You can keep your code wars, football is the beautiful game

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    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.

    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.

    The A-League
    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.

    John Aloisi celebrates scoring his penalty against Uruguay

    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.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • March 21st 2017 @ 7:26am
      Buddy said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

      The universal aspect of the game is something to be really enjoyed and cherished if you happen to be fortunate enough to travel around the planet. As a teenager and young man in europe I’d be inclined to say that traveling as a football fan brought about many challenges and wasn’t the safest pastime but although the remnants of that era are still prevalent in some places, in the vast majority of cases, football is a friendly language that crosses so many boundaries and cultures. I love traveling to away games in the A League, loathe the idea that visiting supporters are allocated the least desirable seating in the house and so I often sit amongst the home supporters and engage in whatever banter is flowing. We chat football in bars around the land exchanging experiences and generally enjoying the proceedings irrespective of the result. Overseas And visiting countries where communication is difficult, our particular code and its universal appeal often cuts the ice. In January for instance, I was shopping for a warmer hat in a famous market in Seoul – it was about -10c at the time and the stallholder wanted to know where we came from. Once we mentioned Australia, he immediately asked about football and started to list Australian players in his best English, which is infinitely better than my best Korean – and yes Stuart, Tim Cahill was the first player he mentioned but you might be pleased to know he knew Graham Arnold too! That type of experience has been repeated in too many places to remember but a handful on my own travels, and I would be willing to bet is the case for many of us. Football is like a skeleton key – unlocks so many situations and mainly creates smiles and happy memories to cherish and share.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 7:37am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:37am | ! Report

        Great story. On my endless quest for positive commentry on the game, I thought I would give this piece a try. Your story and the millions of others need to be told, as they inform who we are as a nation of football fans. Thanks for reading.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 8:15am
      AR said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      So in order to bemoan code war articles, Stuart begins by starting a code war article.

      Bravo Stuart!

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 10:12am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        Not sure if you read it AR, but the text celebrates some wonderful things about the game. If you think that I am that cheap and petty to dangle a carrot out their to generate a discussion that has been rehashed endlessly over the last few weeks, you obviously are not aware of my modus operandi.

        Being positive is what I try and do. My default position is celbration of the game and not warring. The only negativity I have been a part of, has been criticism of the game itself and every now and then a little sarcasm and satire for enjoyment at the expense of a wide variety of sports and situations.

        Thanks for reading anyway, I always appreciate it. Have a great day.

      • Roar Guru

        March 23rd 2017 @ 8:07am
        Redb said | March 23rd 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Yes AR lol – a rather poor attempt at disguising yet another code war article, or was it?

        If you have to keep telling yourself it’s beautiful, is it?

    • March 21st 2017 @ 8:28am
      Fadida said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Before this develops into a 150+ click code war, which it surely will, I’d like to point out that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I found Maradona’s skill sublime, others will find a 100kg man running at high speed into an opposing line, or a supremely athletic man running down a flank bouncing the ball and evading tackles thrilling.

      To each their own. Whatt would be nice is for those who don’t see the beauty in football to stay away from this discussion

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 2:46pm
        Stuart Thomas said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

        Looks like that might be the case so far today Fadida….so peaceful. We’ve got a big game on Thursday night…….need our rest. You are spot on here, I might even have a crack at a series of the most beautiful things in some other endeavours as well.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 2:55pm
          Sydneysider said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

          Stuart

          There aren’t the usual football haters on this tab because rugby union is now the punching bag of the 4 football codes.

          Am I right? I think I am.

          • Columnist

            March 21st 2017 @ 9:21pm
            Stuart Thomas said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:21pm | ! Report

            I think you might be right sydneysider and isn’t it nice. Wouldn’t it be great to clock up 100 clicks with a positive article. That’s the goal I’m working towards.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 10:37am
      Nemesis said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

      Great work, Stuart.

      Football is the sport which captivates me – whether it’s watching the World Cup Finale, or the local team playing in a park.

      I do also enjoy other sports that rely heavily on technique & tactics; rather than crash & bash: eg. field hockey, water polo, European Handball.

      I find incredibly boring: Crash & Bash sports. Where people just run into each other. However, if the players actually try to avoid running into each other – using their brains to think their way out of trouble – then even the Crash & Bash sports can be enjoyable.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 11:05am
        striker said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        Brilliant Read Stuart you just cant beat the beautiful game, no wonder the world are in love with the game.

        • Columnist

          March 21st 2017 @ 9:22pm
          Stuart Thomas said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

          Thanks striker. by the way we might need a striker in Tehran, are you available Thursday night?

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2017 @ 10:54am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      Ah, the joys of truth from a certain point of view.

      I give you the musical – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSOBeD1GC_Y

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 9:26pm
        Stuart Thomas said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:26pm | ! Report

        thanks Ben, just wet my pants! I’m not sure where you get em, but keep em coming. Poor Luke!

    • March 21st 2017 @ 1:18pm
      Post_hoc said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

      I just spent the morning watching my son trial for a zonal schools football team, about 40 10 and 11 yr olds kids selected by the various schools involved were put through a series of skills and small sided games to select a team. I enjoyed the morning just sitting there watching these boys having the time of their lives (it’s a school day all their mates are in class and we are getting to run around a synthetic pitch playing football how good is this) it won’t matter that he won’t make the team, as a dad I was proud he was selected to trial and prouder still that he held his own. I know he will come away from the day happy he gained such experience.

      It is a beautiful game and I enjoyed watching these kids playing it, what was even better was despite competing for spots great team work and fairplay, the schools should be proud of the young men they are producing.

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