Old soccer needs help to charge faint heartbeat

Aidan Ormond/Haymarket Media

Aidan Ormond/Haymarket Media

Sydney Olympic FC defeated Wollongong FC by 4 goals to nil on Saturday night in Round 2 of the TeleChoice Premier League.  I had not been back to watch Olympic play since the Club’s final match in the old NSL back in 2004, a goalless draw against South Melbourne at OKI Jubilee Stadium.

Back then I felt the game was dieing in this country, the crowds were low, the football was poor and the ambiguity of establishing a new national competition was stuck in the drafting stage.  Much has changed in a few short years, the Socceroos qualified for only their second ever FIFA World Cup and the birth of the Hyundai A-League has revolutionised football in Australia.

The sad side to all of our recent success in football is the demise of the local game.  I was in a state of dismay sitting in a crowd of just 1,121 people at Belmore Sports Ground.  I felt like I was attending the national conference of Greek milk bar owners.  I remember when both these sides were national champions.

The problem was back then being national champions in soccer was no big deal.  Winning the old NSL was never treated the same as winning the A-League trophy is today, the media was discriminatory in its reporting, culturally indifferent and obscure in its treatment of soccer and that’s partly why it had to change, and change it did.

I have fond memories of watching Olympic at St. George Stadium, Leichhardt Oval and Belmore Sports Ground in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.  I still remember being in the crowd as a young kid watching Olympic win the 1989/90 NSL title, it’s one of my earliest memories, the atmosphere was amazing.

The Club relocated to Toyota Park in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire to start the 2001/02 season, changing its name to Olympic Sharks and claiming its second NSL title after defeating Perth Glory 1-0 in the Grand Final at Subiaco Oval.  Olympic’s story is told by its fans with a lot of passion, other Clubs in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane have similar and even more impressive stories to tell.

The problem is no one is interested in the past, what a shame, because Australian football has a rich and untold history.  Now it’s referred to by many as the “bad old days”.  What a lot of rubbish!

Who cares about all the old supporters?  What about all the administrators and thousands of volunteers?  What about all the coaches and ex-players who played for the Socceroos pre-2005?  I am appalled at what has happened to these people.  “New football” has acted to take the best in the country, call it an A-League and leave the States to rebuild with what’s left.  Like a tornado, taking and destroying, leaving a huge mess to clean up afterwards.

How about a little help?  Or doesn’t “old soccer” want or more importantly need help?  Either way Football Federation Australia (FFA) needs to look after the local game, after-all it’s there where we produce our grassroots talent.

Old soccer has a faint heartbeat but it’s not dead yet!  There are a number of reasons why old soccer is suffering, beginning with ethnic-based Clubs not establishing an inclusive culture.  Olympic is run by Greeks for Greeks; Sydney United is run by Croats for Croats as Marconi Stallions is for Italians, more so now than ever before.

The game is for everyone and anyone who wants to be involved, at least it should be.  This quandary hasn’t changed and probably never will.  FFA has to step-in with a mandate to establish a link between the national body’s goals and the goals of the local Clubs, starting with a national philosophy.

FFA has produced the glossy document with the over-ambitious slogan, “Making Australia a World Leader in the World Game”, but is yet to effectively communicate this message to the football community.  Implementing Small-Sided Games (SSG’s) for juniors 6-12 years is a great start but it’s at the administration level where most help is needed.

It seems to me that most of FFA’s focus is on the big picture items, the one’s that involve money.  A prioritised list would read something like: 1. Socceroos, 2. A-League, 3. Olyroos, 4. SSG’s and 5. Matildas.  The local game needs more attention, more manpower and a huge dose of empathy.  Football has grown so fast and strong that it has overachieved in recent years.

There is however, one issue in the game which needs addressing right away and that is: the need for more football-experienced people running it.  Problem is – where do you find these people?  FFA clearly don’t like the idea of old soccer people getting involved and new football people seem to be turning over, rumour has it that FFA’s Head of High Performance, John Boultbee, is headed-off to join John O’Neill and Matt Carroll at Australian Rugby Union (ARU) headquarters.  So who’s going to get all this work done?

Football in this country should not be divided, football is neither old nor new, it just is what it is – it’s a game and a great one!  One in which kids all over Australia are embracing and participating in, they are bringing football’s to school that are round these days so they can play during lunch time (it used to be touch footy in my day).

Many are registering with their local Clubs to play on the weekend.  Every kid who wants to be the next Harry Kewell or Tim Cahill has to start somewhere and it’s most likely to be at a local then State League level Club, so FFA, it’s time to aggressively promote the game at the grassroots, share the workload and the knowledge please.

The future of the game is an inclusive one, the future is the kids, their development and the support of local Clubs so that we can achieve Johnny Warren’s dream of not only participating in a World Cup but winning one.  Johnny’s dream is our nation’s dream, we love this game, old fan or new fan let’s share the dream together with a beating heart.

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