With the winter codes now launched into their seasons, puffing out their chests to put the A-League on notice, the inevitable code wars have begun.
Fueling the wars are the hot topics in the different codes.
Football is grappling with the slowly diminishing standard of pitches on multi-purpose stadiums, the AFL community faces the pending return of the Essendon Bombers players from suspension, and the NRL is once again hosing down issues around gambling, drugs and club culture.
There is much to discuss and the tendency to slip into some sort of combative discourse is far too tempting for some.
Alternatively, one could embrace our local version of the Beautiful Game and become engrossed and enveloped in the convoluted, mathematical equation that is the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifying group for Russia 2018.
It’s about perspective, and the phrase ‘what you see, depends on where you stand’ captures the sad reality of some intentionally negative press and dialogue around football in Australia.
The position in which I stand sees me romanticising about the game, dreaming of World Cup qualification and laughing at those with some sort of axe to grind.
The beauty of football has never been more vital than now, as the Australian identity plays a game of musical chairs, somewhat undecided as to when to sit, where to move and who to play with.
Football produces romance, poetry and passion like no other game. The privileged position in which I find myself, living in a wealthy western society, with a decent income and a comfortable life reminds me to focus on such things.
Rather than becoming a negative voice that catalogues impending doom or calls out other codes for their failings, it is far more courageous to celebrate the game and sleep content each night.
Sure, it is fine to point out inter-code issues at times and I have done this satirically and ironically in the past, yet the underlying discussion on football needs to be positive or we become a proverbial rod for our own backs.
Sadly, you draw fewer clicks, make less money and attract less attention from potential advertisers with this approach, yet to intentionally inflame the code war conversation is to do damage to the game.
When I sit, dismayed, at the keyboard after reading hundreds of comments on The Roar after a day of code warring, I think of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in the game.
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The universality of football
Besart Berisha making his international debut for Kosovo in a far away land, while the Socceroos prepare for a World Cup qualifier against Iraq, in Iran, reminds us all of the glorious diversity of the world game.
In all four corners of the globe, this simple game is played. A parent need only find a sphere and place it at the feet of a child and the passion is born. The simplicity of the apparatus and the basic principles of the game ensure it will never become too complicated.
Seeing nations from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa come together using a common language is the heart of football, they struggle to talk to each other linguistically, yet speak with their footwork and skill. In turn, the game speaks to us.
Diego Maradona’s warm up routine
Doing the rounds on Facebook last winter, the mesmerising footage of the footballing genius during a warm up session with Napoli, is frankly, astonishing.
The ludicrous skill he displays in the two or so minutes of footage reminds us just how talented the modern player has become. Forget the weapons charges, steroid use and the white stuff he funnelled up his nose, and embrace his skill and dexterity, unparalleled in my lifetime.
People might be excused for sometimes thinking that Australia needs a successful national competition that produces quality players and entertains millions each year. Such is the negativity around the A-League.
We have a competitive league now, from which foreign clubs pinch our best young talent.
NSL football was inaccessible for me as a young child. Teams configured on racial and ethnic lines saw me sit somewhere in the vacuum. Achieving devotion to clubs that were constantly reworked, reinvented and reconfigured proved difficult. The game couldn’t grow in that environment.
The birth of the A-League was a godsend.
No doubt, there are major issues, yet the game has grown and slowly but surely, kids are adopting the colours of their local team. It is an incredibly long-term project that requires patience, yet from such fragmented origins, we should be proud of the achievements.
Josep Gombau and Awer Mabil
When refugee Awer Mabil ran across the pitch celebrating his goal at Coopers stadium in 2014, he launched himself into the arms of his coach. Their embrace brought me to tears. Mabil conveyed more about hope, acceptance and loyalty in that one embrace, than I could write in a volume on the same topic.
I wrote about it at the time, stunned at the sheer romance of the moment and the perspective of the young man considering his difficult journey to Australian football, the opportunity he had been given and his love for the man who had shown faith in him.
Ten men, arm in arm
When John Aloisi lined up the most famous penalty in Australian football history, his teammates stood at halfway, arm in arm. The wall created by their Socceroo jerseys was perfect, the gold numbers and monogrammed names seemed inextricably linked.
Under the banner of ‘reverse the curse’, the team stood as one, with 30 years of crap behind them. We all know what happened next and there isn’t a true football fan in this country who can’t tell you where they were, what they did or who they cuddled in the moments after.
World Cup winners
My earliest memory of the World Cup trophy being lifted was the 1986 tournament, where Argentina held the Holy Grail aloft on the back of the heroics, and hands, of Diego Maradona.
There is an overwhelming sense of conquest about the moment that particular trophy is lifted. A moment that no other game can claim to capture, considering the true sense of ‘world’ in the name of the competition.
Being truly global doesn’t necessarily make football the ‘best’ game, but it does give it the right to claim universality and give it a potential power to unite a fractured world in the way that no other game can.
The young man who consoled the French fan after the Euro loss
When Portugal and the great Cristiano Ronaldo achieved their dream, the French were shattered. Their goal-scoring potency should crack the Portuguese defence, surely? In the end they couldn’t and a French man stood in tears in the public square, speechless and heart broken.
A young boy with a Portuguese flag couldn’t keep his eyes off the man, stunned by the Frenchman’s emotional response, he approached him. They embraced and in those 20 seconds, the boy vividly conveyed the human spirit that underlies all of our human endeavours, sporting or otherwise.
If people choose to focus on flares, misbehaviour and expansion while sections of the media do nothing to prevent it, our kids will grow up as cynical football fans with chips on their shoulders.
So the next time you get caught up in a code war, put down your light sabre and reflect on these images or some of your own. I know I try to.