After watching the Asian Cup match between Bahrain and United Arab Emirates in Canberra in January, I had to go to Melbourne for Jordan-Palestine.
Instead of flying, I was really tired of flying, I took the bus, tempted with promises of wi-fi, comfortable chairs and a chance to see some of the real Australia.
Two out of three wasn’t bad as the internet was as reliable as a Harry Kewell ligament but stopping in the middle of nowhere, well I think it was near Holbrook, at a truck stop at about three in the morning was jaw-dropping. To emerge under such a night sky was worth the eight hours.
The chat with some football fans was interesting too. They didn’t go to A-League games in Melbourne, they said, as they didn’t feel engaged. They wanted the FFA to do more in that regard. Perhaps it was a cultural difference but it was a point that I found hard to understand. I said something along the lines of, “Mate, if you want to go and see a game, go and see a game. What does the FFA have to do with it?”
The impression upon reading blogs and newspapers in Australia this week is that football there is being run by a cross between C-3P0 and Gordon Gecko with the business skills of the former and the feel for communication of the latter.
In Asian terms, the FFA is much better than most. I think it was 2010 when I sat under the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, taking in the brown walls and carpets of the federation’s offices and being told what I could and couldn’t ask the boss Nurdin Halid. He refused to talk about his time in prison for corruption (when still federation boss) alleged vote-buying and all kinds of cronyism.
In 2008, I talked to Nan Yong, then vice-president of the Chinese FA. He told me that if he became the chief, he would make a difference. He did and he did – his sentencing to ten years in prison for involvement in match-fixing certainly changed things in Chinese football.
Not all officials are corrupt. Some are just not interested in even the slightest hint of interaction with media or fans. When Chung Mong-joon was Korea FA boss, his engagement amounted to little more than a slight nod in the vague direction of the press box ahead of international games.
You can probably see where I am going with this (I should point out that I write two or three columns/articles a month for FFA’s official websites) so when I see some of the reaction in Australia to the events of the past few days, I can’t help thinking that in the great scheme of things, if the row over fan bans is the worst thing that is happening in Australian football, then you are lucky.
It is a football truism that fans are not supposed to like the football federation just like commuters are not supposed to like the companies that run the railways. In Australia though, it seems that the first instinct is to blame the federation for all football’s ills. That is not to say this is always wrong but it surely can’t always be right.
My opinion as stated last week was that there is little benefit to getting involved with media personalities who obviously have a beef with the game. I understand the opposite viewpoint when it comes to the media but the FFA should not be reacting to those who are seeking a reaction (and how happy those people must be now).
The situation with fan appeals is obviously a problem and of understandable concern to many. There should be recourse available to those who are banned, this is just right and proper. Although again, it is not a debate that would take place at all in many countries.
Look at the reaction to Damian de Bohun, the head of the A-League, talking to Fox Sports television live after a football game. Many seemed to feel angry at his answers or lack of them. I thought the whole event was fantastic, this is something that just does not happen. Here was a high-ranking official doing what I assume was an impromptu live TV interview – in most countries unusual – but being grilled mercilessly – in many unthinkable. It would send shivers of fear down the spine of the average Asian administrator.
From the outside looking in – and I accept that I am outside and nowhere near on the ground – then it seems to me that there is a relatively good league organised in a relatively good way in a relatively competitive marketplace by a federation that seems to be relatively willing to interact and engage with fans.
If they are failing to do so, then that is one thing, but there is at least something to work with. Talk of “the game I love being destroyed” or “betrayal of the fans” is surely verging into the realms of the hysteria, and while it makes a good headline it is counter-productive.
The fans are the lifeblood of the game, that is true, but it does not mean that they are always right and those who run it are always wrong.