Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Summer Soccer: Tell 'im e's dreamin'

And then there's this, by Ian Warren from the Canberra Times, 20 July 1987. It's interesting because it shows how a number of aspects of the game and attitudes around it have changed. Interesting also that that some entrenched attitudes remain.
Notably this is written just before the game moved to summer. "It'll never work" or words to that effect claims Warren. Maybe it didn't.
AMONG THE MANY enormous problems faced by Australian soccer in its (probably hopeless) struggle for increased and enduring popularity is that the spectacle of the game itself does little to recruit participants and fans. The televising of Australian soccer probably does the game more harm than good while the televising of, say, basketball or of rugby league is a form of living advertising for the game.

Every Sunday the brave SBS-28 network broadcasts a whole match from Australia's West End Soccer League, boasting in its publicity material that this broadcast offers "the creme of local soccer". Bravely, I sat down to watch a match (4.30pm, July 12) between Sydney Olympic and SouthMelbourne.

Soccer referees have busy aftenoons these days and this was a busy afternoon for a referee rejoicing in thename of Bill Monteverde. Mr Monteverde's whistle regularly pierced the aternoon air like the insistent mating call of some monosyllabic bird of preyas infringement followed infringeent. Once in a while a little soccer interrupted the flow of fouling.

I was at a State Bank soccer league match a few Sundays ago in which one hyperactive defender was always urging his team mates to "Bite him!Bite him!" whenever an opponent advanced goalwards with the ball. This was, I fancy, an instruction to tackle the player rather than hang back and wait for him to actually do something with the ball in his possession.

There was a great deal of "biting" in the match offered by SBS. After a short spasm of actual soccer someone wouldbe writhing on the ground like a postman chewed by a bull terrier, clutching the ankles and femurs "bitten" in the tackle. Trainers were always on the field, administering the equivalent oftetanus injections to their fallen warriors.

"He's been in the wars," the panel ofcommentators (which included Johny Warren, Les Murray and an Englishperson doing an imitation of the commentators on BBC and ITV soccer programs) commented as someone who had been repeatedly "bitten" bit the turf again. Mr Monteverde, like most modern referees so used to and hardened by the spitefulness of the modern game that it would have taken an on-field murder to get him to send anyone off, showed five biters the yelow card, a trifling punishment fortheir crime of making the game unwatchably dreary.

During half-time the articulate LesMurray interviewed two soccer administrators on the subject of playing soccer fixtures in summer and in the evenings. One of them thought that this would be a great idea since it would allow "families" to come to the match after a day at the beach.

It is typical of Australian soccer administrators, blinded by their love of the game, that they would even dreamthat Australian soccer is a family entertainment. They were speaking after 45 minutes of tripping, kicking, writhing, hard lying to the referee, shirt pulling and swearing. I have no special gifts as a lip-reader but even I was able to decipher some of the terrible things Sydney Olympic manager Eddie "chop him down" Thomson was shouting at the long suffering Monteverde.

Monday, 28 April 2014

'I wouldn't like to see that'

The brief rise and inevitable fall of the Bulldogs

John Weldon wrote this piece for the Age in 1998. It's from a different time and speaks to a sentiment that's missing across all of our top-line professional sports today. And poor deluded John thought his Bulldogs were on the verge of a great era. Oh well.
I’ve been a Bulldogs fan since the late seventies. I watched them from the terraces at the Western Oval through various combinations of wind, hail and rain, and never once were they in any danger of tasting real success. Sure there was the odd finals campaign, but nothing which promised a future. That is until the appointment of Terry Wallace as coach, two seasons ago. He has brought levels of skill, endeavour and self-belief to the club the likes of which I have never seen before. He has the Doggies looking like winners, and I’m not sure if I like that.

I can’t truly enjoy the current run of success because I’m not used to it, and I don’t trust it. It’s hard to shake off that old feeling that it’s never too late to lose, (see last year’s preliminary final as proof of this). To make it that far last season and to fail so miserably was heart breaking, and as each victory takes the team closer to September glory I become more and more apprehensive. I worry about them like a parent whose child is ambitious and over-reaching, and like a parent I will feel their pain more deeply than they do, if they fail.

At times like this I wonder why I chose, as a boy, to follow such a troubled team. When I took an interest in football in my early teens, as a recent pommy migrant, teams such as Carlton, Hawthorn and Essendon were playing magnificent, awe inspiring football.

My first match was a Hawthorn vs. Footscray game at the Western oval in 1979. The dogs were hammered, but somehow they wormed their way into my soul. Even attendance at that years grand final, a stirring stoush between Carlton and Collingwood, couldn’t sway my heart, it was already beating red white and blue. Even before I understood what the game was about I understood what the Bulldogs were about. The crowd was full of pommies, wogs, paddies and others like me; I felt at home.

A fellow fan once said to me, “You don’t choose to barrack for Footscray, you’re geographically marooned out there. You have no choice.” This seems to be true, as all my friends from the St. Albans days, who barracked for the flashy teams of the eighties, have drifted back to the Bulldogs as they’ve grown older. Maybe it’s the fact that the other teams always hated coming over to our side of town. Somehow neither our ground nor our team were good enough in their eyes. As you become older you become more aware of that stigma, and you make a choice either to retreat from it or to wear it with pride every weekend at the game.

This most unfashionable of clubs now has over 20,000 members and is therefore guaranteed to survive, and I love that, but I resent the Johnny-come-lately’s in their brand new jumpers who stand in front of me in the outer. It’s not that I am afraid of change, I’m petrified of it. I find myself on the wrong side of thirty, wondering if the Bulldogs I supported will disappear forever. Will the newly won young fans of today turn out to be the self-satisfied Carltonesque fans of tomorrow? What will they know of standing on the sodden terraces at the Geelong Rd. end watching Brereton, Plugger and others carve up the hapless Bulldog defences of yesteryear?

Trooping out to the game week after week only to see your team destroyed, or almost make it, or nearly get it right, teaches a youth how to lose with grace. A win was a bonus. We were satisfied if we saw one great baulk from Douggie, a thumping tackle from Libba or a speccy from Chris. We were happy simply to be able to watch our team play. Perhaps winning is still too new a feeling. It’s hard for old timers like me to come to terms with

Strangely we revelled in the hellish conditions. The colder it got, the harder it rained and the more purplish and numb our extremities became the more we enjoyed ourselves. Success and the possibility of a premiership cannot replace that camaraderie.

The joy of the terraces at that glorious final-game-ever at the Whitten oval against West Coast, when the sky seemed to boil directly above the ground and bitter winds drove inch after inch of freezing rain into our faces. We collectively booed the poor fools who tried to raise umbrellas as we watched our boys play as true Scraggers, possibly for the last time, grinding the greatest of all Johnny-come-lately’s into the mud of Whitten Oval.

Now we face Adelaide, once again, in the preliminary final. If we can o’erleap them and go on to win the flag, it will surely spell the end of old Footscray and will truly herald the era of the Western Bulldogs. The move to Docklands will cement that and will end forever the days of standing on the terraces in the rain. We will sit undercover and in comfort and we will watch a winning team. I’m not sure I’d like to see that.