In his regular weekly sports column journalist Peter FitzSimons went on a usual rant about why “football” should be called “soccer” in Australia.
This time the reason he gave was that Pele, arguably one of football’s greatest ever players, released a book about the game with the word soccer in the title.
He argued if Pele calls it soccer then we should as well. An instant retort to that point being that publishers change the title of a book to fit the market in which it’s being sold.
This issue however, taps into a strong, often emotional debate on what the round ball game is called. Certain journalists in the media refuse to offer proper respect to the code and call it football. What is more interesting is that they often seem bewildered as to why it is now called football, and more importantly why that matters.
First of all, I understand both sides of the debate, even though I agree with one side. As a teacher in western Sydney I come into contact with a lot of kids and I’m sorry to say no one calls the game football. Whether they are fans of the A-League or a team overseas, the game to them is called soccer. When they play for their school it’s called soccer and if I said to them we are playing football for sport, they would instantly think I was talking about rugby league.
From a marketing/branding perspective it makes no sense to convert new fans to a game that has changed its name. It would seem more logical to call the game soccer as the term is much more familiar.
I understand these arguments, but I also understand and support the counter arguments.
When the A-League was formed it represented a symbolic break from the past. Teams would represent regions, not cultures or ethnicities. Clubs would be fully professional and the game would be open and accessible to all. A new organisation to run the game would be solvent and free from chaos.
We would also take back the name football and claim it as our new name for our new era. In the minds of the Australian public, “soccer” was a game for foreigners, weaklings and hooligans to play out historical hatreds from the old country. Football would be different. Accessible, open, friendly, passionate but not dangerous and most important of all, it would unify Australians of all backgrounds. Calling it football allowed us to break free of those negative connotations that came with the game of soccer in Australia.
It wasn’t about confusing new fans, it was about signalling to the fans already out there that the game was moving forward and getting its act together.
I understand why other codes get very prickly about the name. Some people love nothing better than to rile up an internet forum with a comment as to why “it’s called soccer in this country”. What they don’t realise is that fans will allow you to call it soccer, you just can’t stop us from calling it football.
We will allow you also to call your game football. It’s just you have no ownership over the term just because your code used it for their professional leagues first. I know you fear the loss of your code’s identity if another game uses the term. You just can’t stop how we want to call our game.
The round ball game should be free to chart its own destiny in this country and reclaim its original name. That’s why it matters.