Before the Socceroos began their 2014 World Cup campaign they were written off. Perhaps justifiably so: they are the worst team at the tournament according to the FIFA rankings and laboured through qualification.
Then there were the consecutive drubbings at the hands of Brazil and France, both turgid performances that resulted in 6-0 scorelines. Holger Osieck was shown the door, and replaced as coach by Ange Postecoglou. Postecoglou had limited time to shape the team in his image, with just two friendly matches scheduled before he named his initial 30 man squad that he would take to Brazil.
All these factors combined to produce a fear amongst the Australian football public. A fear that the Socceroos would be dominated, that they would be embarrassed. I myself was guilty of making such fatalistic predictions. But there can be no doubt that the Socceroos have shown as much heart, gumption, fight and energy as any team in Brazil in their opening two matches.
However, while these sort of performances cause us to swell with national pride and call for the likes of Tim Cahill to be knighted (And let’s be honest, if you scored that goal while playing FIFA you’d want a knighthood, let alone doing it at the World Cup), there is a bigger picture that we must step back to truly appreciate. The performance against the Netherlands in Porto Alegre was superb, but we can’t let it paper over the cracks in our game.
In the A-League, the issue of active support and ‘controlling violence vs growing the game’ continues to dominate social media and email inboxes everywhere. The conflicting views of all stakeholders need to be heard and discussed, and then a compromised reached. We cannot have this division occurring between supporters and those who administer the game, with clubs caught in an uncomfortable position between the two.
Now is the time for a singular vision as we as a sport try to capitalise on this fantastic tournament unfolding on our television screens. There is no doubt that if allowed to grow organically, football can be boosted significantly on the back of the game’s showpiece event by captivating the previously neutral fan.
People will want to become more involved in football and that starts with the most accessible of our domestic leagues, the A-League. Which is exactly why any new restrictions on ticketing and/or seating need to be very well researched and studied, and then scrapped anyway. Let the game grow!
“We want our fans to have a growing voice in how clubs interact with their supporters and the local community,” said Damien de Bohun, head of the A-League in a recent statement regarding new ticketing measures. That quote along with those restrictions could be interpreted as somewhat contradictory.
Below the A-League the establishment of the National Premier Leagues (NPL) has been a relative success, but there is a severe lack of time and resources dedicated to these state competitions. While the responsibility for media coverage and increasing visibility in a crowded sporting landscape lies largely with the individual state federations, Football Federation Australia needs to give them greater support to increase crowds and exposure.
An externally sourced statistics website is where you go for information on the various NPL competitions, not something run or administered by a central body. The FFA’s website provides a small link to the NPL website, with no advertising anywhere else on the page. In a time where there is no A-league being played, people new to the game could be lost. There needs to a great emphasis on advertising NPL matches. Hopefully the FFA Cup will be the start of this process.
The final and perhaps most prohibitive issue to those wishing to get involved in the game is the astronomical costs associated with playing grassroots football in Australia. Adults around the country regularly pay over $300, and sometimes much more, just to be registered with an association. This often doesn’t include any kit, and bear in mind that individuals still need to purchase boots and protective equipment on top of this outlay.
Obviously registrations can bring something of a financial windfall to clubs, but the demands are excessive. One amateur club in Sydney revealed to Football Central that the profit from their senior registrations is $22 out of just under $300.
It’s a similar story at grassroots clubs all over Australia. Some of the fee paid will help to cover referees fees, ground hire and uniforms in some cases. But the issue is that a huge percentage of the registration fee will end up with the state association and the FFA, and there seems to be little to show for this money that players pay: run down facilities, grounds without floodlights and unsafe cricket pitches in the middle of playing fields.
So while yes we played fantastically well against the Netherlands, let’s not lose sight of the work we need to do in our own back yard. If these issues are resolved football will be much healthier and stronger than it has ever been, and able to fully take advantage of interest piquing in the game when events like the World Cup and Asian Cup are attracting new fans and players.
If we can find a solution to these problems, the people involved can have knighthoods along with Sir Timmy.