Why I Am Glad The Boycott Ended Before Saturday Night (or a Paean to a Wanderers versus Victory Classic)

I have seen some wonderful games at Wanderland since climbing about the Red and Black experience before the kick off to the 2012/13 A-League season. The first derby against the smurfs. The 6-1 demolition of Adelaide where I saw first hand a Bridgey hat-trick as well as Dino’s very first goal in a competitive match. The semi against the Roar where Dino again wrought a miraculous goal with his left heel; a goal that’d make Berisha weep in envy. The 1-0 wins over Guangzhau Evergrande and Al Hilal in the 2014 ACL campaign, the 2014-15 Round 19 derby where Bulut almost single-handedly beat our eastern suburb rivals, and in the same disastrous domestic campaign a nearly flooded midweek Wanderland come-from-behind conquering of Melbourne City.

Yet when it comes to quality opponents and quality games hosted at Pirtek Stadium, it takes a lot of effort to match the Melbourne Victory and most particularly Saturday night’s amazing game.

To put this into some kind of perspective, let me state from the get-go that of all the clubs in the A-League that rival the Wanderers the one that I have a more than passing respect for is MVFC. I have a soft spot for Newcastle due to a few factors such as the nature of their bumpy ride in recent years, they have a proud, parochial football culture in the Hunter not too distant from here in the west of Sydney, and one of their most loyal supporters (indeed most loyal of any club’s supporters) is a great mate of mine. Adelaide also gets a nodding smile as it is the pissant town I was born in a long, long time ago. Wellington I find I can take with plenty of equanimity; they are neither a club to encourage great loathing or great liking. As for the other clubs, well it ranges from pure unadulterated hate to dismissal as mostly irrelevant.

I expect those attitudes are not entirely isolated among other fans across the entire A-League spectrum.

However when it comes to Melbourne Victory I cannot find volatile emotions like despising, hating, pitying, loving. No; the most successful A-League club over the last calendar year in terms of trophies won on the pitch, as well as a business model off the pitch deserves the respect one gives to a great rival following a similar path in this world. The kind of attitude that might be fictionalised in a dogfight between Biggles and a German ace in World War One. Or that feeling engendered between two old political war horses such as Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser post-Dismissal. For all the pantomime villainy of Berisha or the aura of ‘being a prick’ that surrounds Kevin Muscat, Melbourne Victory give as good as they get from us, and undoubtedly share the burden of being the two most important clubs in the A-League in the two largest metropolitan markets. With combined MVFC/WSW membership in 2015/16 to date exceeding the combined memberships of Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne City, Perth, Wellington and Central Coast by a good margin, it is blatantly obvious where the majority of the hearts and minds of the A-League have found a home Throw in the 2014 ACL championship for the Wanderers and the three domestic trophies for the Victory in 2015, and the bulk of the available silverware for Australian A-League clubs in recent history has been heading to these clubs as well.

These kinds of numbers, these kinds of quantitative measures mean that when I (and I believe many of my fellow Wanderers fans as well) look at the Victory and put that into the context of a match, we know this isn’t going to be a friendly, a hit and giggle affair. The proof of this idea has been demonstrated again and again in the history of our meetings since 2012/13. For example, it could well be argued that the Wanderers’ best ever game in season one was that played in Round 14 at home against the Victory, with two magical goal from Shinji Ono:

In the 2013/14 season there was another cracker between the two biggest clubs in the A-League, when in Round 12 a last minute Gui Finkler stunner gave the home team a draw that stunned everyone who was fortunate enough to see it:

More recently, with the Wanderers weary and beaten down by injuries and travel in 2014/15 MVFC took all available 9 points and scored 9 goals to 2, demonstrating that in the battle between the most heavily subscribed A-League clubs the Victorian-based team was in the ascendancy. By the end of that season the overall record stood at three Wanderers wins, five Victory wins and one draw; a healthy rivalry that leaned a little to the Melbourne-based club. Hence the appreciation of what was going to be a very tasty encounter Saturday night at Wanderland, the tenth match between us and them, in the tenth round of the 2015/16 season.

Of course what made this match even more attractive and more significant was the relationship between the Wanderers fans (including the RBB) the Victory fans (notably the North Terrace actives) and the recent walk-outs and boycotts. As the two most high-profile supporter groups targeted by the likes of the News Limited gossip monger Rebecca Wilson, and with a reputation for unseemly behaviour among the the ‘non-football cognoscenti’, epitomised by an ugly incident involving some criminal acts away from AAMI stadium, both clubs’ fans may be regarded as having a deal of animosity and unruliness. However, putting aside the specifics of that situation which involved a smaller amount of arrests than have taken place at recent large musical festivals, in the last fortnight it was the Wanderers and Victory fan bases who led the popular revolt against the FFA’s policies vis-a-vis the banning process as it has been implemented. Whilst other clubs’ fans started their protests against the FFA by following a negotiation path (such as the Cove), the RBB and North Terrace were united in voicing their initial discontent with a walk out in their respective Round Eight matches:

Interestingly enough the administrative leadership of these two clubs echoed the attitudes of discontent as their fans, hence these statements from John Tsatsimas and Ian Robson (respective CEOs for the Wanderers and Victory):

“We will always advocate for the rights of our members (in both public and private forums) who are exceptional in both their behaviour and their passion for this club and who have been branded unfairly in a negative manner, This includes members who feel they are unjustly banned.” (John Tsatsimas Source: 25/11/15)

“We’re proud of what we do and the fans are at the heart and the core of that. That’s why we fight hard to protect those that do the right thing, which means by definition we have to be hard on those who do the wrong thing.” (Ian Robson Source 2/12/15)

So, coming into the Round Ten match between the Wanderers and Victory there was a shared history of playing some high quality football matches against each other, synergies in terms of politics and attitudes from the respective clubs’ leaderships, a parallel approach to protesting the FFA from the most active fans, and finally the vitally important aspect of this being a first versus second top of the table clash. With the fragile peace of the FFA and active fans in place, there was every expectation this would be a cracker of a game on almost every level.

For me the lead up to the game involved a riff off my usual processes before a Wanderers game. I headed into the local Bavarian Bier Cafe for some German pork goodness and a litre stein. There I met with some of my comrades, RBB and non-active alike, and we chewed the fat whilst I chewed the schnitzel. There was plenty of discussion about form, players, the FFA, the boycott’s cessation, and then came the RBB march, which I and many others watched with pride and happiness:

Then it was a quick Hofbrau Dunkel-soaked stroll over to Wanderland, the usual rigmarole of getting into the stadium, grabbing a seat, saying hello to my game day acquaintances nearby, and awaiting kick-off. The Wanderers had an almost totally fit squad for Popa to call on, with only Piovaccari being a nominal first team absentee. For the visitors (whose fans were in decent numbers down in the away fan seating) their biggest gap was their absent captain Carl Valeri. However these were two line ups brimming with quality; Andreu, Nichols, Bridge, Dimas, Vidosic, Castelen and Jamieson for the home team, Ben Khalfallah, Barbarouses, Berisha, Vukovic, Finkler, Bozanic for Victory. The opening twenty or so minutes were exciting, attractive, filled with fast paced and creative football, and to be honest there could’ve been several goals scored. Redmayne almost gifted a Victory goal, if it hadn’t been for an errant Berisha finish followed by a goal line clearance from Scott Jamieson. At the other end Mark ‘Fat Head’ Bridge had two golden chances that he missed with all the aplomb of a man who did this regularly during his golden run in 2012/13. From there the match settled into thrust and counter-thrust, the referee arguably being more interventionist than he needed to be. However there was one man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch; the Wanderers’ import Romeo Castelen.

If ever a player deserved to shine as part of the new attractive, aggressive, possession-based Wanderers’ system it is Romeo. Brought into the club before the 2014/15 season, he was in some eyes a natural replacement for Youssouf Hersi. Like his countryman, Castelen was given the role of playing in a right wing position, nominally both creating chances and finishing them off, whilst where necessary drifting into the centre or even over to the other flank for defensive requirements or counter-attacking thrusts. Sadly for Romeo the combination of a dysfunctional schedule for the entire club, resulting from the Wanderers’ ACL and CWC commitments, plus his own injury woes meant he had minimal impact through the annus horribilis of last season. Aside from a very good game against a depleted Brisbane Roar up at Suncorp he never went near matching the standard of his predecessor from the Eredivisie.

This season however Castelen has blossomed, undoubtedly due to having a better fitness regime and a more suitable tactical structure in place which is aided and abetted by the Spanish midfielders Andreu and Dimas. He caused all manner of worries for Adelaide when the Wanderers picked up their first point of the current season, and whilst he again missed some matches due to injury, his return to first team play in recent rounds has shown he is a very important, high quality element of the Wanderers. However he took this to a new level in Saturday’s match against the Victory. As outlined in this Sydney Morning Herald report Romeo was in shining form against the current A-League champions. It was the kind of effort that, in the context of past Wanderers versus Victory matches, was right up their with the aforementioned Ono double in season one.

The manner in which Castelen dominated his opposition whilst on the field was certainly eye-catching, not just for the partisans of either club in the match, but also for the neutrals. He was able to make Macedonian-Australian international Daniel Giorgievski look cod ordinary, and Victory’s Tunisian ace from last season Ben Khalfallah also seemed to cower under Romeo’s shadow. Vukovic was the one who felt the worst of the Dutchman’s work, starting with some incisive passes that almost set up a goal for Bridge, which was subsequently scuffed. Then just before half time Castelen put his foot through the ball in such a manner it took a wonder save via the Victory goal keeper’s left leg to keep the scores locked at 0-0.

In the second half he turned from major threat to shuddering terror for the visitors. There was a deserving call for a penalty denied and more florid movement with the ball on the right flank, before he finally had Fat Head do the right thing by one of his passes:

Then, to top things off Castelen finally put the ball into the back of the Victory net in the 78th minute after he hit a hard shot low and straight at Vukovic. Sadly for the Victory but happily for Romeo and the Wanderers family the shot was badly handled by the visitor’s goalie, hence:

 Not long thereafter Castelen was subbed, being replaced by Golgol Mebrahtu. I’ll be honest; when it comes to Golgol I have a soft spot for this Wanderer, insofar as he has had a helluva time battling injuries since he first joined the club. I can still recall with admiration and respect his goal scored against the red and black, when he represented Melbourne Heart, in the closing stages of the Wanderers remarkable run of wins in season one.

Mebrahtu has barely worn the Wanderers’ colours competitively since he first signed for the club, and it must be assumed that the coaching staff believe he can add a lot to the existing squad having kept him on the books for so long. He played an important hand in the FFA Cup Round of 32 match out at Penrith before the start of the 2015/16 WSW campaign, however again succumbed to an injury. Bottom line, with Castelen off the pitch it was rewarding to see Golgol given a chance to get a run and remind us all of his capabilities (within the last 10 minutes or so let in the match).

Another ex-Heart player who appeared for the Wanderers (getting another full match under his belt) was Andrew Redmayne. The goal keeper who arguably had the worst reputation among regular starters in the A-League before 2015/16 has become a far better stopper than he once was, undoubtedly due to the influence of Zeljko Kalac. Yes, there was a terrible fumble that could’ve led to a goal in the early stages of the first half. However, not long thereafter he turned what should’ve been a Barbarouses goal around the right goal post, Ante Covic ACL Final style, then in the second half made a crucial save to stop a solid shot from Connor Pain from drawing the Victory level.

In some respects it is unfair to single out the likes of Castelen and Redmayne for their heroics. This was a total team performance that was at a standard I have not seen before from the Wanderers. It wasn’t a dogged, driven, defensive effort like those that won the club trophies and plaudits in their first ACL campaign. Nor was it a counter-attacking, reactive style of play where Topor-Stanley would hoof the ball up towards a forward who might lay it off for a second man, as used with great effectiveness in the first Wanderers’ A-League season. When you see the high press, possession based style being implemented by Popa and his other training staff with his squad, including the crucial Spanish trio of Alberto, Andreu and Dimas, it is hardly surprising that words such as ‘breathless’, ‘relentlessness’ and ‘a joy to watch’ are bandied around.

However what was happening on the pitch was only part of the story. There was, returning to the off-the-field culture issues of active support, media disinformation and FFA administrative and PR fuck-ups, a need for this match to be a show case for all that was great not just about the Wanderers, but the entire experience of football in Australia. Thankfully, the supporters who attended the match, whether part of the overwhelming majority of red and black fans and members, or those who traveled as Victory partisans, were in big numbers and wonderful form. The crowd of 17,073 was the highest number to attend a regular A-League season game at Wanderland outside a WSW versus Smurfs derby, thus belying the ridiculous lies from the likes of Rebecca Wilson re people staying away from the A-League games due to active supporters. Fox Football commentator Simon Hill made pointed reference to her and others of her tawdry, ill-informed ilk whilst celebrating the atmosphere and passion that was on display in Parramatta:

From my own personal standpoint over in the Eastern Stand, it was a game day experience where the joie de vivre of just being there (particularly after the troubles of the boycott held during the previous round’s matches, or the walk-out undertaken up in Gosford the week before that) added a soupçon of happiness to the raucous, passionate, energetic, at times ribald atmosphere. Every chant had a bit of extra bite and bounce to it, every insult hurled at the ref and linesmen came with a hearty laugh, and even the Victory supporters seemed to share in the joyful excitement. I’ll admit there was a certain chant that may have raised eyebrows  (‘intercourse the Victory, intercourse the Victory, Melbourne boys are still number two’), and I guess wowsers and overly sensitive folk may find it offensive. Of course I could make a point about the hypocrisy of attacking people for using a swear word at the football versus finding no moral problems with watching convicted criminals at the AFL or NRL, but I shan’t. Instead I’ll just point out the most potent problem with that chant; at the end of the match ‘Melbourne boys’ were n fact number three (on the ladder). Oh, and to further undermine the haters’ paradigm of anti-social soccer hooligans  lighting flares, and mass arrests, not a single moment of pyro use arose at the ground, and as far as I am aware not a single arrest was made by the bored, inactive members of the NSW constabulary. The RBB were simply superb, acting as the touch paper to ignite an explosion of football passion.

Photo courtesy of FourFourTwo Australia & Eric Berry

Young RBB Members

When all was said and done post-match I made a point when seeing some Victory fans outside Pirtek Stadium to thank them, and congratulate them for traveling and helping us show how very, very, very good it is to experience Australian football at its best. It only seemed fair to recognise that without an opponent of such a high quality the Wanderers’ couldn’t respond accordingly. Nor for that matter would it be right to not, after the dust had settled, to shake hands with similarly passionate fans who have shared our recent fight against maladministration and misrepresentation.

Let me close by heading back to what I said right at the beginning of this post. I’ve seen some marvellous games and shared in some memorable moments of camaraderie in my three and a bit seasons of being a passionate Western Sydney Wanderers’ member. At the very summit is that Sunday morning last year when the Red and Black faithful congregated outside Parramatta Town Hall to witness the Wanderers’ claim the ACL crown in Riyadh. However, only a few virtual feet below that Everest like peak of satisfaction and happiness wrought through football and through WSW is the K2-like 2-0 win against Melbourne Victory on December 12th 2015. I was bloody ecstatic to be there, and the win was made all the more sweeter because I shared with my brothers and sisters the moment of standing up and saying to the haters and to the FFA, ‘Fuck you…WE ARE FOOTBALL!’

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.

If You Build It, They Will Come (or Where is our National Museum for Football?)

I am an unabashed, self-confessed lover of history. From the broad sweep of a millenia of ancient Roman history, or the German experience of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through to the more idiosyncratic niche studies of the history of the Oxbridge comedians of the post-war era, or the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and plenty of spots in-between, I have dabbled or dipped my curious intellect again and again into matters of the past. Some of these efforts have been more serious than others, and my interest in subjects has been known to wax and wane over the years. Whilst I’ve always had a fascination with the history of military aviation, when it comes to say the Space Race of the Cold War era, or colonial exploration of Australia, they are the matters that I’ve left behind in my now distant youth.

Partly as a result of my age, and more significantly as a result of my exposure to and love for the Western Sydney Wanderers, I have started to look more and more upon what I knew personally and what I didn’t come to know about the history of football in Australia. As I have referred to in past posts, my first engagement with soccer (to use the still popular but arguably politically incorrect name for football) came as a little boy who saw the heroes of the 1974 Socceroos squad head to West Germany for the finals of the FIFA World Cup. I was fortunate enough to know who someone like Atti Abonyi was, or how good St George Budapest were in the old NSW First Division competition. There are still memories of the tumult over Jimmy Shoulder and Rudi Gutendorf’s tenures as Socceroos coaches (which on reflection would make some of the #HolgerOut stuff seem like a storm in a teacup). I recall with some clarity the launch of the Phillips NSL, the first tentative steps from players like Alan Davidson, Eddie Krncevic and Craig Johnston to leave Australia and play in Europe or Asia. The 1981 FIFA World Youth Cup in Australia, the Bicentennial Gold Cup, Ned Zelic’s goal against the Dutch for the Olyroos, Eddie Thomson, Hakoah, the Carlton and Collingwood entries into the NSL, Melita Eagles, Northern Spirit, Mark Bosnich, that match against Iran in 1997…these were but small flag posts on my rather limited exposure to soccer’s long and deep links with Australian society. Manfred Schaefer, Johnny Warren, Col Curran; they were my childhood icons from football, but I was an Anglo kid with barely any real understanding of what the sport meant for migrants, for people from such disparate backgrounds as Charlie Perkins and Sir Arthur George. I knew who Newcastle KB were, but did I have any knowledge of the links between the Hunter coal miners and football as part of their culture? Yes, I was familiar with Rale Rasic, but what about ‘Uncle’ Joe Vlatsis? I had just missed out on seeing a man who many still consider our best ever Socceroo play (i.e. Ray Baartz), and it’s no surprise that Joe Marston’s name was relatively meaningless to me up until the last decade or so. I’ve read ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Pooftahs’ by Johnny Warren, but I never saw him play in person for any of his teams.

What is all this meandering and circumlocutory ticking of boxes in my personal soccer history meant to convey? I guess what I am trying to get across is that even a middle aged Anglo like me who knows a little about football’s place in Australia pre-A-League, pre-Crawford Report, can only throw out a few tidbits of trivia, a scattering of half-accurate memories. There are going to be plenty of people both older and younger than me who will know more, however I would hazard a guess and say that the vast majority of those who have engaged with the sport especially since Frank Lowy supposedly ‘saved’ soccer in this country have almost no clue whatsoever about even the limited things I know, I recall. As it is there are young men and women in the RBB, the Cove or the Den (for example) who would look at older folk quizzically if you asked them about what happened in Australian soccer before Schwarzer and Aloisi combined to send Uruguay home from Sydney devastated at not qualifying for Germany 2006. Names like Tommy McCulloch, Marshall Soper, Allan Maher most likely mean SFA to them. How many of Graham Arnold’s devotees would be waxing lyrical about his quixotic attempt to conquer the J-League when in Eddie Thomson Australia had a real pioneer in coaching overseas successfully. There is plenty of debate and discussion over the recent moves by the FFA to ‘de-ethnicize’ football in Australia, but who among those who were cheering for the Wanderers against Al Hilal a few weeks back can recognise the man on the left and his role in Australian soccer?

photo-george-best

Left: David Hill (Head of the old ASF/Soccer Australia 1987-1995) with George Best (right)

 

Of course an intimate knowledge of history and past people, teams and events of football does not make one fan better than another. However as someone who has had a similarly long engagement with cricket’s history, I can categorically state that any debate or discussion about that sport’s current place in Australia is almost always referenced within an historical framework. Whenever a game is played at home or abroad the media, the fans and the players themselves often couch their experience of cricket with references back to say a Don Bradman or a Dennis Lillee or a Shane Warne. Cricket in Australia is very comfortable with its history, and never fails to exploit it as part of its dialogue.

I also believe that the manner in which cricket history has informed many Australians (Anglos and otherwise) means it is often used as a lens through which we see the world and ourselves. Talk about the Commonwealth, about our relationship with Britain sometimes sees references to the Bodyline series of 1932/33. Our ongoing developing engagement with India is often filtered through the eyes of how our cricketers have embraced or been embraced by the emerging Asian giant. If a sports boycott is brought up as part of the potential reaction to the policies of a repressive foreign government the manner in which cricket led the fight against South Africa’s apartheid system is often thrown into the mix. For some one of the most defining and positive developments in the history of white Anglo-Saxon Australian society dealing with black people came about as a result of the 1960-61 tour of  Australia by Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indian cricket team. It could even be argued that the recent death of test cricketer Phil Hughes due to being hit by a bouncer made many Australians consider broader, deeper philosophical issues such as fate and mortality, and this will be forever part of cricket’s historical meaning in this country from now on.

I would argue that where we as Australians know more about the history of one of our sports we more often than not see more clearly who we are, what we are about, how that sport reinforces or accentuates what it means to be Australian, and gives us another portal into how we interact with the rest of the world. Surely then with football being the global game, with possibly the most complex history of any sport in this country, it seems to me to be mandatory for football fans young and old, players and administrators, academics and lay people alike to get a better handle on what has gone before today, whether it be old soccer or new football. Through the wonderful agency of football’s unique Australian history we can all have a more informed discussion about our culture, our politics, or racial make-up and our international relations.

As part of this ecumenical desire to see all of the history of football in Australia given due diligence and respect, a prime starting point must be a national museum that provides the physical evidence for what has gone before in football down under. After all, if Bowral can lay claim to the International Cricket Hall of Fame a.k.a the Don Bradman museum, or the MCG host the National Museum for Sport (with a large collection of AFL and Olympic related material), why can’t (hypothetically) a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium hold a National Football Museum? In wider terms, if Australians are able to better understand our military history through the War Memorial in Canberra, or learn about our past as a maritime nation via the Australian National Maritime Museum, why can’t the sport that has seen so many unifying and divisive aspects for much of its long history be given its own home, a place for people to come and see the artifacts, hear the stories, see the footage of a sport that existed long before the last nine or ten years of A-League and Socceroos developments arguably raised popular awareness and acceptance.

Having hopefully built the foundations of answering the first question over such an institution (i.e. why football and the broader Australian society deserve a National Football Museum), the next issue must be what form or type of institution it must be. To my mind it must be several things. It needs to be a central repository of as much of the physical evidence for the sport’s history as possible. To give some basis to this supposition, let me make a small diversion. Like many who have been down to to the Shoalhaven village of Jamberoo I’ve made sure of a pilgrimage to the pub there, with its sizable and impressive collection of Johnny Warren memorabilia. A few days after the Wanderers’ victory in the AFC Champions’ League I had a chance to return there, and whilst I sat among the photos and posters, the shirts and the pennants, I felt a warmth not just about my club’s achievements but also how in many ways what preceded beforehand and was physically surrounding me was in some way honoured by the Wanderers’ win. I know from anecdotal evidence there was plenty of talk after the 2005 Socceroos qualification for the following year’s World Cup Finals that many fans and pundits talked about that team’s success tying in with Johnny’s immortal phrase “I told you so”. Being in the Jamberoo pub, seeing photos and souvenirs line the walls, seemed to give a similar perspective to what had been achieved in Parramatta and Riyadh by my club.

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren's collection

Some of the many items of memorabilia held at the Jamberoo Pub, from Johnny Warren’s collection

The Warren collection at Jamberoo is a good one, and as my preceding paragraph hopefully brings out, it can have a powerful emotional pull that informs the visiting football fan of today. However it surely must be a drop in the ocean of material that lies out there in the wider Australian football and soccer community. There are all those small community and lower tier clubs that must have records, memorabilia, archives, photos and other such items that could be brought together from across the entire nation. Then there are the collectors, the old players themselves and those who were deeply involved in the game from the sidelines who could contribute. One of the most important people who should be tapped for a possible contribution is the German uber-fan of the Socceroos, Andre Krueger. He is one who has had a long term and abiding passion for the national team and Australia in general, and I am sure he would be someone who could provide either physical content or failing that advice and information to assist in the collation of items. Then there is someone like Ian Syson who continually, through his own research and the resulting posts on his Twitter feed throws up some real gems from our sport’s past. Les Murray, Andy Paskelides and Tom Anderson are three older media figures with long term exposure to football who must have a plethora of material. Throw in the fans, the old NSL diehards or even the more recent adherents of clubs like the Wanderers who were there when the club started, and there should be a rich vein of content to be placed in such a National Football Museum.

The assemblage of a large cross-section of material that could then either be displayed or archived would give all of us a central focus to see these artifacts, and thus have a coherent physical context for football’s history. It would be easier (for example) for people to understand how important the current Socceroos jersey was as a cultural icon within football’s traditions if and when it is placed alongside its progenitor, the 1974 shirt, and those that followed. There would be more appreciation of the recent developments with the FFA Cup if there was the old Australia Cup on display. Items predating the Second World War or even beyond the First would undoubtedly give more visible credence to the long term historical depth of the sport in Australia. That vision is something that is very hard to recognise when these items are hidden away in individuals’ collections, or swamped by rival sports’ displays (such as that seen at the aforementioned Bradman Museum).

Another function of a national museum for football must be to act as centre for academic debate, research and promotion of the sport. Football is as worthy of an intellectual discourse as art, music, film or any number of any other social or cultural activities. Naturally one of the most critically important aspects of that side of the museum’s activities or role would be to continually review and examine the relationship between our identity and the sport. To draw parallels with other institutions for other areas of Australian society and history, an example can be seen with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and its education program. If it’s appropriate for the South Australian Museum to focus academic energies on Antarctic research via the historical presence of Douglas Mawson in Adelaide, then what is to stop a National Football Museum to conduct or facilitate research on (for example) the politics of migration in pre-Crawford Report soccer? The FFA is certainly not the body to conduct this kind of research due to its own financial and administrative restrictions, and whilst universities may do so they would only exert the relevant energy and funding for individual projects. If we want to learn more about football and ourselves a coherent program of detailed research will be the best agency to achieve such an aim. The museum should serve as the prime agency for such a scheme.

A third arm or component of a National Football Museum would be to provide a focal point for the celebration of the sport’s Australian greats, via the agency of the FFA Hall of Fame. At various sporting venues around Australia there are statues or other insignia celebrating the careers and legacies of those heroes and heroines of the associated sports. Outside the Sydney Cricket Ground the likes of Fred Spofforth, Reg Gasnier and Paul Roos are given tribute in the form of bronze statues. All of Australia’s past Olympic swimming gold medalists and world champions are given a plaque outside the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre. Now obviously football is a team sport, but there is every reason to desire similar recognition for a Johnny Warren, a Mark Viduka, a Les Scheinflug, a Cheryl Sainsbury. Considering that so much of our understanding or appreciation of the great men and women of the past require some kind of articulated vision made concrete, as seen in (for example) the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial, then for there to be (hypothetically) a display for Joe Marston or Rale Rasic at our National Football Museum seems entirely correct. This may be an incorrect assumption, however I strongly believe it would be a powerful inspiration for younger players if they could see more of the legends of football in Australia than just some archival footage from SBS or the ABC. Being able to access by sight and sound if not touch items owned by an Eddie Thomson or a Harry Kewell could serve that task very well indeed.

I would argue that the recent success of the Socceroos in claiming the 2015 AFC Cup has given more impetus to all these arguments in favour of a National Football Museum. Taking the first point argued previously, where better to hold the trophy if it is available for public display than in an Australian museum of and for football? From video footage to memorabilia from the Cup tournament, including say (for example) a pair of Tim Cahill’s boots, or recordings of ordinary fans’ reactions to that win at Sydney Olympic Stadium, all such items would help give some permanence to what has been arguably the finest moment in men’s football in the country. It goes without saying the same should have or could be done with the Matildas as well. Throw in the additional resources from previous continental tournament success (such as the OFC Cup wins by the Socceroos in 1980 or perhaps 1996) and there is a wider picture emerging of what Postecoglou’s squad achieved.

Additionally, it must be said that a well established and promoted a National Museum of Football could be a great revenue stream for the FFA and the local community where it is built. From exhibitions to conferences, books and souvenirs, videos and events staged at the museum would all serve the dual purpose of bringing money into the coffers of the FFA and promoting football. Perhaps if a leading international architect was given the opportunity to design the Museum building (such as Frank Gehry’s recent work on one of UTS’s new structures) that would also help raise the profile of our sport and the unique Australian context therein.

My final point, and one that will undoubtedly ruffle feathers and bring accusations of bias (of course I’m bloody parochial on this matter) is where it should be hosted. In my opinion a National Football Museum would be best positioned in Western Sydney, hopefully as part of a redeveloped Parramatta Stadium precinct. Whilst other cities and areas around Australia have strong links to the history of football in Australia, and may already have a strong cultural affinity to sporting history (such as Melbourne and the MCG), western Sydney is the powerhouse of the sport in terms of current players across all levels, past Socceroos and with a population of over 2 million with a widely diversified ethnic demographic, it would have a ready made audience. Throw in the paucity of cultural venues of national significance in Sydney’s west, and the tourism value of Sydney for the country as a whole, placing a museum focused on Australia’s past, present and future nearby or in Parramatta would be extremely beneficial for all vested interests. The ‘clear air’ such a museum would have in that location, against say the conflicting presence of a rival sports’ institutions, or indeed even other national icons such as say a War Memorial or National Gallery (as seen in Canberra) would be again work in the museum’s favour.

In closing, a National Museum of Football may be a hypothetical vision for now. However I strongly believe that it could create so many positives for our sport that it should be given some serious thought, particularly at this time where we have a wonderful platform for public acceptance of and/or support for the game. Knowing say in 10 years time overseas tourists, university academics, teams of U/10s boys and girls, and anyone else with a desire to learn just that little bit more about football down under could have a place to go to take it all in, to be enthused and informed, well, it seems like a no brainer.

A New Yet Old Kit: From 2014 to 1974 and Back Again

Today saw the Football Federation of Australia and their major kit partner Nike release the new Socceroo’s kit for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and as someone who loves seeing history respected may I say how happy I am to see this will be what the national team wears when they take the pitch against Chile on June 13th:

Mark Bresciano and Michael Zullo model the new Socceroos kit

What is most pleasant to reflect upon when looking at the new look shirt, shorts and socks is how closely it approximates the same kit worn by the first Australian team to play at the World Cup Finals, my much beloved heroes of West Germany 1974:

1974 Socceroos Team for the World Cup Finals held in West Germany (photo credit Andre Krueger)

If there is one aspect of our game here in Australia that needs consistent and deeper commitment from the FFA outside the actual management of football it is the important task of emphasizing the long and proud history of our sport in this country. It is a task that our administrators need to be challenged with again and again, especially in the broader context of Australians and their relationship with our sporting history.

When one looks at other sports played in Australia there is a continual reliance on referring back to previous heroes, previous wins, previous teams and players. For example in cricket talk about the likes of Mitchell Johnson will immediately bring thoughts among devotees of the sport and engaged journalists with past greats such as Dennis Lillee. In Rugby League the most important domestic contest (i.e. the State of Origin) is redolent with references to old greats like Wally Lewis or Benny Elias, or going back even further the long held resentment against NSW league administrators that drives Queenslanders to deeper passions. Olympic greats like Dawn Fraser or Murray Rose, AFL legends such as Ted Whitton or Ron Barassi, Rugby Union Wallabies like the Ella brothers; all of these sports and their past icons form a tradition that ends up extolling the benefits and national pride of the player and the game.

Football on the other hand has had at best a desultory relationship between its past and its present, its greats of yesteryear and its current champions. Much of this is undoubtedly due to the administrators from previous national bodies doing little in the public arena to encourage the media or Socceroo fans to engage with past players, historical details. Outside the older and more fixated football fans and pundits in Australia the vast bulk of our ability to talk about historical greats is either limited by the paucity of exposure to pre-2005 success or a cultural cringe that celebrates other countries legends ahead of our own.  It is rare to see older generations of football fans in Australia talking in glowing terms of our past, whether it be individual players, teams or even the entire sport itself, and as for the administrators that have at times needed to almost deny the past to survive political or media scrutiny. It’s far easier to talk about a Dino Zoff, a Peter Schmeichel, a Bruce Grobelaar or a Gordon Banks than a Ron Corry or Jim Fraser because so many more football fans in Australia have seen or heard about these legendary foreign goalkeepers than the men who kept goal for the Socceroos in the early 1970s. Even those ex-national team stalwarts like Frank Farina, John Kosmina, Paul Wade and David Zdrilic get more recognition due to their post-playing careers than what they actually achieved on the pitch. David Mitchell, Peter Katholos, Robbie Dunn, Marshall Soper and dozens of other long term Socceroos have been forgotten in ways that overseas footballers from the past, or local historical players in other sports have never been ignored.

So what does this new kit do for those of us who want to see our sport’s past celebrated and discussed with more vigour, promoted with the same kind of respect and appreciation that Australians seem to do so readily with our cricket, league, Olympic, AFL history? Well, just as the baggy green cap has been a constant since at least the early 1900s for all Aussie test cricketers, the green and gold shirt that is going to be worn by Tommy Rogic and Tim Cahill in Brazil is almost exactly what was worn forty years ago by Peter Wilson, Col Curran, Max Tolson and Manfred Schaefer. This is another recent and very welcome indication that the FFA is learning to appreciate where our game has come from, and trying to share it with both old and new fans alike.