The Roar
The Roar


Relegation hurts, but life can hurt you more

Malaysian goalkeeper Mohd.Heumi Eliza, right, catches the ball, as Indian soccer Captain Baichung Bhutia, center, looks on during a friendly match before the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) challenge cup, in Hyderabad, India. AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A
2nd May, 2013
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One day A-League fans will know the pain of relegation, which seems to be a curious obsession of the oft-bewildering Asian Football Confederation.

The AFC continues to insist that promotion and relegation are key components of leagues across Asia, regardless of whether multi-divisional leagues are even plausible in certain countries.

Coming from an organisation which just elected a president strongly alleged to have been involved in human rights abuses, the AFC would be better served cleaning up its own backyard than pointing the finger at others.

However, there’s no doubt there’s an element of intrigue missing from the A-League, even if many football fans in Australia have experienced the pain of relegation in one way or another.

I have – though it was hardly a life-changing experience – as I watched the hopelessly inept Fortuna Köln drop from the German second division into the third in a blaze of mediocrity in 2000.

I still remember Michael Klinkert’s header eight minutes from time condemning Fortuna to the drop on a warm Thursday evening on the south side of Cologne, as the Eagles suffered the ignominy of relegation with two games to spare.

Standing as I was directly behind the goal, I yelled out in English to Fortuna’s Hungarian defender Attila Dragoner to give me his jersey, to which he replied – in English – that he couldn’t speak German.

I have a sneaking suspicion communication problems may have been at the heart of Fortuna’s problems and their relegation was to have long-lasting consequences for a club which eventually went bankrupt.

I’ve often heard it said that one’s relationship with a football club is a lot like a marriage and in that regard, it could be said that relegation is a lot like a break-up.


Sadly I have now experienced both, for today is the day I will watch my partner of almost 10 years walk out the door for the very last time.

It’s a moment I have been dreading, not least because many of my best football memories have been formed with her alongside me.

From Steve Corica’s winner in the inaugural A-League grand final to friends made on the terraces at Nihondaira Stadium, from blockbuster World Cup qualifiers to high tea at half-time in Seoul’s World Cup Stadium – she was always there.

My most cherished memory was the fulfilment of a life-long dream – watching my beloved Socceroos not only compete at the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006, but also score their first ever goal, register their first ever win and against all the odds, advance to the second round.

She was alongside me for every magical moment – we got married at the Old Town Hall in Prague on that trip – and as I sit here gazing glumly at my computer screen, I do so underneath the twin set of World Cup tickets she hand-framed herself to commemorate the occasion.

Separating from a loved one is a surreal experience and I’m not quite sure how I’ll fill the long days from here on in.

I was planning to undertake several torrid relationships with women I meet online and write a book called ‘Laid Tuck’ about my experiences, but a certain friendhas beaten me to the punch with richly deserved success.

Maybe I could go back to university and do more study in my first love – the field of history – however I already hold multiple qualifications in the subject.


Or maybe I’ll just have to take some time for myself and admit that losing my long-term partner has been the most devastating blow of my life.

Unlike relegation, there’s no chance of bouncing back immediately here.

I feel a bit like how Dragoner must have felt at relegation-bound Fortuna; desperate for things to change but confused about how to make that happen.

For all the glib clichés about football being a matter of life and death, on some days even the beautiful game pales into insignificance.

Sadly for me, this is one of them.