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Australian football’s dependence on division, animosity and selfishness

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (47)

    • October 17th 2017 @ 8:50am
      Post_hoc said | October 17th 2017 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Yet there is alot more to be thankful for.

      The Socceroos and Ange are getting a lot more press than the ‘congress’ and more press is good. Stuart you are not a half full kind of guy. People are talking about the football as well, the admin is just a part and what ever happens happens. This is not the bad old days the football is better than it ever has been, the quality is a lot better, the coverage is better and will continue to get better. The grassroots is massive, and despite the fact that it is having to support the top tiers, we have more people wanting to play than we can physical handle.

      come November when we play Honduras the coverage will be bigger than ever, we may be going about it the hard way but there is no denying that it has been great publicity, and it will give us a good boost going into Christmas.

      All I see is sunshine

    • October 17th 2017 @ 9:12am
      TK said | October 17th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

      Self interest is what drives most people Stuart its never been any different and I am sure we can all cite examples from club days of administrative self interest cruelling even small advances. The game needs benevolent dictatorship to try and over come this entrenched behaviour but that ain’t working either. I think as a society life is getting tougher for ppl and this further entrenches the behaviours – as the saying goes when you are up to your arse in crocodiles it’s hard to remember you were going to drain the swamp. We need stability in a very unstable environment where criticism is rife. I see last night that my own club the roar have sacked our CEO and rumours of unpaid bills, failed shirt sponsorship with Rebel again are set to send us off down a familiar path. Being a football fan is a second job not a past time.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 2:59pm
        Dons83 said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        Too true TK. A job that you used to love doing, but now you do it because you’ve forgotten what it’s like to not do it.

        I take my hat off to Stuart (Good read, thank you) and all the other article writers on here.
        I also take my hat off to every commenter here too, be they infuriating, reasoned, retaliatory or just down right deliberately inflammatory for effect on this site and others like it.

        The fact that the likes of Stuart and the others write articles and we all comment shows one fundamental connection. CARE.

        We care about this game.

        It sometimes feels as though the people in positions of power and influence, have forgotten to do that. In some cases, it really feels like they never had any care in any way shape or form for the game from the off.

        From an outsider who is tired of trying to dig deep into every agenda on a minute to minute basis anymore for reason that are not required, it feels like there is no willingness to collaborate and move forward but rather what we have now which seems to be no more than school playground stuff of I’m going to win or if I can’t I’m going to make sure he loses as I’ll enjoy that just as much.

        Would it be good to think that football was the central focus once again and that we could all move forward as one for the benefit of the game? (team allegiances aside of course! That’s everyone’s prerogative. Got to have a team apparently (at least those who are left))

        As I ride off over the rainbow on my unicorn as WAR sings me on my way “Why Can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends?”

        Of course, if it was the playground, the teacher could just put a spike through the ball and that would be the end of it!

        Don’t stop caring people…one day someone might actually realise that we’re here.

        • October 17th 2017 @ 4:05pm
          TK said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          I do still vaguely recall that warm inner glow as i headed off on the train in my orange roar guernsey….

          And speaking of schoolyard behaviour, my fire breathing dragon would crap on your rainbow riding unicorn Dons83.

        • Columnist

          October 17th 2017 @ 11:14pm
          Stuart Thomas said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:14pm | ! Report

          Wow, an absolutely beautifully expressed sentiment. You used a quarter of the words I did to express the sentiment I intended to convey. I retire as of now.

          • October 18th 2017 @ 12:29am
            TK said | October 18th 2017 @ 12:29am | ! Report

            No need to retire Stuart – I keep telling Dons83 to contribute more, there’s plenty of room here for us all. I presume you weren’t referring to my tongue in cheek comments above where I share a collegiate view of the existence of mystical creatures. You never can tell on this site sometimes the replies end up in the strangest spots.

    • October 17th 2017 @ 9:41am
      mattq said | October 17th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      the behaviour of a-league managers is moot in this whole scenario, from my perspective. Club football is about passion and while they may have an obligation to uphold the value of the game they certainly don’t have an expectation to further the betterment of the FFA or the Socceroos. TBH I’d expect nothing less from either Arnold or Muscat (or Fergie, jose etc either). Fans lighting up on social media is better than them lighting up in the stadium. I see no issue with that either.

      The FFA, states and clubs on the other hand do have that responsibility so yes holding them to account is where the focus should be.

      And Ange will be judged on the Honduras games. Get us through and job done. Fail with his tactics and he will be consigned to the long list of managers who failed to get us to a World Cup (despite some good results along the way).

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:10am
      Nemesis said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      So, basically… AUS football is the same as football all around the world.

      Finally, Australia seems to be maturing as a football nation and adopting culture that is part of the fabric of football.

      This football culture may be alien to Aussies who have only experienced sport culture outside football.

      But, We Are Football and we have a culture that is unique to Football.

      Don’t like it? Watch something else. Football culture is never going to change to suit Aussies who are offended by it.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 12:12pm
        matth said | October 17th 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

        Actually, it appears AUS football is the same as most sport around most of the world. Name me a sport that doesn’t have self-interest, in-fighting, big egos, grandstanding, etc. I can’t think of one.

        • Roar Guru

          October 17th 2017 @ 12:52pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | October 17th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          Definitely, we have only just recently come through a massive stand-off in Australian cricket that went on for ages and got to the point of threatening tours and things before finally getting resolved.

          In truth, it probably is time for FFA to have an overhaul. When Frank Lowy came in and took it over and basically ran it like a dictatorship to try and get things going, that’s what was needed. But now things have settled, it’s probably at a point for the dictatorship to end and a more democratic governance to begin.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 1:40pm
        Swampy said | October 17th 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

        Exactly my thoughts. FoxSports is no different to Sky or BBC or Canal or any other. The English media has gusto when attacking the FA or whatever target sells ad space. Even ESPN has tore USAFF apart after their failure. Italy, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Russia etc. You can’t name a country that binds together in a national interest in football. It’s a game of passion, self-interest, money and power. It’s not the Space Program!

        • October 17th 2017 @ 2:11pm
          Fadida said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

          Agree with all of the above

      • October 17th 2017 @ 6:02pm
        mushi said | October 17th 2017 @ 6:02pm | ! Report

        Its funny you say that because chatting to one of the FFA board members one of the issues of concern for Fifa is that Australia have adopted commercial style governance practices to try and ensure some kind of objectivity from the political malaise. Fifa did the big finger waggle and said “that’s not football”

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:12am
      Midfielder said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      Good read Stuart…

      Lots of self interest in Football and lots of people who think they have the solution..

      What annoys me no end is those that proclaim the future not predict the future … as if they have magical powers that allow them to travel forward in time…

      Our media be it SBS or Fox has always been very opinionated, and they have no real balance against them.

      My hope is in time 10 will bring some balance and positiveity to Football

      • Columnist

        October 17th 2017 @ 11:21pm
        Stuart Thomas said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:21pm | ! Report

        Thanks mid, I’m coming up for the Mariners v Sky Blues game with the family, can we catch up? I have managed to make contact off the roar with Ben from Phnom Penh, trying to work out where Caltex is situated, would love to meet you.

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:24am
      Ken Spacey said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      So once more you have to think that Kossie ended up doing what we we were all thinking!!!

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