Leave your A-League colours at the door for Australia
Australia's Tim Cahill (left) reacts to a call made by referee Ravshan Irmatov during their 2014 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier match against Oman. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
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It was a message that reverberated around the room last Thursday night, as fans from around New South Wales met at FFA headquarters in Sydney.
Active support for the Socceroos is undergoing a renaissance, one that is free from ties to A-League support bases and club loyalties.
Anybody who has paid to watch the Socceroos play in Australia in recent years will know how dismal the atmosphere can be.
It doesn’t help that the FFA plays so many games in the cavernous, soulless monstrosity that is ANZ Stadium, but there is more than simply stadium acoustics that feed this problem.
The growing disconnect between the dreary atmosphere at Socceroos games and the vibrancy of the A-League is plain to see. Since the heady days of 2006, the active support for Socceroos matches has been declining relative to the level of support at A-League matches.
Perhaps this inverse relationship has something to do with the fact that many football fans have replaced the national team with an A-League club as their central focus. Perhaps the transitional phase hasn’t inspired too many new fans, or maybe Pim and Holger’s conservatism has simply strangled any excitement out of the national side.
In any event, if this new guard of Socceroos fans has its way, the lethargy will be a thing of the past. At best, the national team should be a coming together of the tribes.
Nobody expects the active fans of different clubs to get along during the regular season, but the national team should be a place where these divisions are put aside.
Last Thursday night, the seeds were planted for a new dawn. Marcus Ehrlich, a veteran fan of the Socceroos who helped organise the meeting, spoke to The Roar:
“The national team is still critically important for the sport in this country, and active support is an important component of football culture more generally.
“We want the Socceroos active support to reflect the best of the national team – young, vibrant, multicultural and inclusive.”
Messages of support were delivered in person from former Socceroo Mark Bosnich and current Socceroos captain Lucas Neill who met with the fans to discuss ideas and prospects for the future.
Neill, on one of his few nights off, made time for an impassioned plea to the assembled group.
Staring down his fellow countrymen, Neill explained the importance of active fans to the players, recalling fondly the Croatia game in Stuttgart, where throngs of green-and-gold-clad supporters rocked the stadium.
Make no mistake, this is not a collection of A-League support groups coming together. Far from it.
Rather, the new active support crew, under the working title ‘Socceroos Active Support’ (SAS), are a motley crew of disaffected but passionate fans who want visiting sides to fear playing the national team.
It’s an important moment. The Socceroos have a long history of bringing Australians together.
Since the early days, they have served to overcome the seemingly inherent factionalism in our game. They’ve also been a crucial catalyst for new supporters to take an interest in football, perhaps best illustrated in 1974 and 2006.
At best, they are Australia’s best loved national team. And while they might be hard to love at the moment, they are still ours.
The Green and Gold Army, which for so long led the charge at Socceroo fixtures, has faded. They held the banner high for years, but a new guard has arrived, and it’s time to move forward.
Now is not the time to throw mud at the legacy of the GGA, or talk down their efforts. Indeed, refugees of the GGA have been welcomed into the fold, exemplifying the conciliatory, forward-looking spirit of the new group.
There has hardly been a better time for fans to have this kind of discussion. The governing body is more open with supporters than ever before, illustrated by their keen involvement in Thursday night’s meeting.
Still, this bunch is fiercely independent, judging by some of the straightforward comments made to David Gallop and Kyle Patterson.
But to their credit, the representatives from the FFA made it immediately clear that they won’t have a tin ear to these new developments.
The reality is that the governing body are an important player in assisting with ticketing and other logistical matters.
The tyranny of distance has never been kind to Socceroos supporters. Precious few fans have the money or the time to travel around the country – let alone overseas – to support the national team.
To combat this problem, these young turks have proposed a structure that allows support groups to be set up in each state, in order to truly nationalise the group.
Time will only tell if a new active supporter base can get off the ground. The ‘no-dickheads’ policy will be held sacrosanct, but ideas for songs, chants, tifos and flags will be discussed at the new online forum, Socceroos Active Supporters.
Time is of the essence. The national team faces an uphill battle to get to Brazil after some shaky performances. But as Lucas Neill explained on Thursday night, the players can only do so much.
Active fans, who are willing to sing for ninety minutes, are crucial now more than ever before.
As Neill pleaded on the night – “we need you.”
Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.