AFL match:

And if the defenders of the indigenous code of football want to drag up incidents from Soccer’s shameful past of decades ago, how about this?

Report on Australian Rules Football riot, Sunday Times, 14/7/29

Report on Australian Rules Football riot, Sunday Times, 14/7/29

Or this?

The Argus, 23/4/1946

The Argus, 23/4/1946

Ian Syson has collected a sizable selection of articles and reports that demonstrate Australian Rules football is certainly not a clean skin when it comes to hooliganism and violence within its fans, and I would recommend that you read it here. Both Ian and I would agree that crowd violence is a relatively small and unremarkable phenomenon in that code, however we would also agree (unlike the virulent soccer haters) that there is a similar fraction of fan violence at football games in Australia. The key to the discussion is not necessarily when the incidents happened, or where, or even how. It’s more how the media portray them and how they are comprehended by a segment of society that is culturally conditioned against soccer from the get go.

Even the sport supposedly played (if you believe its proponents) in heaven, Rugby Union, has a very recent disturbing history of hooliganism in Australia:

FNQ Rugby investigates rugby brawl between Penrhyn Sharks and Tablelands
MICHAEL WARREN THE CAIRNS POST AUGUST 17, 2015 6:10AM 3

FNQ Rugby is investigating the circumstances that led to an ugly on-field incident which saw Cairns police called to break up a wild brawl in a reserve grade match at Vico Park.

The Cairns Post has learned between 50-100 people, including players from both Penrhyn Sharks and Tablelands Rugby Union Club, each of their benches and sections of the crowd were involved in the vicious melee that lasted around 20 minutes.

“I can confirm Cairns police received a call at around 3.40pm on Saturday afternoon about a disturbance coming from a Mooroobool sporting field,” a Queensland Police spokesman said.

“Four Cairns police units attended the scene on Irene St but the situation had already calmed upon their arrival. Police remained on-site for a short while for observational purposes. No one was charged and no arrests were made.”

It’s understood the alleged incident that sparked the matter occurred in the 65th minute when a Penrhyn player took exception to being heckled by an opposition player after dropping the ball in the process of scoring a try. Some minor push and shove soon ensued between the pair before quickly breaking out into a fully blown brawl.

The match was called off with Penrhyn leading 12-7.

A Penrhyn player was taken to hospital where he was treated for concussion and loose teeth. He was released Saturday night but presented again yesterday morning with blurred vision.

The premier grade game between Port Douglas and Penrhyn was consequently abandoned without a ball being kicked.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with what I saw,” Sharks coach Daniel Dixon said.

“It is very disappointing, you never want to see what happened on Saturday happen anywhere, let alone on a rugby field.”

A Tablelands rugby club spokesman offered “no comment” until the incident is fully investigated.

FNQ Rugby boss Rob Brennan said the matter was regrettable.

“It’s not a great look for the game in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Again, it needs to be said that this may be an isolated incident and not entirely reflective of the general behaviours or safety issues when attending a rugby match in Australia. However when contrasted to the virulent panic and hatred that was manifested through the recent focus on so-called ‘soccer hooliganism’, it seems rather disingenuous to not treat this incident from August 2015 with the same moralising, the same harsh reaction as readily and frequently thrown in the face of football fans in this country.

Rugby League had the remarkable achievement of seeing not one but two sizable riots involving thuggish fan behaviour in September 2015, with approximately 200 people involved in a north Queensland brawl on 13/9/15, and an ‘ugly brawl involving dozens of teenagers and spectators in Brisbane‘ earlier that month. Early n the 2015 NRL season there was the unedifying sight of Canterbury fans engaging in behaviour that Rebecca Wilson would probably describe as ‘soccer thuggery’ at the Grand Final rematch between the Bulldogs and South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Strangely enough we have not seen the Daily Telegraph or the Sunday telegraph run a two page spread and front page story detailing ‘the faces from Rugby League’s shame file’. Perhaps with that specific organ of the News Limited tabloid press having a vested interest in reporting on a sport that it has reportedly paid $1 billion for pay TV rights access, such coverage of rugby league hooliganism is going to be seen as damaging Rupert’s investment. Or maybe the NRL and the NSW Police have failed to find and ban those responsible for such loutish behaviour.

Or perhaps the NRL doesn’t have a couple of enemies of its sport sitting on the board of the SCG.

In conclusion, let’s be under no illusions here. There has been and always will be a tiny minority of anti-social and at times illegal behaviour occurring at football games in Australia. Based on the dubious reportage of Rebecca Wilson, the 198 bans handed out by the FFA would represent only 0.001287% of all the 15,383,395 people who have attended an A-League game since the competition’s inception. Hardly the kind of risk percentage that would require the use of Strike Force Raptor, incite Alan Jones to link football fans with Daesh-associated terrorism in Paris. However that kind of hysterical hyperbole is justifiable in their own minds as these spruikers of anti-soccer hatred find it easy to sell the myth that other sports have no problems whatsoever. In turn many who follow cricket, Australian Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union are blind to their own sports’ history of thuggery, violence and public disorder believe this fiction. The collusion between the haters and the ignorant creates the unreasonable hatred every soccer fan in this country has at some time or another had to face.

Dear Graham Cornes….

Hi there Graham. I see you’ve been given the task by your editor at that esteemed organ of News Limited, the Adelaide Advertiser, to write another sordid little piece of uninformed click bait opinion piece where you apply your wit and wisdom to the problems that bedevil the world game of soccer.

Let me just say on behalf of all of us who find your credibility as an authority on the game that is played by over 200 nations and states (unlike a certain domestic code that struggles to find even one international opponent even in a bastardised form than no one has any desire to follow beyond its novelty value) a wee bit suspect, thanks for applying your considerable journalistic intelligence to the round ball game. I could use the appropriate nomenclature of football but I fear that if I was to apply the globally recognised name for said sport it might cause you to go into an apoplectic fit, or become befuddled how any other sport played and worshiped by billions could use the same word as the one you have played. You know, the one that is gripped by issues relating to drugs, racism, sexual impropriety, player deaths through misadventure, and is worshiped by approximately 0.01% of the same number of people who know who Manchester United is, or can recognise names like Pele, Suarez, Messi, Maradona etc.

So let me use the word soccer for now so that if you or any of you fellow travelers come across my response (which I admit is almost impossible to occur) you and they won’t be struck dumb by the intellectual conflict represented by such confusing terminology.

Now, where to begin? I know; for a start let me say I won’t be quoting or providing links to your red neck diatribe because let’s face it, that’s what you and your employers need. Much like Kim Kardashian flashing her plastic tits and porno videoed arse on reality television, you need to display your similarly endowed intellectual attributes online and in your employer’s newspaper otherwise your value as an employee (and possibly as  a person) would be null and void. Would it be too mean of me to suggest you have exhibited a similar level of narcissism as the comedic character Kath Day-Knight, putting into words the same kind of ‘Look at me, look at me’ bogan attention seeking she is written to need by her creators? Of course she is a construct from the fertile minds of Jane Turner, Magda Szubanksi and Gina Riley. I’m unsure if your News Limited character is anywhere near as humorous nor has sprung from anyone’s fertile and creative mind. Fetid yes, but not fertile.

So no; I won’t be citing swathes of your polemic Instead I will rely on those who may read this to do a simple Google search. They will be able to find the offending piece of bombastic self-parody, ripped from the Andrew Bolt-inspired culture wars that were fought and lost in the late 1960s.

I note with interest that in your reference to the upcoming IFAB meeting that points of discussion at this international (and let me remind you, international means outside Australia…something that AFL devotees are unable to countenance in their purely domestic sport) include addressing concerns over the use of the hijab or other forms of head dress in women’s football as played in tournaments such as those at the Olympics, the use of electronic tracking devices and the displaying of slogans under clothes. No sane or globally aware person who follows soccer (see, I’m not trying to scare you by using the ‘F’ word) believes all is sweet in the garden of global game. Having said that it is surely something that even a recidivist old Aussie Rules bogan like yourself can recognise that the idea of Islamic women want to play soccer in an Olympic context puts your preferred isolationist one-nation sport in the darkest shadows when it comes to equal opportunity or pro-feminist sporting policies.

Regarding electronic tracking and performance systems, well if the AFL has been using them longer then kudos. Of course when many members of an 18 man team on the field can stand relatively still during a two hour game which allows points for missing a goal, maybe using electronic diagnostic systems to find out what the F (and no, that’s not the synonym for soccer you don’t like to use) AFL players actually do to be considered professional athletes. The issue of slogans under shirts has never been an issue in Australian Rules because, lets face it, the audience for AFL needs far more simplistic indications of what the player is trying to say when it comes to removing their jersey or shirt:

Nicky Widmar showing passionate AFL supporters what kinds of slogans need to be shown under Aussie Rules players’ shirts

Having addressed the upcoming IFAB meeting and their review of these points, you produce an anonymous contact (like Deep Throat was for Woodward and Bernstein), revealing the suppurating corruption at the very heart of soccer. This festering wound in the world game takes on not one, but several manifestations. Most notably is the sickness of feigned injury, which according to you makes soccer no ‘man’s game’.

I and millions of others who follow foot…oops, I almost used a bad word didn’t I…soccer are rightly aggrieved at the act of simulation. That is why there is a law in the rules of soccer to punish those who simulate (see this link to Page 119 of the 2012/13 FIFA rules). Of course the law of the game is not always implemented as it should, however I wonder if the laws of AFL were upheld as they should’ve been when it took four years for the Melbourne Demon’s tanking debacle across the entire club to be discovered, investigated and punished? And by the way, how is that nasty little problem with Stephen Dank, peptides and the likely exploitation of illicit pharmaceuticals by the Essendon Bombers to gain an advantage in the domestic comp going? Has Juan Antonio Demetriou got that sorted out yet, or is he still relying on James Hird keeping schtumm?

What was that saying that a certain Jewish fellow supposedly said about 1990 years ago? Something about sin and first stones being cast?

Additionally, I’m glad to see that you quite rightly call out soccer as a game not really played by men. real men prefer to exhibit their sporting prowess, their machismo, their masculinity in sports like…hmmm, let me see…oh I know…Australian Rules. Real men like that towering old paragon of virtue Sam Newman who quite rightly validates his manhood by making lewd and crude sexist jokes at Caroline Wilson. Or perhaps we should be idolizing the epic maleness of Stephen Milne, who allegedly is so full of his own potent maleness that women can’t resist him…allegedly. I must say if I had a son I’d want him to reject the namby-pamby, weak as water feminist soccer players like Pele, like Franz Beckenbauer, like Johnny Warren, like Tim Cahill, and prefer that they showed the same pure maleness that Wayne Carey did when he was doing the deed with his best friend’s (and team mate’s) wife.

It must also be said that soccer players are indeed weak arsed nancy boys. After all why is Robbie Kruse bitching over a little niggle like an anterior cruciate ligament injury ended his hopes of going to the World Cup Finals in Brazil this year. Perhaps he should have sucked it up and carried on like all those sensible Australian Rules players have even if knocked into next week with concussion. It takes a host of real men to willingly look for brain damage and for the sport to spend decades ignoring the ramifications hmm? Why can’t all the princesses in the round ball game be more like Daniel Bell and Daniel Gilmore?

Let’s not dwell too much there shall we? After all, if I keep reminding you of your preferred game’s paradigms of manly virtues it might rapidly collapse into a similar comedy as that shown by David Williamson in his play based on Collingwood, ‘The Club’. We shan’t take the piss out of your sport by making unfair jokes about real life AFL players showing the same mentality as Williamson’s character Jock Reilly shall we?

Instead, how about we move on to your second major critique of soccer, as construed through the unwritten unseen evidence of your anonymous soccer ‘Deep Throat’, vis-a-vis the manner in which the round ball game so often ends in penalty shoot-outs after a dull old nil-nil draw.

I guess this statement deserves a little investigation doesn’t it. I know, let’s look at the result history of the current latest craze in the A-League, the Western Sydney Wanderers. Since they entered the A-League how may games have they played in that ended nil all, or required a penalty shoot out? Four? Five? Seven? Twelve? Surely such numbers must be relevant if you and your anonymous soccer informant are correct.

Unfortunately for your hypothesis the Wanderers have only ever been involved in two 0-0 draws, and never required a penalty shoot out to win a game since they entered the A-League. Perhaps we should look at another team. I know, how about the Socceroos (you know, the team that gets to play other countries ranging from Paraguay to Iraq to South Africa to Slovenia, whilst AFL teams get to play…um, who again?). Well, in 2013 the Socceroos played thirteen games and guess what, they only had one nil all draw. I will admit that yes, there was a penalty shoot out to determine who went to the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany, and that game involving the Australian national team and Uruguay was such a depressing dull event wasn’t it?

Perhaps when one considers the entertainment value of our relative sports, perhaps the manner in which an Aussie Rules game may blow out by more than ten goals might…just might…constitute a more egregious sin against the quality of such sporting endeavours. According to my research the GWS Giants in their second season lost 13 games out of 23 in 2013 by more than 10 goals. Surely even by your warped logic soccer’s propensity in both the A-League and internationally with the Socceroos to have almost no nil-nil draws, contrasted with over a dozen totally noncompetitive farces involving the multi-million clowns invented by Juan Antonio Demetriou shows where true value for the sporting fan lie.

I could continue my response but I shan’t, as let’s face it, with Australia playing Ecuador and South Africa in coming weeks, plus this weekend’s Wanderers versus Sydney FC derby on the immediate horizon I should be concentrating on soccer than worrying about Australian Rules. I should leave that up to the same guardians of AFL’s public image (like you) who have  made sure that the likes of Majak Daw would never have to face racist slurs like he did in 2013.

Wait a sec…what’s that News Limited stable mate of your paper, the Herald Sun reporting?

The Rise and Fall of Thursday FC

In the current A-League season the pickings for watching football on both free-to-air and Pay TV have been inordinately rich contrasted to previous seasons. Thanks to the TV rights deal that was arguably the greatest legacy left behind by ex-FFA CEO Ben Buckley negotiated with SBS (the traditional home of the sport on Australian television) the public broadcaster was brought back on board with domestic football programming through access to Friday night matches. To add to to the breadth of SBS’s return to major domestic football coverage the opening up of new digital platforms such as SBS 2 gave more available screen time to A-League related coverage and programming.

So when SBS announced the launch of a new football-focused program for its secondary digital channel, built around the concept of a Generation Y focused variety/comedy hour, with three rather unique hosting talents involved there was plenty of initial excitement from the broadcasters themselves and potential viewers. ‘Thursday FC’ was squarely aimed at doing for the broadened SBS football audience what AFL and NRL Footy Shows have done for Channel Nine and their relative sports. David Zdrillic brought several years of media experience, and his obvious history as an ex-Socceroo and long term professional footballer to the show. Lucy Zelic (sister of Australian legend Ned Zelic) brought a feminine voice to the program, plus (and I don’t believe even the most politically correct of SBS producers had a problem with this) a certain sexiness to get male eyes on the show. Possibly the most important member of the team was young comedian Matt Okine, as it was to be expected he would be known and appreciated by the younger target audience of the show, plus generate enough humour to reduce the ‘oh, it’s just another football show from SBS’ antipathy that may have been felt by a demographic yet to be engaged with by the broadcaster.

Matt Okine, Lucy Zelic, David Zdrilic…hosts of ‘Thursday FC’

This wasn’t the first time that SBS had endeavoured to merge its football broadcasting with comedy. During the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa SBS presented ‘Cup fever’, produced by the Working Dog team led by Santo Cilauro, and assisted by Sam Peng and Ed Kavalee. For most football fans it was very well received, thanks to its brevity, currency and undoubtedly the experience of Cilauro and ex-‘D-Generation’ fellow performer Rob Sitch. The skits were genuinely funny even if consciously corny or low budget, and provided excellent light relief from the heavier regime of Les, Fozzie and other SBS commentators calling games almost every night (including the Socceroo’s mediocre campaign).

Three years later Santo, Sam and Ed had switched to Foxtel, taking almost the exact same format to a Monday night slot on Fox Sports after every round. So the scene had been set, with both broadcast partners of the FFA deploying their talents and programming in the way they thought would best exploit the new TV rights environment. The 2013/14 A-League season had two light entertainment/comedy programs focused on its weekly games, news and players, and nominally things couldn’t be better for anyone with an interested in the situation. There was new and current A-League football related programming running from for five days a week; a brave new world that should have been a win-win for all interested parties.

Unfortunately the new kids on the block in the 8.30pm slot each Thursday night on SBS 2 had been given a mission brief that proved problematic, especially when juxtaposed with the actual talent on board. Early criticisms from fans included the mix of sports being shown in what was supposed to be a football program, the distraction of ‘house band’ Cartoon, Okine’s leaden comedy and the poor production values (as shown in this thread on the WestSydneyFootball.com forum). The producers of ‘Thursday FC’ had created almost the exact reverse of what they probably wanted, insofar as the light entertainment aspect wasn’t good enough to keep the audience faithful if they were looking for good comedy and music, whilst football fans were finding the light entertainment aspects intrusive, annoying and distracting from what they wanted to see and hear. Each of the hosts had their issues, with Matt Okine serving as the focus of much antipathy, however neither Lucy Zelic nor David Zdrilic escaped censure.

‘Total Football’ on Foxtel was under far less pressure, thanks to the smaller audience coming from its Pay-TV origins, the clarity of its vision (being first and foremost a comedy show with football as its theme), and the track record of the main performers. Of course there is always going to be differences of opinion over what constitutes good comedy versus bad, but what can’t be denied is that Santo, Sam and Ed never tried to please more than those wanting a giggle and who enjoyed football.

On the other hand ‘Thursday FC’ had a bizarre mixture of serious football discussion, light entertainment and comedy routines that would elicit groans rather than gut-busting guffaws. Here is an example of what may be considered one of their better skits:

As I was fortunate enough to see three episodes of ‘Thursday FC’ in the studio I saw the rather muddled approach in person, and whilst the three hosts had a good energy between them all, the influence of Okine’s so-called comedic talents was too heavy-handed, at times bringing interesting interviews or discussions to a screaming dead halt with a bad pun or a non-sequitur line of questions. Lucy Zelic is nominally a raw talent yet to be fully brought up to the same capabilities as other presenters such as Mel McLaughlin or Debbie Spillane, so she too had her moments (though her football knowledge is very impressive). As for David Zdrilic, he was easily the most competent in front of the cameras but he was a proverbial fifth wheel when it came to the comedy sections.

The internal tension between the conflicting ideologies of ‘Thursday FC’ could not be resolved week after week. There was none of the polish and dare I say commercial TV vulgarity that flourishes in programming such as Channel Nine’s AFL and NRL ‘Footy Show’ variants. Those two flagship light entertainment sports shows have operated under the same low-level vaudeville constructs for years now and perhaps most importantly were always allowed the room to fail or offend because their demographic were never going to ask for anything too demanding.

On the other hand ‘Total Football’ kept kicking goals with football fans because it has never tried to combine serious analysis with jokes. Yes, Santo, Sam and Ed have all interviewed guests like Ange Postecoglou or Kevin Muscat but they were not contextualized in the same kind of discussion that say David Zdrilic or Lucy Zelic would try to have on ‘Thursday FC’. On SBS’s program the jumble of jokes and critical discussion became a jumbled blancmange that started to seriously annoy many of the target audience.

To their credit the producers of ‘Thursday FC’ started to make none-too-subtle changes to the show, with Okine’s contribution and the associated overt (so-called) humour being toned down. The change from the first episode I saw in studio to the second was obvious but that from first to third was as if it was almost utterly revamped. In the progress of the show’s short season Matt Okine secured a new role on Triple J radio as a breakfast announcer/DJ, which certainly curtailed his ability to be involved with ‘Thursday FC’. In fact by the third episode (and the program’s penultimate aired show) he had left, reducing the show to Zdrilic and Zelic as the two presenters. Yet even before it got to that point there was an overt decision made by the show’s producers to ease up on the lighter material and start to turn ‘Thursday FC’ into a more serious football program. The skits and sketches almost entirely disappeared, musical acts were only there as a closing device, and the mood of the program changed as guests were brought on to have meaningful discussions that weren’t cut short by an asinine Okine joke or pun.

As someone who at least could understand, if not entirely appreciate the light entertainment/comedy raison d’etre of ‘Thursday FC’ at the beginning I was rather happy to see the amendments made to its style and content. However there was a tension and a contradiction at the heart of the program as it changed from an SBS The World Game variant of ‘The Footy Show’ model into a more dogmatic analysis of the then current week’s football issues. How could ‘Thursday FC’ reinvent itself whilst retaining certain aspects of the older model (for example the studio audience involvement, the relatively raw talent of Lucy Zelic, musical or other acts)? It was muddling its way towards something that is already out there, such as ‘The World Game’ on the same network as well as Foxtel/Fox Sports’ ‘Sunday Shoot Out’. There was already a reasonably full broadcasting niche for this format and by moving into it effectively ‘Thursday FC’ was destroying it’s point of difference.

Having said that I strongly believe that as the show came close to its premature end there was some quality material shown and discussed. The last episode I saw as a member of the studio audience, and second last ever broadcast took a look at what it was like for the wives and girlfriends of professional footballers, reviewed the issues facing the A-League at that time (including some fairly dubious refereeing judgements) and looked at the upcoming friendlies schedule for the Socceroos. There had been other discussions on shows before and after that delved into the problems of Sydney FC, took the long handle to racist and anti-football attitude in the mainstream media, and as a result the mood of many football fans who watched ‘Thursday FC” improved.

Sad to say by then it was all too late. For some of the reasons outlined above and some that perhaps can never been fully explained, according to figures quoted in this article on TV Tonight ‘Thursday FC’ was struggling to get more than 13,000 viewers from its live and delayed broadcasts on SBS 2 and SBS 1. In a commercial environment where eyes on screen means eyes on advertisers and thus broadcaster revenue, there simply weren’t enough people watching the show to warrant its continued broadcast. Interestingly enough the SBS spokesperson noted that “Bringing the Friday night Hyundai A-League matches to Australians free-to-air has always been the primary goal for SBS…”, which indicates that the programmers and producers involved with The World Game never saw ‘Thursday FC’ as more than an adjunct to their approach in covering football. This is specifically contrary to how the Nine Network saw their AFL ‘Footy Show’, and perhaps the same can be said about the NRL equivalent. In the former case Nine are non-rights holders so to cash in on the popularity of Australian Rules they have developed a successful panel show with plenty of light entertainment. In the latter Nine uses their Rugby League version of ‘The Footy Show’ to reinforce the construct of their network being the home of all things Rugby League.

In all honesty ‘Thursday FC’ was set up for failure in part because of its very mission statement, in part because of its structure and presenters, and how they were changed (and arguably not quickly enough), and perhaps most importantly the parsimony of vision within the SBS producers and management. It’s rather strange that a channel that has such a proud history of supporting and broadcasting football, who would have its floor managers tell ‘Thursday FC’ studio audience members that they were ‘the home of football’, set up a relatively inexpensive and low profile experiment in football television then cut it off at the knees before it really had a chance. Throw in the change to their once premier football show ‘The World Game’, which is now a 30 minute Euro-snob love-in, and one has to ask what is SBS doing to deserve the custodial and historical honours of being the free-to-air home for football in Australian television?

Is Australia Too Insular For Football? (Part II: A Case Study)

(In this continuance of my previous post regarding the struggle faced by football in Australia due to aspects of its national collective insularity I would like to offer some analysis of one specific media viewpoint as a case in point)

In my last post on the theme of Australian insularity being a limiting factor on the growth of the world game down under I concluded with an indication that I would look at the financial, political and media aspects of this situation. However in the lengthy gap between when I wrote that first opinion piece and today there has been not so much a change in attitudes (no one could reasonably expect such a thing in a few weeks), but instead one or two striking examples of bias and blinkered thought that deserve a deeper consideration in light of my previously published proposition. Without doubt the most egregious example seen in the intervening weeks is this article from a so-called sports ‘journalist’ by the name of Rebecca Wilson:

The Australian sports world has been turned on its head thanks to a summer sensation

Now I refuse to quote the entire diatribe as to be honest to do so would simply give credence to her asinine and blinkered views. Instead I would suggest that if you have the stomach for such bilious prejudice feel free to follow the link above and consider the selected specific citations I will use below for points of argument.

The very first thing that tells you how insular and how easily this so-called journalist (who undoubtedly has relied on family links and relationships with News Limited personnel to secure her position in their media organs) panders to the bigotry and cultural ignorance of her target audience is she states “In a month when we should all be talking up real summer sport, the A-League now grabs pages out of the sports sections of newspapers and commands precious minutes in television sports bulletins.”

That’s right; in her mind set the media should not be giving any attention to football because it denies valuable space to supposed ‘real’ summer sports. Forget the objectivity of reporting on sport because it is happening full stop. Forget the fact that football as a domestic national competition has been played in summer since 1989 (and was the first national competition of any of the football codes). Forget the year long concentration on all sports globally. Forget the hypocritical nature of reporting other so-called ‘non-summer’ sports in Australia like Rugby League and its current World Cup, or the Wallabies’ rugby union tour of Europe, or the all-indigenous Australian team that played meaningless hybrid AFL/Gaelic football games against Ireland, or the lead-in to the Sochi Winter Olympics etc etc. Wilson, in her initial hypothesis demonstrates the prejudice that finds far too common cause among many Australians when it comes to reporting and consuming football media articles in this country. If it doesn’t fit a narrow cultural or jingoistic paradigm it is to be considered anathema to what is truly Australian.

Wilson then (as has many of her predecessors in the ‘sheilas, wogs and pooftas’ tradition have done) then goes on to dismiss any popular history for football in this country by damning it with faint praise about David Gallop’s business acumen and jettisoning any past for the game before any David Beckham-inspired exhibition games. Forget the 28,000 plus people who went to see Australia play Brazil in the Bicentennial Gold Cup at the Sydney Football Stadium in 1988. Forget the 43,000 who went to see the final game of the old NSL competition in June 2000 between Perth Glory and the Wollongong Wolves. Forget the 104,000 who went to see the gold medal game between the USSR and Yugoslavia at the 1956 Olympics. This is de rigeur for any and all who like to demonstrate that Australia is not suitable for football; glossing over past successes in crowd numbers or the depth of the history of the game means that when arguing against football the culture warriors like Rebecca Wilson can safely appeal to the patriotism (read jingoism) of her or his readership.

Wilson continues to reconstruct history and the paradigm of Australian sport by putting all the emphasis on David Gallop’s relationship with businessmen and women in the current success of the A-League. Last time I looked at a home crowd for the Western Sydney Wanderers there were no magnates, potentates, oligarchs or captains of industry sitting with me in Wanderland, or chanting with the passionate members of the RBB. The 40,000 or so who went to the Sydney FC versus Western Sydney Wanderers derby in Round Three weren’t bribed to go there thanks to some sharp business practices by the FFA, the A-League, Lyall Gorman or Tony Pignata. The only people who might, and these would be a minuscule percentage, might be considered to have been seduced by Gallop’s business skills are those that either have paid up for corporate boxes at games for the very first time, or perhaps new sponsors of the A-League. So far the only major national brands to have been brought on board the entire national domestic competition are Harvey Norman and LG Electronics, who have been brought into the fold by the lure of free-to-air TV rights for Friday night games on SBS. Those free to air rights were in fact established in all but final sign off details by preceding FFA boss Ben Buckley.

Thus we have another bow to Rebecca Wilson’s quiver of culture war arrows against football; the A-League is somehow not just taking valuable attention away from more deserving sports at the wring time of the year, its popularity is short-lived and driven purely by an ex-Rugby League administrator seducing businessmen. This so-called ‘journalist’ dissembles her so-called ‘facts’ with all the acumen of an opinion editor for the old-style organs of extremist propaganda, TASS or Volkischer Beobachter.

Then, in her diatribe against the success of football and the A-League in Australia Wilson tells the tales of woe for rugby, tennis and golf. Funnily enough she picks up on the lack of global success for the Wallabies and Australian tennis players as the cause of these sports’ woes, yet fails to pick up on the recent failures of the Socceroos to have a dig at her not-so-beloved soccer. Why is it that of three sports that have global appeal (i.e. union, tennis and football) the two that are problematic for Australians in her world view internationally are rugby and tennis. Oh that’s right; we are no longer the world beaters we once were in those two sports, where competition and excellence from our rivals has passed us by. In football, where the Socceroos are still very much in this reporters cock-eyed view not even worth a mention, the global appeal of the game is negligent because we aren’t internationally successful at it. Forget World Cup qualification, forget Asian Federation Cup appearances and Asian Champion’s League involvement; football doesn’t have the burden of being a sport that is filled with Aussie world champions.

After her pointless reference to golf Wilson then makes what is arguably the most salient point demonstrating her underlying insularity, or dare I say racist subtext:

“I met a Somali taxi driver in Melbourne last week who has three daughters and a son. He plays park soccer, follows the Melbourne Victory and his kids play both soccer and Aussie Rules. He reckons Australia is only a generation away from being a genuine power, a day he sees coming because so many of our refugees view it as their first sport.”

For the audience that consumes the News Limited message time and time again about fearing refugees, and who were pivotal in directing both mainstream parties in Australian politics to formulate policies that were at best hostile to refugees, referring to a black African in a semi-menial job with multiple children forecasting the future success of football because of its popularity is like a red rag to a racist bull. Forget the appeal of football among hundreds of thousands of white Anglo-Saxon men, women and children who form the far larger and powerful lobby group for the sports status quo that Rebecca Wilson fears will be overthrown. This tent pole statement for Wilson’s racial and nationalistic insularity is all about the other, the alien, the un-Australian coming in and doing something to her (and vis-a-vis ‘our’) country and changing it in a way she doesn’t believe is right.

To finish off her one woman crusade against the A-League’s rise in popularity Wilson concludes by talking about the A-League as “…the saviour of pay television and a handful of stadiums which suffered from poor league crowds throughout the season.” Funnily enough there has been not just an increase in viewing numbers for the A-League for pay TV, it is also being driven by SBS’s free to air coverage (which as an avowed multicultural broadcaster again doesn’t fit into Wilson’s and News Limited’s cultural paradigms) as well as new free-to-air radio deals, or most importantly the sheer increase in spectator numbers or memberships. In Wilson’s jaundiced view the 16,000 plus members of the Western Sydney Wanderers (an increase of over 125% on last season) is somehow not part of her theory. Then there is the unrecognized fact that the NRL is not played at 3 of the 10 home grounds of the A-League clubs, with another 2 barely seeing a rugby league game in 2013 (i.e. nib Stadium Perth, Coopers Stadium Adelaide, Westpac Stadium Wellington, Etihad Stadium Melbourne, Bluetongue Stadium Gosford). These inconvenient truths won’t gel with Rebecca Wilson’s insular world view because they don’t represent failures of her more culturally familiar and dare I say more ‘Australian’ sport of rugby league. Instead they demonstrate the success of the A-League in breaking down the barriers she and her fellow travelers in football denial continually struggle to maintain.

Now of course Wilson’s voice is an hysterical one, aimed at garnering attention for her newspaper over factual reportage. However for her employers to publish such a viewpoint in one of the two major media organs of Australia’s limited print press environment indicates they are either willing to pander to her views and thus colour those of their readers, or they are indeed culpable of creating the biases and prejudices in the non-football community in Australia against the world game. She may not be the most important or perceptive voice in the culture war against football however she is symptomatic of the prejudice and insularity that far too many of her sympathisers in the media and in general Australian society feel.

B-League & Labinot

Must say I had a big giggle at this video from Sam and Jules a.k.a. The B-League (and some classy cameos from Labinot Haliti and Nikolai Topor-Stanley):

If the resident comedy duo on FoxSports Sunday Shoot-Out can keep this standard up during the remainder of the season then they will be challenging Santo, Sam and Ed for the title of funniest football presenters on Australian TV (with Thursday FC still in the sheds).