Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Heart Flutters at the End




MHFC v PGFC

Bubbledome Sat 8 December 2012




About time! About time Heart had a win. About time Melbourne Heart was rewarded with three points for their efforts in a game they just shaded. We all know the gods of football are often happy to punish teams who dominate but fail to penetrate. But at last they were kind to a Heart line up that was missing its Socceroos and led by an out-of-sorts Fred. The last minute goal to Golgol Mebrahtu – his first one in the A League – meant that a game seemingly headed for a scoreless draw ended up in the squeakiest of victories for the Cardiac Boys. It was hard to escape Aloisi’s Cheshire Cat smile after the game. And for all of Ian Ferguson’s cannily delivered, gruff disappointment in the post-match presser, his bearing suggested it was result he had already accepted as being hard-but-fair.
The first half of the game was pretty awful. Heart once more looked like lost chooks, faffing about with the ball, giving away possession way too easily and shooting and crossing weakly when the many opportunities to do so arose. Kalmar seemed to switch into slow motion a number of times when in a shooting position. Unfortunately for him the Perth defence intervened at normal speed.
When Perth received possession they did a pretty good job of looking steady and capable. However, their calmer organisation seemed only to lead to impotent conclusions. Having said that, Smeltz looked somewhat dangerous a couple of times but was ultimately wayward in his attempts on goal. Perhaps their best chance of the first half came to Harold, who took advantage of Heart right back, Walker’s being out of position after overlapping in attack. Harold looked good taking the ball into the vicinity of the area but shot benignly and straight at a grateful Bolton.
Jeremy Walker, the young Tasmanian, held on to his place in the continued absence of Marrone and justified the glowing reports from the previous week in another solid performance. He looked undaunted against more experienced attackers and got forward well. He was found out of position a couple of times and in one instance revealed a lack of body strength when easily pushed off the ball by a defender he tried to skin. But the young man has a fabulous future ahead of him if he can build on this performance. Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to him on the day was when the Glory’s pet Rottweiler, Jacob Burns was put on him at the beginning of the second half, a challenge he took in his stride.
David Williams again took my eye. He had many opportunities to cross and/or shoot that he fluffed in the first 60 minutes. Yet he plays with such energy and commitment that it always feels that he may well do something special at any moment. In the final part of the game he came into his own, putting in two exquisite crosses from the left to an unmarked Fred who failed to convert both times.
Towards the end Perth came close, with Bolton saving Heart’s hide with two splendid saves. But in the end Heart’s domination of the second half resulted in the deserved game breaker at the death, scored by a young man whose joy seemed to light up the Bubbledome.
A couple of whinges: Heart’s crowd was pathetic. It’s a good club with seemingly good values and a decent list that plays an attractive if erratic brand of football, coached by the man (the right Aloisi!) whose name should forever trigger delight in the Hearts of Australian football supporters. How about turning up to support them then?
And Nick Kalmar, if you ever again dive like you did in the 83rd minute to try and get a penalty, then I will personally arrange for you to be carted off to NIDA where they will teach you to act properly. Bah!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Scraping the Ising from the A League Souffle

Here's an oldie but a goodie from Paul Mavroudis first published in Das Libero about three years ago.

There's a complaint that pops up every now and again about the A-League and the FFA as well – from both lovers and haters of the new era – and it goes more or less like this: while there are plenty of clever and successful business people involved, there are not enough football people to balance it out and protect the game's essence. Which makes the recent departure, or sacking if you will, of Tony Ising from the Melbourne Victory – Ising came up with the concept in the first place – an interesting development in the club and league's history, but also one that that will probably be minimised when the post 2005 creation myth is finalised.

So poor Tony. Or not. The man's dream started in the Carlton SC outer back in the bad old NSL days. (Saying 'old' together with 'NSL' is still mandatory; 'bad' is optional, used with venom by the new footballing breed, while 'old soccerites' make use of it with sarcasm or irony.) He even posted the dream on a webpage which he later had torn down. Rumour has it that he tried to ram his idea through the South Melbourne board at one stage – either that or they weren't very perceptive or progressive, which would surprise few within that club. Among the more dedictated Victory supporters (ie, those who knew who Ising was) some were glad to see him go, seeing him as arrogant and flippant, while others were disappointed by his axing, seeing him as their man on the inside, someone who appreciated their concerns and viewpoints, as well as for taking the time out to answer their questions on the Victory online forum. The reaction from people outside the Victory was almost non-existant, save for some South fans dancing on his grave. Others were more philosophical while still seeing it as the inevitable taking place.

Ising's departure stems from the fact that there are two factions operating at A-League level. One is represented by your Ising types who, in numerous interviews prior to the A-League's beginning, emphasised uniting existing soccer supporters and creating some sort of new footballing culture as opposed to ditching everything that came before. The other types are your Geoff Lords who, let's be honest, are in it for the money. And if Ising thought he was going to be able to buck the general sporting trends in this country, well good on him; but I reckon he was wrong, even if hindsight works a treat.

Because it works like this. Say you're a rock band with a heavy leftist political slant, calling itself The Machine Rages On. Now if you happen to stay small time, your ability to make a difference is compromised by the fact that you're preaching to the converted, and frankly, the converted are fairly few and far between and already doing their bit. Of course, should you have a surprise breakthrough song, perhaps with some anti-police/authority motif, you may find yourself with quite a few more fans. Word spreads, radio's playing your song everywhere, and heaps of people love you. But people are more in tune with the barely restrained anger of your song rather than with the politics. Some of your original fans criticise you for selling out, while others feel uneasy with you being the in thing with a lot of people who are merely on the bandwagon. Your message of social upheaval and change gets lost in the pop-cultural milieu. And all of a sudden the idea you had of starting a political rock band to make a difference stares you back in the face. Yes you did make a difference, but what sort? In the end and despite all your best intentions, you only made a difference in so far as you furthered the capitalist ambitions of someone who saw your idea and happened to see it differently, and was able to make money off you and those whom you sought to help and call to action, who frankly couldn't have cared less to begin with. And the world keeps on turning in more or less the same fashion before you and your lofty dreams arrived on the scene. And it's not as if you did anything wrong per se; after all, you yourself maintained your integrity for the most part. But once your idea isn't just yours anymore, but also that of some guy who saw a chance to make some dosh and as well as it getting attached to some guy semi-consciously nodding along in his car, your control of that idea is gone, and you ain't getting it back.

There was a time in this country, and I was born into the tail end of it, where most of the people at sporting clubs really gave a toss about their team's fortunes. They were at the home games almost every week, most got to as many away games as they could, their emotional barometer was heavily affected by a win or a loss. This crossed sporting codes and all strata of society. Their club was something they believed in, it was their imagined and at the same time very real community. The notion of sport as part of the entertainment industry was inconceivable, But times changed, the old community clubs were eventually destroyed from without by those who couldn't appreciate what was already there, and often from within when the money ran out and revolutionary steps were taken to bring in more people, more money, and in turn more success, whatever the consequences.

And the price paid in the end was far too great. The AFL destroyed itself, in its quest to dictate what culture should exist, by choosing the corporate and fairweather over the philanthropic and diehard. In soccer's case, the diehards were essentially most of those who were left at NSL level, whether ethnic club or broad based. The money wasn't there, people across the board generally felt that changes needed to be made, but pretty soon it was obvious that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, and we were going to have a fresh new start – for people who believed that kind of thing is possible. And so about 50 years of accumulated culture, the good, the bad and the bizarre was discarded, and not even consigned to a history book. Everything had to be new, even the primordial creation myths had to be reinvented. But I digress.

There are people who cling on to some notion of the A-League being for the 'real' football fans, people who went to the NSL, people who couldn't make an association with existing clubs or the NSL, etc. And maybe it was a little like that in the beginning. But pretty soon it was taken over by people who needed something to do over the summer, those sucked in by the far too serious and self-referential 'atmosphere' and those who wanted to be in the 'in crowd', and who saw soccer as giving them some sort of cosmopolitan flavour in a country torn between cringeworthy parochialism and a need to be loved by everyone overseas. 

But all this could just be the bitter nostalgic rant of a disenfranchised NSL supporter. And for all anyone knows, Tony might be happy with how the club and league ended up. But on the same token, it is worth wondering why Tony did get the sack, who gave him the sack, and the potential reasons for this. Because for all the bullshit propaganda of a new era, Tony was one of the many remnants of that past mythical age, and his departure is a significant milestone for the Victory and the A-League, even if it goes largely unnoticed. 

It might be hard to read but this incarnation of Melbourne Victory is from Hattrick game c. 2001. Tonestar70 is the manager.

Friday, 30 November 2012

South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Worlds of Football Conference 2012

Worlds of Football Conference 2012:

From Paul Mavroudis

Here it is, finally, a little late, no pictures (I'm sorry, I just couldn't be bothered), but finished.

The conference's theme this time around was 'Heritage, Communities and Cultures'. Of course, within the scope of that topic there was much wriggle room, but the narrowness of some of the papers, principally the AFL club related selections, left me cold. However, there were several worthwhile papers also given, and some good rapport had with the other delegates. My handwritten, notes, where I took them, are pretty crappy, and thus this rundown will not be as good as my notes on the previous conference. The further on you go, the more likely these notes will also suffer from the exhaustion of the long and crowded schedule.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Your Schizophrenic Heart


Melbourne Heart FC v Newcastle Jets FC, Sat Nov 24 Bubbledome.


If Sigmund Freud had written Country and Western songs he might have penned a little polka, ‘Your Schizophrenic Heart’. And latter-day, wanna-be Nick Hornby’s could have cited the song as a way to convey the inexplicable experience of watching Melbourne Heart FC play football: shit one week; sugar the next.

But he didn’t. And so we must try to dissect the Heart unaided by cultural analogy to work out just where they are going wrong.

Like a cracked record I keep repeating my diagnosis:
  1. They are good and largely steady at the back – though odd lapses means that a largely underworked Bolton is yet to keep a clean sheet this season. The goal by Adelaide last week was plain dumb deflected luck – albeit assisted by a poor pass from Colosimo, whose probably damaged brains were being kept in place by 6000 stitches in his head and a big fuck-off bandage administered early in the game.
  2. They are solid coming out from midfield. Thompson is good and Gerhardt understands his role in getting the team moving forward from the back. Behich is vital and provides energetic inspiration from left back. At least two goals this season have been direct results of his gutsy efforts.
  3. “Now we have the ball up this end (ie the front third), what do we do with it?” seems to be the regular cry of the Heart attacking midfielders and forwards. Only Victory and Roar have felt the power of a pumping Heart that has been able to move the energy all the way up the field. Other games Heart has been a headless and scoreless chook. Last week by all reports, Heart was pathetic.
To be fair, the availability of personnel has been as issue. Even so, Heart has played both fabulously and crapulously without its talisman, Fred. It has had the players on the park who can do the job, but structure and effort have let the team down. It is no co-incidence that when Garcia had his best game (further up the field than usual) Heart were glorious against Roar.

This game will be the first chance to see the now-settled Garcia team up with a fresh Fred returning from injury. Their combination and precisely where they are deployed on the field will be the keys to whether Heart can get a result. If Aloisi gets the planning right and the players are committed we could be in for a cracker.

Not having seen Newcastle play this season and only having heard of one item of interest emanating from the Hunter (Heskey Time™), the only observation I can make is that Newcastle have also not yet kept a clean sheet, being even more porous than Heart. The loss of well-performed goalkeeper Mark Birighitti will only make the Jets’ net look all the more inviting for the Heart forwards. At the other end Heskey’s failure to score last week in a bad loss to Phoenix may well have piqued his (and his team’s) appetite for goals.

So the game is poised and goals are likely. Judging by the stats, Heart are due to score two goals and the Jets three but I can’t see Bolton picking the ball out of his net three times – that way madness lies.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Mmm, that's some good sports rorting right here!

South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Mmm, that's some good sports rorting right here!: Firstly, this post is going to have some really bloody long sentences. I hope none of my students read this. Secondly, I must declare that...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Calm and the Storm

Soccer reporting in Melbourne and Perth, 1908-1914

This is the text of my Worlds of Football Conference II conference paper to be delivered today at the MCG. It borrows substantially from this post on Perth Soccerphobia and also relates to my recent posting in the 38 reasons Australians shouldn't play soccer.
I’ve spent the past four years examining the digital newspaper archive in the NLA’s Trove collection. I have been interested in the newspaper reporting of soccer through the years, particularly in Melbourne and the other states colonised by Victorian rules in the late 1800s. I am working towards a genealogy of rhetorical figures or tropes (positive, negative and neutral) used to describe the game over the past 150 years.

The material presented here is derived from a limited archive in terms of dates (up until mid-1950s) and variety. Only the Argus (and a few suburban papers) in Melbourne have been digitised by the NLA.

These newspapers regularly articulate a cultural rejection of Soccer as an appropriate game for Australians. This rejection is conveyed via tropes that echo down through the years, many of which go back to the first flowerings of the game in Australia – something that might be reflected on by contemporary utterers of such criticism. They belong to a long tradition, one which has continually figured soccer as a new and foreign game for the past 130 years.

The rhetoric of refusal comes in phases:

1. Initial response (1883-1914)

Tend to be technical criticisms and observations of the game. They are also individual judgements about the kind of people who play it. There is also a sense in much of this criticism that this feeble game is not worthy of expending too much energy on. Let them play their game. They’re not troubling anyone.

2. Cultural-political (1905-1939)

The second phase of reception tends to be much tougher in its criticism. Layered onto the attitudes of phase 1 are cultural-political tropes. Generally, soccer is seen as a “wicked foreign game” as Roy hay has noted. Crucially, the rise of these criticisms also co-incides with the onset of ground allocation stress, initially in Perth and then spreading to the rest of the Australian rules states after ww1.

There are two further phases.

3. Post ww2 xenophobia (1950-1970)

This is a period of massive influx of European migrants during which an at times xenophobic community is confronted by significant cultural and sporting difference. These tensions come to a head in the 1950s in Melbourne with a serious moral panic created around soccer’s presumed intensions to smash footy. No longer is it “let them play their game”, it’s “let them play in the gutter.” For many people it is war.

4. Post 70s

In this phase soccer is no longer a cultural ‘secret’. The broader community is aware of the game as never before.
  • Participation figures are rising
  • First World Cup Qualification
  • Broad consumption of English football via television
  • NSL is the very first national league in any football code.
Important to remember that one phase does not replace another. Most of the tropes echo down the years to add their voice to more contemporary rejections. Moreover, there are other voices some of which are supportive and inclusive.

This paper focuses on the transition period between phase 1 and phase 2.

When soccer reformed in Melbourne in 1908, after its long hiatus, the Australian football environment had changed. An age of relative innocence was over and competitive, professionalised football codes had emerged from late 19C amateurism.

The rhetoric of nation and nationalism had changed the way football codes were perceived and reported. The promotion of Australian rules shifted from being a simple cultural preference to an act of cultural-political duty. The Australasian Football Council had in 1905 established a propaganda wing of its organisation and, having misappropriated the term “national game”, set about converting the rugby states (and New Zealand) to the so-called indigenous game, Australian rules. Taking the long view this is the process that gave us the farce of Izzy Folau.

Perth

In the West soccer and not rugby was the focus of Australian rules authorities and I think it’s accurate to say that Perth in the early 1900s witnesses the first substantial flowering of soccerphobia in Australia. The pressure of ground allocations and the perception that English school masters were forcing Aussie kids to play soccer resulted in a great deal of tension between the games and their journalistic mouthpieces. A series of nasty inter-code battles in Perth added a layer of ideological and political objections to the kind of observational journalistic judgements of soccer that predominated in Melbourne’s football coverage.

In 1900 The Daily News in Perth published an article rehearsing some of the older prejudices: Australian rules represents a better, middle road; soccer is an unpopular game with little merit, promulgated by and for British immigrants. Its tone is reminiscent of the early Melbourne responses, disparaging without being vicious.

A year later The Inquirer & Commercial News raised the stakes. ‘Follower’ wrote:
an insidious attempt is being made to instil a love for the British Association game into the hearts of the schoolboys in this colony . . . . But the Australian game is the national one – the very name proves that – and it is the one that should be taught the schoolboys of Australia . . . Let the lovers of the British Association play the game they were taught in the old country, but not interfere with the boys born in Australia, whose natural leaning is to play the Australian game.
No longer is the soccer commentary merely about unpopularity, peculiarity and foppish British-degeneracy; tropes of cultural struggle, propaganda, resistance, insidious brainwashing, and interference with children have entered the discourse. The tautological and absurd argument: ‘We’ve dubbed the game Australian Football: which proves that it’s the national game: which means that schoolboys should play Australian rules,’ inadvertantly exposes the exclusory nationalistic politics of the very act of such a naming.

Soccer retaliates with rhetoric of its own. This back and forth lasts until the war.

The final word from pre-war Perth goes to ‘Boundary’ in the West Australian. Writing in 1914 about the issue of foul play in Australian rules, he claimed that those “at the helm do a lot, but they cannot accomplish every thing. Therefore they desire the co-operation of all well-wishers in tabooing the foul player, and anything that would tend to hinder the progress of soccer.” Foul play needed to be cut out because it was damaging the game. But bizarrely, the integrity of Australian rules is seen as being secondary, in this construction, to the greater purpose of hindering soccer’s progress. The syntax of expression makes it clear that at least some Australian rules journalists had so internalised the rhetoric of the code war that the battle against soccer is presented as the primary goal of Australian rules supporters and journalists alike.

For the first time we start to see football prejudice as more than simply the bias or taste of a journalist or correspondent. It has become what Raymond Williams called a ‘structure of feeling’, a structured attitude of preference, taste and discrimination generalised across a community. Journalists and editors now have a role in conveying a particular sporting opinion in much the same way as they would be expected to hold a particular kind of political opinion, depending upon the newspaper’s policy. The only difference was that in much sports’ coverage in the southern and western states there seemed only one policy.

Melbourne

Even though soccer was quietly getting on with the business of growing after its reorganisation, the Melbourne press and the VFL seemed not to take it as a serious threat. It seemed worth neither talking up nor talking down. The older tropes of peculiarity and Britishness sealed it off from both serious consideration and viscious condemnation and the Melbourne ‘hosts’ could afford to give the ‘guests’ a courteous welcome. The Argus’s ‘Observer’ wrote in July 1910:
Although the British Association game is being played now by a good many clubs in Melbourne, and it is the particular game which excites the wildest enthusiasm in England, the same difficulties that hamper the Australian game in Sydney, and the Rugby game in Melbourne, will prevent its becoming really popular. At the same time, there are always in the community enough Englishmen trained to that particular game to constitute a few sides, and keep it going. In their special spheres, each game can afford to treat the others as in the hospitable and courteous light of guests, but anything like serious rivalry does not to my mind, come into the question.
The Argus claimed that though “British Association football was gaining popularity, it was not clashing with other sport, because those who played it would not spend their time on any other kind of football.” While it was seen to have no claims on Australian rules footballers (boys or men) or spectators, and while grounds were not an issue for dispute, soccer carried on unmolested.

Despite a flourishing eight-club and two-division competition the Argus failed to take the game seriously on a regular basis until 1913. In 1912 the reports are sporadic and even Victoria’s mauling of Tasmania on the hallowed turf at the MCG failed to generate a great deal of column space. The game fared little better in the first part of 1913. Match reports were sparse and usually minimal even though the papers sometimes acknowledged a substantial interest.

Standing out from this meagre trend was an example of what today might be called a ‘feature article’. In July 1913, a long piece was published expressing surprise and wonder at this game being played in Melbourne’s midst. While it referenced the peculiar, the unestablished and the exotic, it nonetheless reined in some of the other conventional prejudicial tropes. It allowed the game some quality and popularity and supportively bemoaned its lack of an enclosed ground.
“Soccer,” the more popular of the British games of football, has established a fair footing in Australia in the last few seasons, though, like every other exotic, it must have a hard battle to hold its own in public esteem with a purely local and long-established game, to the points of which Australians are bred from infancy. With the steady inflow of people there is increasing room for an old-world game, and some twenty teams are now playing under British Association rules in or about Melbourne, considerably hampered, of course, by the fact that there are few, if any, enclosed grounds with level turf at their disposal. The annual match between teams representing England and Scotland, played on the Fitzroy ground on Saturday, had about 4,000 enthusiasts watching. It was an excellent opportunity for realising the merits of the game.
And this was meant in good faith, because the author followed up with a comparative analysis that pointed out soccer’s qualities rather than put it in a poor light against Australian rules. Indeed, Australian rules might be able to learn something from the game with some study. Instead of chuckling quietly about heading, the author celebrated it as an impressive skill.

The wonderful thing is to see men jump into the air, receive a round ball, heavier than ours on the crown of the head, and direct it just where they want it to go; the other point that impresses one is the remarkable accuracy with which the players kick the ball in all sorts of positions that would be impossible and disastrous to Australians. They meet it is it flies feet high in the air and drive it a long distance considering the shape and weight of the ball; but, of course, there is no drop kicking, and only in the case of the goalkeepers an occasional punt. The beauty of the game is its combination. Wanting what we call “system” it would be nothing, and the longer you watch it the more you appreciate that point. Men are always playing for position, rarely if ever “bullocking” it. The best of our men might learn a lot – develop entirely new and desirable points in the Australian game, by seeing a few matches at “Soccer.”

This article seems to signal a change in mood, inaugurating a tendency to publish substantial match reports, culminating in the Dockerty Cup final report in October 1913 which began: “The match at Middle Park on Saturday between Yarraville and St. Kilda attracted a large crowd of spectators, who were treated to a fine exhibition of football.” It captured some of the game’s excitement and tension, describing Yarraville’s 4-3 win at the death as a lucky one.

In June 1914, another long piece in the Argus seemed to amplify all of the positives of the previous year’s feature article. It spoke to the popularity and growth of soccer in Melbourne at this time, acknowledging crowds of sometimes between two and four thousand down at Albert Park. By comparison the weekend after this piece was published 3,568 spectators turned up at the MCG to see Geelong beat Melbourne, though this figure does seem to represent a lower crowd than was usual. Perhaps the long trip from ‘Sleepy Hollow’ reduced visiting numbers.

It is written by an outsider, one brought up on Australian rules but who is sympathetic to soccer. He sees it as a migrants’ game, even though locals are starting to get involved. Victoria’s strength in a recent intercolonial game against NSW was very much determined by its being made up of experienced migrant Scottish and English players as against the callowness of the native born from the north. Soccer is seen to be technically skillful, a “pretty” and “clever” game lacking the corruption of professionalism that has poisoned the “Australian game”. Moreover, it has a referee who tends not to interfere and is respected. This latter point leads to the fascinating implied claim that Australian rules is a hotbed of corruption and match-fixing.

Seems that some things never change!

This article is possibly one of the first ‘sleeping giant’ articles published in Melbourne. Rarely, if ever, before has the game been described in such glowing and growing terms by a Melbourne journalist. Not only is it optimistic, it gives a solid foundation for such optimism. It is a game changer, or at least signals the fact that the game has changed to the extent that the Emerald Hill Record report on 1 August was nothing out of the ordinary. Yet it represented a massive change from the muffled silence of years gone by: “The semi-finals of the Dockerty Cup attracted a large crowd to Middle Park, chief interest being shown in the game between Thistle and St. Kilda.” The Argus breathlessly followed the four scoreless hours of the Dockerty Cup final and its replay between Thistle and Northumberland & Durhams without so much as a peep of complaint that no goals were registered.

Soccer again was on the edge. But this time it was on the edge of entering the mainstream of sport coverage in Victoria. While it had grown rapidly in Melbourne, other cities around Australia experienced similar levels of interest and participation. In every major city there was a bustling, energetic and growing soccer competition forcing itself into the consciousness of population via a media that was either doing its duty or was forced to acknowledge the game through various forms of pressure.

Nothing could stop it now.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Indigenous Footballers: the game is at your feet.

A version of this article was first published in the Melbourne Heart fanzine Schip Happens.
In the annals of football in Australia, Indigenous soccer players seem few and far between. Given the contribution of Indigenous athletes to other sports, this is to be lamented. Yet we shouldn’t underestimate the Indigenous presence. Five Aboriginal Socceroos (six if we count John Moriarty who was selected but never played) and eight Matildas settle that argument. Adam Sarota, James Brown, Jade North, Travis Dodd, Tahj Minniecon, Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams are just some of a growing band of Indigenous footballers making a tremendous impact.

David Williams is another. Heart’s left-winger recently had the honour of scoring the opening goal of the A League season! Born in Brisbane, David has already had a substantial career: three seasons in Europe with Brøndby and two Socceroo caps are other highlights. At 24 he has much of his career in front of him.

I spoke recently with David about football and the role of Indigenous players. While he played a number of sports as a kid and showed potential in Rugby Union, he followed his older brother into the beautiful game. He attributes his successes in the game to his “strong family support”.

David Williams on the cover of
Schip Happens
, 9 Nov 2012
David acknowledged the tendency of Indigenous athletes to avoid soccer or leave the game as they mature, gravitating towards Rugby League or Aussie rules. He believes soccer “is a game with so much to offer them” if they are open to its possibilities. He also claimed that “those Indigenous players who stay with football tend to excel” – a tantalising point that raises the question of how much we lose when Indigenous players like Adam Goodes or Preston Campbell go to other codes after substantial junior soccer careers.

Indigenous footballers are hard to find in soccer's past and they don’t represent a sizeable grouping in the contemporary game. Yet the game’s future is inexorably bound with the need to embrace and nurture Indigenous football talent. David is an FFA-appointed Indigenous Ambassador and is keen to pursue this goal.

But Williams is not simply part of a new phenomenon. He is also the latest in a long straggly line of Aboriginal players. In 1952, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “James Mulgrave, a 19-year-old aboriginal, may soon be playing first-grade Soccer for the Bankstown club. Only two or three aborigines have played in major Soccer in N.S.W. during the last 20 years. There is none playing major Soccer in the State at present.”

The article raises more questions than it answers: who were the two or three others to play the game in that period? Were there Indigenous players in other regions at other times?

About the only substantial evidence of Aboriginal participation in soccer before the 1950s is the fabulous story of ‘Bondi’ Neal, a goalkeeper on the NSW South Coast and in the Hunter Valley between 1903 and 1912. The highpoint of Neal’s career came in 1909 when he kept for a South Maitland representative team in a 2-0 defeat against the touring Western Australians. Around 1912 “he left the coalfields for his native South Coast” and disappeared from the record. John Maynard claims that “Neal is certainly the most famous early Aboriginal soccer player. But whatever became of this legendary player has disappeared from both the archives and memory.”

And this is typical. We know Indigenous players participated but the existing evidence is so patchy that we cannot draw a complete picture.

A clearer picture is available in the story of Charlie Perkins, who started to be noticed as a 15-year-old senior footballer in Adelaide in the early 1950s. He subsequently tried out for First Division clubs in England before playing a season with Bishop Auckland, one of England’s great amateur sides. He played first grade in Sydney for Pan-Hellenic upon his return.

Charles Perkins in action. Source: John Maynard,
The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe, p. 51, from Australian
Soccer Weekly
via Paul and Colin Tatz.
While Perkins was a genuine star of the game he is perhaps remembered as a curiosity. His game of choice might be explained via his radical political orientation and his ‘difference’ from other Aboriginal sportsmen. The attitude adopted is: ‘Yes. He might have played soccer but he was a maverick.’ Well he may have been a maverick but he was not the only one!

Two other Aboriginal players of Perkins’ generation also had remarkable careers, first as footballers and then in cultural affairs. John Moriarty was the first Indigenous player to be selected for Australia and Gordon Briscoe followed in Perkins’ footsteps, playing two seasons in England. What makes this story all the more remarkable is that these three young men were residents of the same home for “boys of mixed Aboriginal descent” in Port Adelaide and they all played for the Port Thistle club.

Briscoe claims that soccer was a blessing in that it helped him escape a racist society in which Aboriginal men had few options: “soccer lifted me out of that because the soccer fraternity encouraged me.” However, Briscoe warned recently that soccer has “forgotten Aboriginal people in its zest for self-development.” As he says, football in Port Adelaide relied on Aboriginal participation at a certain moment in time and when “we look to the future of Aboriginal people in soccer it is easy to be optimistic, but . . . the time is now ripe for the FFA to provide the support and the framework in which the passionate advocates and players of Indigenous soccer can succeed.”

Soccer can celebrate the fact that at one point in the 1950s it had stolen a march on the supposedly “indigenous” game. There were more Indigenous footballers playing first grade in Adelaide than were playing Aussie rules in Melbourne. Crucially, soccer now needs to work out how it lost contact with the Indigenous community.

From the age of nine, Williams played junior soccer for St George
Police Boys side in Sydney. He later joined the St George
Budapest squad and became one of their most valuable players.
No story about Indigenous footballers would be complete without reference to Harry Williams, perhaps the greatest Aboriginal player of all time (44 Socceroo appearances and 17 full caps). Like David Williams, Harry entered the game through circumstance and rose through its ranks through his brilliance and strength of character. He was “exposed to soccer by a friend across the street at six years of age. For me, it was just a question of circumstances. It just happened.”

The task for Australian soccer is to make sure that Indigenous participation not only keeps ‘happening’ through circumstance but is also nurtured and developed to its fullest extent through structures of support. It’s the key to the world game’s eventual success in Australia.

Much of the information from this piece was gleaned from John Maynard’s The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe, Magabala Books, 2011.

Heart on line in race to bottom

My preview that appeared in yesterday's Goal! Weekly. Glad my prediction was way off and that I worked the words Oedipal and frissons in.

Melbourne Heart FC v Brisbane Roar FC, Fri Nov 9 AAMI Stadium.


It’s probably too early for dire predictions but Melbourne Heart needs to produce some quality soon or face the prospect of playing catch-up football for the rest of the season. A loss to Brisbane Roar in the upcoming bottom-of-the-table clash would see Heart firmly ensconced at the wrong end with daylight and not goal difference separating it from the teams above.

Brisbane Roar has no basis for smugness either. Its own woeful run of results was only interrupted by the demolition of Victory at Lang Park in Round 2, the week after Heart’s derby win. Perhaps the Heart and Roar supporters could get a collective chant going, “Melbourne Victory: Can we play you every week?” Having said that, I get the feeling that Ange’s new improved team would fare slightly better against both cellar dwellers now the season is starting to get into swing and his team is beginning to click.

Clicking is not the problem for either of these teams. Heart has demonstrated how well it can fire time and again without being able to sustain its efforts or put the ball in the net very often. Last week against Wanderers it showed in the second half the kind of attractive football of which it is capable. But in the end a marvellous volleyed goal to Tadic was all the team had to show from its sporadic good work.

Heart defends well and also plays the ball out from the back reasonably well. It just loses its way as the goals near with a midfield that just doesn’t seem to work effectively and hard enough to get the job done. Coach John Aloisi must be sweating on the impending inclusion of Vinnie Grella to give his midfield the kind of creativity, energy and solidity it needs. And let’s face it, a midfield composed of Grella, Garcia, Fred, with Thompson and Dugandzic as a supporting cast intimates rich possibilities. Up front, Tadic, Macallister and Williams have all shown they can find the net. Let’s see how they go when this midfield gives them decent, frequent supply.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Roar play this year but my sense is that they have been resting on their laurels to some extent. Last year’s grand final and this year’s Oedipal smashing of Postecoglou’s team have perhaps left the team a little too self-satisfied. Wanderers took the game to them in Brisbane and it sounded as if they had no response to the new team’s energy and commitment. Moreover, Roar’s guns have failed to fire. Over recent weeks Broich and Berisha have had nothing like the impact they and coach Vidošić might have liked.

Again it is way too early to panic but Vidošić must be starting feel the frissons of doubt creeping into his thinking.

After round 1 this season, this game held the promise of Australia’s best and most attractive team over the past two years taking on a good hard-working team capable of producing its own brand of excitement and flair.

Apparently a month is a long time in football and what seems to be in store is a desperate struggle not to lose.

We’ll see.

KOD: Heart 1 Brisbane 1.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

38 reasons why Australians shouldn't play (or support) soccer



Here's a bit of fun! This is a work-in-progress so I'd be interested in feedback, especially if you think there are any reasons I've missed. I'd be happy to supply archival proof for any of the dot points if required.
I’ve spent the past four years examining the digital newspaper archive in the NLA’s Trove collection. I have been interested in the newspaper reporting of soccer through the years, particularly in Melbourne and the other states colonised by Victorian rules in the late 1800s. I am working towards a history of spin (positive, negative or neutral) used to describe the game over the past 150 years.
The material presented here is derived from a limited archive in terms of dates (up until mid-1950s) and variety. Only the Argus (and a few suburban papers) in Melbourne have been digitised.
The newspapers regularly articulate a cultural rejection of Soccer as an appropriate game for Australians. This is conveyed via notions that echo down through the years, many of which go back to the first flowerings of soccer in Australia – something that might be reflected on by contemporary utterers of such criticism. They belong to a long tradition, one which has continually figured soccer as a new and foreign game for the past 130 years.
The rhetoric of refusal comes in 4 phases:

 

1.     Initial response (1883-1914)

1.             Foreign
2.             New
3.             Soft
4.             Degenerate and enfeebling
5.             Unmanly
6.             Sneakily violent
7.             Absurd
8.             Mysterious
9.             Boring
10.           Meritless
11.            Unpopular
These are limited technical criticisms and observations of the game. They are also judgements about the kind of people who play it. There is a sense in much of this criticism that this feeble game is not worthy of expending too much journalistic energy on. Let them play their game. They’re not troubling anyone.

 

2.     Cultural-political (1905-1939)

12.        English
13.        Culturally inappropriate or unnatural
14.        Run by foreigners, notably British headmasters and/or civil servants
15.        Brainwashing of children
16.        Creation of artificial taste
17.        Occupation of our land
18.        Cultural invader
19.        Threat to our way of life
20.        Limiter to our “manifest destiny”
21.        Unpatriotic
22.        Betrayal of our armed forces
The second phase of reception tends to be much tougher in its criticism. Layered onto the attitudes of phase 1 are cultural-political tropes. Generally, soccer is seen as a “wicked foreign game” as Roy Hay has noted. Crucially, the rise of these criticisms also co-incides with the rise of ground allocation stress, initially in Perth and then spreading to the rest of the Australian rules states after ww1.

 

3.     Post ww2 xenophobia (1950-1970)

23.        European
24.        Anti-integrationist
25.        Facilitator of unAustralian crowd violence
26.        An invader with massive external financial support
27.        Stealer of our land
This is a period of massive influx of European migrants during which an at times xenophobic community is confronted by significant cultural and sporting difference. These tensions come to a head in the 1950s in Melbourne with a serious moral panic created around soccer’s presumed intensions to smash footy and steal its ovals. No longer is it “let them play their game”, it’s “let them play in the gutter.” For many people it is a kind of war.

 

4.     Post 70s

28.        A sport to keep mums happy
29.        Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters
30.        Storehouse of ethnic hatreds
31.        Misuser of public funds
32.        Communist
33.        Anti-competitive
34.        Vehicle of globalisation
35.        Corrupt game
In this phase soccer is no longer a dirty ‘secret’. The broader community is aware of the game as never before
  • Participation figures are rising
  • First World Cup Qualification
  • Broad consumption of English football via television
  • NSL is the very first national league in any football code.

Overall

36.        Unestablished
37.        UnAustralian
38.        Not Australian rules football/Rugby League

The final three points are ones that can be distilled from the 35 previous ones. Soccer is unestablished (even when it is established) and unAustralian (even when played by Australians). Ultimately soccer's greatest sin is that it is simply not Australian rules football or Rugby League.