Why football is still a wog’s game

Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT

Australian football is in crisis.  Don’t let the spin doctors fool you – and they will try.  The game’s grassroots could do with some industrial strength fertiliser.  The A-League is starving to the point of emaciation, and the failed 2022 FIFA World Cup bid was nothing short of jejune.  All of this under the leadership of Frank Lowy and his heavily sedated lapdog, Ben Buckley.

Who’d be a football fan in Australia?  For those of us who are (and have been for decades not moments), it’s a constant battle for respect and acceptance.  Let’s make one thing clear: football apartheid exists.  Australian football has some critical issues to address internally before even contemplating a move to become the nation’s game of choice.

It’s times like these, we need Johnny.  He told us so, but we’ve lost our way.  Of course, I’m referring to Johnny Warren.  The man who aptly titled his autobiography, ‘Sheilas, wogs and poofters‘ in reference to a social mentality that still exists throughout the sporting community – one that should have been erased by now.

What’s wrong with Australians?  Why don’t they like football?  Hang on, it’s soccer.  No wait, wogball.  Why didn’t the people of Australia back the bid?  332,788 people registered their interest on the bid website.  Not ‘our’ game, not interested.  European, South American, Asian – but not Australian.  Isn’t it sad that a country in love with sport is more interested in the visit of Oprah Winfrey than the prospect of hosting an event that could inject $5 billion to the economy?

An insightful text was published this year titled, The Containment of Soccer in Australia: Fencing Off the World Game (edited by Christopher Hallinan and John Hughson).  It discusses a number of contemporary issues and highlights a paradox:

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, outdoor soccer was the second most popular organised sport for Australian children after swimming.  It far outstripped the popularity of the three other football codes that are played in Australia – rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules football.  Yet the soccer participation phenomenon in Australia is matched neither by the media coverage of the game… nor by the academic interest.”

It just doesn’t make sense.  Parents want their kids to participate in the game but they’re seemingly disinterested in it outside of that environment.  This is why the majority of the work needs to be done at the grassroots – culturally, socially, collectively and inclusively.  Bottom up, not top down.  But how can it be?

Football Federation Australia (FFA) is a governing body replete with insipid corporate types – staunch capitalists with as much feeling for the game as a two-dimensional cartoon kangaroo.  Where are the football people?  Ignored, forgotten, discarded – old soccer.

The National Soccer League (NSL) wasn’t professional enough – let’s agree on that.  But it had real passion, people who loved the game for its fluid passing, creativity and ability to infuse emotional breadth.  Now, we’ve just got goals, beers, hotdogs and plagiarised English chants.  Six seasons of the A-League and it’s up to the fans to build the game, create the atmosphere – what an abdication of administrative responsibility.  Marketing 101.

Many of the game’s most loyal, intensely technical and worldly fans left their NSL clubs in 2005 to embark on the promise of something amazing – the A-League.  Hated by the NSL diehards, who call them dogs and traitors, these people are now completely jaded by the road less travelled.  As if to say, “we trusted you and you led us to limbo.”  Lions for lambs.

Remember what happened when the South Sydney Rabbitohs were kicked out of rugby league?  There were street parades and riots, celebrities coming out in droves to support the club – mass hysteria.  Perhaps more poignantly, when Rupert Murdoch came back to town and sent league into chaos with the formation of ‘his’ Super League, the fans stood up to be counted.  Wasn’t going to happen.

Australian football is beholden to one man: Frank Lowy.  He doesn’t own the game, his money doesn’t rule the game, he isn’t the game.  It was quite clear to FIFA that he thought he was above the game – “my dream is” he said.  Most don’t know the history of Australian football, how he failed with the NSL and Sydney City (Hakoah).  That is not to say that he hasn’t done a good job as chair of FFA, his effort has been admirable.  But if the game’s future rests solely on his shoulders, well, that says it all.

The fundamental issue surrounding the state of football is tradition.  Tradition is part of every major sporting competition in Australia.  But sadly, football’s tradition is looked upon as toxic – ethnic, corrupt, and unmarketable to the Australian people.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The suits have passed their used by date – the milk’s off.  Bring in former NSL players, Socceroos, coaches, and even fans to consult to FFA.  The only way ‘our’ game will go forward is to accept the history, be honest about the present and strategically focused on the future.

Stop shooting the messenger and missing the message.

3 Responses to Why football is still a wog’s game

  1. Kate says:

    Passionate and visionary, this post shows we have the vision and ideas, we just need the political will. The FFA needs to remember and respect it’s constituency. On your bike, Ben Buckley. Let football lead football.

  2. Paul Oliveri says:

    well said mate

  3. peter says:

    Well said champ, I also recall Lowy stating that it was an emotinal factor to why Australia should win the 2022 campaign. I still cannot understand how “emotion” was involved with that pathetic clip of a cartoon stealing kangaroo and a tax evasive Hogan chasing him had anything to do with FOOTBALL.

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