Australian football’s dependence on division, animosity and selfishness

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    After a tumultuous week for Australian football, it was relieving to have a weekend of A-League action to distract us from the off-field drama that followed the win against Syria.

    It was a stunning night, as our greatest Socceroo found the net twice, the Syrian supporters turned up in droves to create a wonderful atmosphere, and despite not hitting the heights in terms of skill the match lived up to the dramatic reality in which it was played.

    There was a nice sense of unity on the night, a contrast to the political shenanigans unravelling away from the pitch.

    Team selection again caused debate, however once Aaron Mooy entered the fray early in the first half one got the sense that the majority of spectators and supporters were mostly content with the men on the pitch charged with providing a victory. That victory would eventually come and be met with a Socceroos roar that was unique, all-encompassing and unfettered.

    When in full flight and winning, the Socceroos do something special to our football community. They create a brotherhood, a sense of pride and passion that can only be achieved with a national team in a truly global sport. They make us feel part of something special and give us a sense of belonging and community often craved in everyday life.

    Unfortunately for all of us, the remainder of the Australian football landscape is essentially one of division, animosity and bitter feuding.

    It is either a case of a collection of bitter, selfish and egotistical people all being co-incidentally drawn to a particular sport at the same time, or the fact that the structures and governance around football are open to power-broking and adversarial by design. I lean towards the latter.

    From top to bottom, from CEO to the casual A-League fan, there are deeply ingrained divisions in our game that define who we are as a collective and it is tough to cite examples of collegiality and bipartisanship. The standoff between the FFA and the A-League clubs over voting representation and their weight of say in a truly democratic governance structure, has exposed some petty behaviour.

    Rumours of deals done, reneged at the 11th hour and stubborn state federations refusing to relinquish their dominant position for a grander, long-term vision of the game have been embarrassing. As Steven Lowy and David Gallop dig their heels deeper and deeper into the quicksand, the embarrassment has reached the point of a proposed FIFA normalisation committee, whose task it will be to make decisions for the profitability, sustainability and future growth of the game in this country.

    I thought that was our job?

    If we could just get the little kids in the sand pit to work together and build a castle for the benefit of all, we wouldn’t need this outside assistance.

    If this isn’t enough to derail the faith of some, the farcical situation surrounding Ange Postecoglou’s tenure at the helm presents a similar example of ingrained division.

    In short, Postecoglou looks like a man mistrusting of his employers. Someone unwilling to engage in dialogue around his approach to team structure and selection and a manager growing increasingly bitter and frustrated at the public’s scepticism towards him. He appears genuinely disappointed by the tarnished final year of his reign.

    Announcing his early resignation from the job in the midst of the final throes of a qualifying campaign that is still there to be won, beggars belief and reeks of self-interest. The subsequent statements from both the FFA and Postecoglou himself, failed to clear up the matter and the path beaten to the door of Graham Arnold and other candidates, highlighted how farcical things had become.

    The inherent divisions in our game extend well beyond the FFA walls, with Fox Sports commentators Robbie Slater and Mark Bosnich accused of undertaking an agenda-driven media campaign to drive the manager from his position. I’ll pass no judgement there and leave that for others to decide, however the bravado of all parties involved creates a very poor tone at a crucial time.

    The sort of mindset this creates in a Socceroos team about to embark on a trip to Honduras can only be guessed at. The warring parties seem to be thinking quite lucidly about their positions, reputations and futures yet very little about what is the best thing for the Socceroos right now. It is no wonder we have seen people embrace the Matildas with such vigour, considering their recent run full of positivity, hope and flair. If the powers at be manage to find a way to tarnish this fairy-tale story and choke the purity and romance from their run, it will be shattering.

    Australian football’s penchant for animosity and division is also clearly alive and well at an A-League level, as the episodic, Kevin Muscat versus Graham Arnold spat reared its head again in Round 1.

    Following the appalling and unsportsperson-like actions of members of the Brazilian women’s team in Newcastle, one which Australians found distasteful and unsavoury, the managers of two of our biggest clubs also lowered the tone on our opening weekend. Many will point to Muscat as the instigator on this occasion and it seemed likely based on the vision. However, the pantomime-like ‘mine is bigger than yours’ game played by some of our managers is beneath the true meaning of sport.

    Of course, there will be passions that boil over on the sideline, many have done it, and it’s not something of which anyone is proud.

    Yet modelling yourself as an angry, bitter and twisted man, insinuating injustice in post-game interviews and coyly avoiding questions with an insulting, cocky grin really just labels our managers in the same way as the administrators above them. That is, egotistical individuals with personal goals and agendas that seem to override any altruistic sense of contributing to the betterment of football in Australia.

    Even our fans slump into a divisive position. Nothing wrong with passionate support yet the small number of childish buffoons who continue to tarnish the image of the game, still fail to see the benefit to football if their behaviour was adjusted.

    The most recent Big Blue saw a nasty post-script and social media lit up with vitriol and animosity. At a time when division reigns at the highest levels in the game, it was almost apt, that from top to bottom, the Australian football community found ways to enunciate that division throughout the first two weeks of the A-League.

    This is a league that now has free-to-air coverage on Network Ten and a collection of new imports to whet our appetites for the season ahead. We have a competition where crowd numbers aren’t falling off the cliff and a summer of football to savour.

    Perhaps it is just par for the course; what football is all about. Division may be the thing that defines and regenerates the game. Tension and power-play between administrators, managers, media and fans might be the thing that makes us tick.

    Or perhaps this is all pathetic in-fighting and bravado, dished out by a group of people without a care in the world for the future of the game or the plight of the Socceroos.

    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.