Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of joining some of my football (of the round-ball variety) mates for a six-a-side tournament held in Forster-Tuncurry, The Viking Challenge, organised by Great Lakes United Football Club.
Over a round robin stage on the Saturday, groups of four teams competed for places in the graded knockout finals on the Sunday.
My team won our opening two games, but fell 2-nil in the third to finish second in our group.
This meant that we qualified for the B-grade finals on the Sunday, and were out of contention for the significant prize money on offer for the A-grade winners.
On the Sunday morning (after one or two quiet, relaxing, rejuvenating beverages at the local tavern on the Saturday night), we proceeded to play three knockout finals, to make it through to the B-grade grand final.
We fell at the final hurdle, losing 1-nil towards the death. Yours truly had a header cleared off the line that would have put us a goal ahead earlier, and likely won us the game.
But overall, seven games of six-a-side over a weekend away with some mates? Grand final win or not, it was a cracker of a weekend. Great goals, great skills, some terrific saves.
And the attendance was out of this world.
With open men’s and women’s categories, and a masters tournament, about 150 teams had registered and participated. The quality was of a particularly high standard, and the ferocity of the men’s open A-grade final was at a pretty high intensity.
People were there for a variety of reasons. Some were competitive, some for a good time, some had cracked a tinny shortly after sunrise on the Saturday, and not that long after their last from the night before.
From Sydney to Dubbo to Coffs Harbour, all and sundry came along for a great weekend of football, and I played in front of the biggest crowd of my long career in the B-grade grand final.
150 teams, minimum six per side, and including subs, that’s got to be at least 1000 people converging on the Forster-Tuncurry region for football. And that’s just the players.
I am reliably informed that the local publican did quite well from the attending participants.
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It reminded me that it is a fallacy to say that football doesn’t have a strong following in this country.
Being a member of an amateur club that has existed for over a century, a club that at one point provided players to represent Australia, it is also an utter fabrication that Australia does not have a long and distinguished football history.
Whether it is the vast number of storied clubs, or the multitude of participants week-in, week-out playing the game, the World Game has a place in Australia.
The problem, if my limited evidence based upon a weekend in Forster-Tuncurry is anything to go by, is that the game has no apparent Australian identity.
While I would not go as far as to say that each team represented 150 different clubs, I reckon it went pretty close. And that is just in the region of coastal and nearby regional NSW.
I can only imagine the thousands of clubs around the rest of the country (a shout out to my friend and captain of the West Wyalong Metro Shooters – good luck this year!).
My own club, Merewether Advance (established in 1894), was recently involved in a local brouhaha about whether or not our own claim to having existed for over a century was legitimate. Our own heritage was queried, along with others, such is the bare historical authentication available for Australian football clubs.
That equates to a massively diverse, but splintered and fragmented football identity in Australia.
Of more concern is that the above analysis only takes into consideration the regional implications of these clubs. I haven’t factored in the ethnic and international identities of so many clubs.
If any sport in Australia is more representative of the multicultural country we live in, then it is truly football. It is not merely multicultural, but multidimensional.
Football: the split personality of Australian sport
If you could unify that in some way, Australian football would truly be a force to be reckoned with.
Alas, the diversity of football in this country, and how to properly deal with it, is not new ground. In fact, I have had this very argument with a fellow roarer: is the FFA unifying the game, or alienating and discriminating against its own constituents?
I actually don’t have the answer to that. At least, if I thought I did, I do not anymore. Not after my Viking Challenge. Because the reality is that football is the world’s game. However, and truly unfortunately, it is most definitely not Australia’s game.
Honestly, can anyone tell me, what would you even call an Australian style of football?
Ange Postecoglou seems to have an opinion, if his latest book is anything to go by, but that is only his opinion. It is in many ways his ideal that he wants to instil in the Socceroos and Australia in general.
Is Australian football ultimately going to be the Dutch template that FFA is hoping will be grafted onto our domestic structure?
Or is it the British foundations and heritage that created so many of the original clubs, on the back of labourers, miners, and freemen?
What about the migrants from the Mediterranean who flooded Australia after the Second World War, and gave us some of the finest players we have ever seen?
And the most difficult part is that if you manage to successfully work your way through the various ethnic minefields that are Australian football, you then have to find a way to weave together every individual footballer, who each has their own idea about how to play the game, all of whom are adamant their way is the best way.
Sincerely: good luck.
To all the naysayers who would not miss an opportunity to take a crack at football, demanding that Australia has no heritage, no history, and little interest in the game, I say this: if you are going to bag out Australian football, at least do your research, and get your criticism right.
We have the history, we have so much heritage, and we have an overwhelming interest.
The problem is more that what that heritage, history, and interest means is intrinsically different to each individual football enthusiast.
It is a game in this country with a distinct worldview and perspective; an example of the patchwork piecemeal that is world football, within the prism of Australia itself.
But none of those views are necessarily Australian.
Follow Karlo on Twitter @Kdogroars