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

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.

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

In the last week there has been an incredible firestorm of intemperate language, outrageous shock-jock sensationalism, half-arsed official defence of the round ball game, and internecine war between fans and officials in what was supposed to be ‘new football’s’ latest season of excellence. To put it mildly, this is the biggest public brou-ha-ha to strike football in this country since at least the release of the Crawford Report and/or the failed 2022 World Cup bid. With the illogical, rabid, ravings of an unethical, illiterate anti-football hack letting loose her execrably bad propaganda, via the agency of a sine non qua example of News Limited’s Yellow Press, the shit-storm was let released. Fed by the jaundiced, xenophobic fuel of one of the most offensive men on commercial radio in Australia, a man who would not look uncomfortable lined up with Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy Saville or Joseph Goebbels, the world of football in this country went into meltdown quicker than a chocolate nuclear reactor.

So that I won’t continue to spread the inaccurate, febrile bullshit that has been issued by those paragons of the gutter media in Australia, I won’t embed links in this blog entry to either the original columns of hate nor the insulting, disgusting radio broadcast that had the vile effect of linking the massacring terrorists of Bataclan Theatre to Pirtek Stadium. If you haven’t already seen or heard them, or indeed of the following flow of anti-football effluence channeled through bogan media organs such as 2GB, the Daily Telegraph or Channel Ten news, go to Google or Twitter or Facebook or even just walk up to a football fan this weekend and ask them what the story was. Decorum and common sense compels me to leave the ratbag media types who have been spouting their vomitous views to their own audiences, their own xenophobic, neanderthal-like readers and listeners.

I also have no real desire to hoe the same rows of complaining about the cultural and political intolerance emanating from the police forces, who in the finest examples of jackbooted group-think seem to live in some kind of mid 1980s English football hooligan purgatory, looking for ways to stop such an insidious foreign threat to their powers (and in the mean time trying to stop men, women and children marching in the streets, or god forbid standing on a seat). Other commentators, politicians, bloggers and common or garden soccer fans have already thrown a hail of brickbats at the constabulary, who when not trying to create a fear of football through selective PR fuck-ups, love to suck on the teat of the Wanderers and do nothing for their overtime. If they were as effective at rooting out the genuine anti-social activists who do bedevil our sport (as well as every other football code, cricket etc) as they are at bad-mouthing senators and sccer fans then perhaps no one would have any issues.

Where I would like to take the discussion is into two areas that I believe underpin the basic problems football in this country faces, insofar as the xenophobic, dare I say racist attitude towards soccer, as well as the forgotten, or perhaps sugar coated history of the other football codes and cricket when it comes to hooliganism. Before I continue, I want to make it abundantly clear that there have been, are and probably still will be issues relating to disruptive and anti-social behaviour at football games in this country. It happens overseas, it happens here due to a multiplicity of reasons and through a multiplicity of offensive acts. There are the obvious issues with flares, and personally speaking I find them unhelpful as a tool to help win over the non-football folk, or engender enthusiasm at the game or for the sport. I understand the reasons why they are used, and have seen up close and personal the visual stimuli they provide to certain people. Having said that they are not entirely dissimilar in attraction to particular types of people as a major crash in a Formula One motor race, or a huge hit in a rugby league match, or a thunderous kick and punch combination in a UFC bout (and on the balance arguably not as dangerous). Fighting between rival fans is also a problem, though as well documented this is neither on a scale to worry Mr & Mrs Joe Public, nor is it any better or any worse than some of the acts of violence in our day to day lives. In fact, it could be argued that based on current domestic violence rates the soccer stadium is a far safer place to be than the home. When you see figures of where an Australian woman dies as a result of domestic violence every three weeks, contrasted to the 198 bans handed out over ten years of the A-League, well surely it is a sign of how sick and deranged our press is to focus front page coverage or radio broadcasters’ outrage on the latter issue and not the former?

What I want to explore in this first post (the other will follow hopefully soon enough)  is the nexus between the forgotten Anglo and Australian history of football in this country, and how that has helped shaped the antipathy, bordering on racism projected by the likes of the Sunday Telegraph’s harridan and the right wing nut jobs of 2GB, as well as many of their camp followers. For example:

A comment on the original story in the Sunday Telegraph

A comment on the original story in the Sunday Telegraph

As sure as night follows day some intellectually impaired xenophobe decides that, spurred on by the ravings of a fellow traveler in hyperbole and insularity, the sport of football should be ‘cut’ and the followers expelled to their own country or that of their parents. Putting aside this threat to send me back to the place me and my last four generations of forebears came from (i.e. Australia), what is most noticeable to me in this ratbag’s xenophobia is that he is stressing the otherness of the sport and by extension it’s racial make-up, denying the over 130 years of the game being played by Anglo-Australians.

I won’t go into too great a detail here on this point, as there are other more academically competent authors and more worthy articles filled with research that reinforce my point about the racist undertones of the ‘wogball’ hater. However I would like to postulate that in this day and age the barely disguised racism against soccer in Australia is tied to the mistaken belief that the sport has an almost purely non-Anglo history. In an Australia where it’s greatest sporting heroes are almost to a man or to a woman white and Anglo-Saxon, with perhaps a dash of the ‘boy from the bush’ or the working class kid who battled his or her way to success, well is it any surprise that when football’s history is sold both by the bigots and to some extent by its own promoters as ‘the world game’, the game of Croats, of Greeks, of Italians, of Sudanese etc etc, that it becomes ‘de-Anglified’. For every Johnny Warren in football, the rest of Australian sport throws up a dozen Anglo heroes, from the likes of Bradman and Fraser, through Newcombe to Messenger.

Before I go any further I want to make clear that I don’t want to turn this blog into an exercise of ‘ethnic-cleansing’ of soccer in Australia. However I find it disconcerting that there is almost a secret history of football in Australia that has been forgotten or ignored, allowing the bigots to manipulate the dominance of the post-war ethnic based support into a culture war where they can very easily posit football as foreign. Take as a case in point the 1965 Socceroos squad:

1965 Socceroos Squad

A cursory look at the pioneers of Australian international football throws up numerous names who do not fit the xenophobic generalisation demonstrated by the likes of the previously quoted Telegraph commentator. Hughes, Warren, Ackerley, Watkiss, Blue, Cook, Rice, Pearson, Giles, Rorke, Anderson…these are all surnames that would not look unnatural in a current or past Australian cricket, league, rules or Olympic swimming team. Recently celebrated by having their surviving squad members inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame, the 1965 Socceroos have until quite recently become a cypher in Australian football history. In the clamour to celebrate the success of the 2005 team that defeated Uruguay, a team that was as multicultural as modern Australia is, and as our national cricket, league and union teams aren’t, we as a community and the game’s administrators have forgotten to remember and promote the achievements of our Anglo-Australian soccer heritage. In that environment, in that historical and cultural context, is it any wonder that football’s xenophobic haters like Wilson, Jones and Hadley can vomit forth their bilious viciousness? They look to the alleged crimes of ‘wogball’ down under or the foreign phenomena of 1980s English hooliganism or Balkan flare displays and can only frame their hateful opinions because they know no better. They have no appreciation that football is not just an alien game to WASP Australians..it is just as integral to them, to us, to me as it is to the migrants who brought their own unique and wonderful elements to football in this country.

I think it has to be said at this point that football’s administrators have not helped the situation, insofar as their maddeningly obtuse NCIP policy and their desire to get away from the days of ‘old soccer’. By unfortunate extension, in attacking or downplaying the ethnic history of football in Australia, such as by forcing South Melbourne Hellas to become South Melbourne FC, or demanding Sydney Croatia become Sydney United, past and present administrators, they have by default allowed football to be culturally stereotyped by its ethnicity. To add insult to injury there has been bugger all promotion of an older, less ethnically diverse soccer history by the likes of the FFA to fill in the credibility gap created by their clumsy reshaping of our sport. It’s as if the suits can’t bring themselves to promote the organic and natural development of football in Australia because they themselves didn’t really have a part in it.

Perhaps the story of one of the most important icons of our sport here in Australia add even more force to this gap between the historical truth of our game having an Anglo-Australian past, and how many of football’s haters (and even some of its fans) still perceive the game as ‘UnAustralian’ The most obvious example that tells a lie to the myth of soccer as ‘wogball’ is the great Johnny Warren. A Botany boy who played football as the ‘New Australians’ were becoming predominant in the domestic competitions, his most successful years were spent with the highly successful St George Budapest club. A Socceroo who participated in our first three forays into the World Cup, then latterly a coach, media identity and inspiration for thousands of young children starting out in football, Johnny was the banner man for the sport in Australia for almost his entire life.

Johnny Warren exchanging pennants with the Japanese national team captain, 1971

Now within the football community Johnny’s name is synonymous with our sport. If you were to walk up to most Socceroos fans of the last generation or so, or even some of the younger members of the A-League clubs, the phrase ‘I told you so’ will almost always resonate, perhaps get a smile of recognition or a nod in agreement. His foundation does great work and if there is one place in Australia that has the initial wherewithal to become a museum for football it would have to be the family owned pub in Jamberoo. A recipient of numerous awards, an Australian national team captain, an ambassador for this country and its multicultural development, he was a true legend not just of football but of Australian sport in general.

Yet when it came time for Johnny to write his autobiography, he found himself having to address the same stereotypes that still haunt the writings of the rabidly anti-soccer press, thus his own life story was printed as ‘Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters’. Here was an Anglo-Australian who had lived in the exact same economic, social and political demographic that produced hundreds of Australian sportsmen and women, however unlike those who went into league, or union, or cricket, or swimming, he had to face down hate and suspicion merely because he played the round ball game.

Another less obvious example of how the wider Australian community has misplaced or misunderstood, or indeed totally forgotten the Anglo-Celtic Australian soccer history is the great Joe Marston. Sadly Joe passed away today, and it was most disappointing that we as a football loving community are currently distracted from honouring his life and achievements, in part because of the can of worms that were opened by Wilson’s injudicious, hate-ridden polemic. However here was a man who played football at one of the highest levels in the (e.g. the English FA Cup) at a time (1954) when back home in his native land there was a struggle to pull together a national team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Joe Marston, representing Preston North End circa 1954

Joe’s accomplishments overseas were more or less forgotten throughout the entire half-century between his playing hey-day and the advent of the Lowy era and the establishment of the FFA. I know from my own personal memories that the broader Australian sporting community only started to take notice of an Aussie succeeding overseas in soccer when it was done by Craig Johnston in the great Liverpool United squads of the 1980s. This forgetfulness when it came to Joe’s achievements have been rectified somewhat, including with the establishment of the Joe Marston Medal for the best player in the A-League grand final. However when his life and career are put into a similar context to other Australian sporting greats who were highly successful internationally, such as a Don Bradman, a Herb Elliott, a Dawn Fraser…well Marston has been left far behind by mainstream Australian sports fans and journalists. In my opinion the respect to Joe being shown to him now (as per this FFA article) is great, but arguably too late and nowhere near widely enough.

To summarise this, the first of two posts I will write on the culture of hostility against football in Australia, which at its worst leads to the rancid writings and words of Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones, I believe there has been a forgetting, a willful ignorance established within Australia’s sporting environment that denies not just the positive aspects of football as a multicultural experience, but equally as egregiously denies our Anglo-Australian soccer heritage. Where those who bash our game continually find their sporting paradigms in ‘acceptable’ dinki-di icons like Les Darcy, Jack Dyer, Jack Brabham or Ian Thorpe, they cannot conceive of or fail to contextualise soccer as a code that has been popular with, and been played well by, those same WASP Aussies that they idiolise in other sports.

Even our ‘Anglos’ are ‘wogs’.

On The Cusp Of Greatness (or Fortress Wanderland Claims Another Asian Giant)

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration, even though I am as biased as all hell, to say that the 1-0 win over Al Hilal on Saturday night was probably one of the top two or three moments not just for the Wanderers, but for Australian club football since at least the foundation of the A-League, if not in the entire history of domestic football in this country. Don’t get me wrong; it was hardly the most beautiful of games. It wasn’t a display of Joga Bonita, with flurries of goals, incisive incursions from fleet-footed strikers, creative midfielders using repeated pin-point passes to split the opposition defence, dazzling their markers with sublime skill and vision. Some more envious and less successful fans from the eastern side of Sydney may have called the Wanderers “jammy c-nts”. I’m sure Al Hilal fans will have left Wanderland wondering how they couldn’t score, and there have been stories like Seb Hassett’s in the Sydney Morning Herald that talked about luck and the Wanderers being outplayed. There’s also been the likes of Damien Lovelock who in the most recent ‘Top of the League’ podcast was disdainful and dismissive of the Wanderers’ playing style.

Having said all that if even the most vexatious and unsympathetic viewers of the Wanderers efforts in first leg of the AFC Champions’ League could, nay should, cede anything  when reviewing what transpired last Saturday night (and indeed beforehand) it is that in their campaign for Asian glory the relative new boys of the A-League have demonstrated a determination and self-belief that are the true hallmarks of great achievements in football. Arguably more importantly they are the qualities that gel admirably with the wider Australian community and culture, beyond the ‘sheilas, wogs and pooftas’ world of Australian soccer. They are attributes that mix well with the narrative of the underdog battling against a far wealthier and arguably more skillful opponent, taking the game right up to them and beating them not just on the score line but also in the stands. Saturday night’s win sits quite nicely alongside other Australian sporting episodes of a similar ilk, such as the successful 1974 and 2006 World Cup qualification final matches for the Socceroos, or perhaps in other athletic endeavours the Olympic gold medals for Jon Sieben and Duncan Armstrong at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, or the 1997 grand final win for the Newcastle Knights in the ARL premiership. Perhaps it could be seen as a parallel to Steve Waugh’s century against the English in the 2002/2003 Ashes test played at the SCG. I’m sure there are plenty of similar stories both from Australia’s sporting history and beyond that similarly rely upon elements such as grit, such as passion, such as an unwillingness to concede even when battered and arguably bettered. From a personal and prejudiced perspective the achievements of the Wanderers in the Asian Champions’ League including the pinnacle of last Saturday’s home win puts them into the same echelon of come from behind, battling against the odds victories such as the one I saw back in 1983, when Australia II came up trumps in the America’s Cup after being three races down in a best of seven regatta. It’s possibly in the same realm as Steve Bradbury’s short track speed skating gold medal in the Salt Lke City Winter Olympics of 2002, though I don’t believe the likes of Hiroshima Sanfrecce, Guangzhou Evergrande, FC Seoul or so far Al Hilal have fallen down as badly as Bradbury’s opponents did.

I know; the hyperbole is pretty full-on so I will try and inject a modicum of reality. There is no way I cannot ignore the speed and quality of the Saudi team’s players when they took on my beloved Wanderers at Parramatta. From the get-go there was plenty to trouble the home team, with Daniel Mullen and Anthony Golec particularly under the pump. There was a hunkered down, weather the storm feel to the Wanderers’ playing style and tactics that was ugly at times, worrisome at others. It was very easy to lapse into waves of angst with each Al Hilal attack in those first forty-five minutes, dreading the almost certain goal that never actually came. Thankfully the home crowd was in full voice (in fact I would suggest the RBB and other stands were in Spinal Tap parlance turned up to 11), and the manner in which the usual medley of chants and singing maintained spirits was vital. The reputation of the supporters at Wanderland being the twelfth man for the team was well and truly earned that night.

My personal experience of the game was a little different than usual insofar as I was in the western stand, directly opposite my usual lair of Bay 65, and my hopes of mixing with numerous kameraden at the Bavarian Bier Cafe pre-kick-off had been scuppered by a dose of lurgi. The spectacle and sound coming from a sizable contingent of away fans was impressive and generally speaking good natured from my point of view. I must say that before the RBB found its voice the Al Hilal support was easily a match for most of the A-League non-Wanderers supporters I have seen both at Wanderland or away (excluding the Cove at Allianz Stadium for a derby). They did seem to lose their way a little with Mexican waves and energetic flag waving, instead of the more creative chanting and call and response work from the RBB. However even if a good percentage of the Saudi support were either flown in by the clubs’ royal backers or were young men (and some women) culled from the local Saudi student community, there was a loud enough welter of chanting, singing and old fashioned barracking to keep Al Hilal’s players aware of the importance of their efforts on the pitch.

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I think it would be a disservice to those who played in the red and black last Saturday to consign their first half performance down to the simplistic stylings of ‘if in doubt, hoof it out’. Yet there was a degree of desperation and dare I say a bit of the park football feel to the structures and systems of the Wanderers in the first 45 minutes plus injury time. Passes went astray more often they should have, however the basic reason for this was that Al Hilal played a high and energetic press. Perhaps due to nerves, perhaps due to the lack of time, the Wanderers were slow to release their attack to such an extent they had no real open play shots on goal, and defensively there was a lot of scrambling, mostly on the wings. Al Dossary and Al Shamrani certainly asked a few interesting questions, though it has to be said that for the most part Mullen, Topor-Stanley, Hamill and Golec had the right answers In fact, for all the talk of how hard pressed the Wanderers were Ante Covic was barely called upon to make any meaningful saves.

The second half saw more of the same for the first 15 minutes or so, with Al Hilal owning the ball and pressing frequently, however their attempts to pierce the Wanderers’ defence was usually beaten back or sent askew through some mistakes from the visitors. It’s a hoary old argument, about possession and shots on goal determining who is the better side in a football match, and on strict numbers alone yes the Saudi team was more successful that the Wanderers. However having watched the game both live and on TV for all the possession, for all the shots Al Hilal on reflection were not as imposing as the statistics suggest. There were occasions even in the first half where Bridge or Haliti looked to be on the verge of cracking the visitor’s defence, and so when Tomi Juric came on in the 58th minute it could be argued that home coach Tony Popovic injected the right player at the right time.

From thereon the match pendulum swung sharply back towards the Wanderers, and the proof of the wisdom in the substitution of Santalab for Tomi came in the 64th minute. Golec’s left wing cross into the box was a pearler, curling in with the best placement for it to be met by Juric. His rampaging run and thrust out foot connected sweetly, sending the ball between the Al Hilal goalie’s legs and into the net. It was without doubt against the run of play, yet as the Wanderers have shown in the past they can and will hit teams on the counter. Golec’s cross was not entirely dissimilar to the ball he helped put into the back of Guangzhou Evergrande’s net in the home leg of the quarter finals, so for Al Hilal to concede on a play that had been profitable for the Wanderers in a previous match indicates that they were not entirely aware of the quality of their opposition.

A second goal from Juric was cruelly denied by the woodwork in the 72nd minute, and this wasn’t the last testing of the Al Hilal defences. The substitution of Matteo Poljak by Matthew Spiranovic was a welcome one for the home club and fans, especially considering Spira’s long break due to injury before this match. Slotting into the unfamiliar territory of the midfield he could’ve scored an unlikely goal when he was positioned sweetly for a shot near the Al Hilal goal’s left post, only for his reactive shot to be stopped by their goalie Al Sdairy. However the Al Hila goal keeper’s efforts were dwarfed before the end of the match, when home goal keeper Ante Covic kept out a couple of efforts from Al Hilal. In fact whilst Tomi Juric won the game for the Wanderers because of his goal, it was Ante Covic who secured the victory thanks to his usually high standards in front of the net. It’s possible to see Covic and his work on the pitch as the perfect metaphor for the entire Wanderers’ experience during this AFC Champions’ League; indomitable, fiercely protective of the goal with a defensive skill far beyond an accurate reckoning by those who come up against him, and most importantly unwilling to cede anything to any opposition no matter their previous track record in the competition or the dollar value of their squads.

So the famous victory at Wanderland was secured and yet again a record chapter was written anew in the history of football in Australia. Popvic’s coaching systems and tactics again blunted an Asian rival with a many-fold advantage in resources against the Wanderers. The home crowd of over 20,000 was a new benchmark for the club and the ground, and most importantly for the sport as a whole in Australia the Wanderers are now focusing the nation’s attention in a way that hasn’t been seen in football since the 2005 World Cup qualifier won by the Socceroos over Uruguay. Supporters from other clubs are starting to grudgingly respect not just what happens on the field but also the cultural and community value of the Wanderers. Immediately before the match there were headlines like Sydney Wanderers Have Done What No Pollie has Done and since the victory even that paragon of the arch-conservative, anti-soccer Anglo-Saxon Rugger Bugger world, Alan Jones has tried to get on the bandwagon. It has been a moment in football’s history in Australia that some would consider a mad fantasy based on the preceding elements. A perfect storm of support, of determination, of sporting prowess and perhaps most importantly integration into the Australian popular psyche celebrated by a once disdainful media; this is the narrative, the record, the fairy tale that has been the Western Sydney Wanderers and their AFC Champions’ League campaign.

Here’s hoping that by 7.00 am Sunday 2nd November Parramatta time the red and black and all faithful to the vision they have expanded upon for football in Australia get their just rewards, and finish off the job.

Come on you Wanderers!

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