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Football lovers are living in a glass house. We need to be careful about throwing stones

Do we need a new football stadium in Brisbane? (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
29th March, 2018
264
1803 Reads

It’s about time soccer people stopped playing the victim and cut out the sooking aimed towards the AFL and the sports media. We need to look at our own house to identify and fix our problems rather than blaming everyone else.

First of all people like Craig Foster, Mark Bosnich and John Kosmina – who have been fantastic servants of the world game – need to cut the cheap shots aimed at the AFL.

Lead by example fellas. Kosmina and Bosnich’s laughable attempt to demean the AFL by calling the AFLX pre season competition the AFL’s failed attempt to be as good as soccer was just cringeworthy.

Soccer fans are immaturely attacking the highly successful AFL rather than learning from the most successful sport in the country.

I am pretty sure the AFL isn’t worried and doesn’t need to be like soccer. Afterall, there were about 80,000 people at the MCG tonight when Richmond played Carlton at the MCG in the season opener.

The type of crowds that A-League clubs can only dream off. There are nearly 1 million club members spread out among the 18 AFL clubs.

Reigning premiers Richmond will come close to 90,000 on their own this year. The A-League totals a mere 116,251 from its ten clubs. In 2017, the AFL had nearly 7.3 million people come through the gates with an average of a tick over 35,200.

AFL Grand Final Richmond Tigers 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

The A-League has had 1.2 million come through the gates this season at an average of just over 10,800. The AFL has a $2.5 billion TV deal from 2017-2022. The FFA only received $350M in a similar period, which includes Socceroos and Matildas games as well as the domestic league.

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The cost of playing AFL as a kid is cheaper than soccer. For example, to play AFL in Geelong costs around $90-100 on average. Soccer parents in the region will fork out $140-450 depending on the club they choose.

Put simply, the AFL has plenty of money to trickle down to the grassroots level. This ensures they capture the future stars of the game and helps guarantee the games long-term survival.

FFA tend to try and get kids to pay for the people above them – a long-term criticism of the games national governing body and a great way to alienate the average person.

Let’s be realistic. While the AFL doesn’t have a world cup or a popular international competition, it is the best league for the code in the world.

It doesn’t matter the game is not popular elsewhere in the world – I mean who cares. We live in Australia and shouldn’t worry what the rest of the world watches.

The A-League is entertaining and has produced good quality games, but does not have the star power of the European leagues. Australian fans are effectively getting a second-rate product.

If you couldn’t tell, Aussie sports fans are fickle at best and won’t be easily sold on a product they don’t consider the best.

Soccer is a game of skill and tactic often free-flowing and occasionally spectacular. However, goals are infrequent leading to restlessness from crowds. To combat this, soccer fans can be rather active and generate a wonderful atmosphere at games.

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For example, the Western Sydney Wanderers active group, the Red and Black Bloc (RBB), are a brilliant set of fans (apart from the odd troublemaker) who brings colour and life to the game.

Western Sydney Wanderers active support fans

(AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

The vast majority of fans behave themselves, finding a way to entertain themselves leading to unfair and ridiculous criticism from the media. Unless you have a sound technical knowledge of the game, it can become somewhat mundane at times (unless you are watching the irresistible Manchester City).

People like Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho don’t do the game any favours with their negative approach to the game, but then again if the shoe fits…

Aussie Rules has regular goals, big hits, speed, spectacular marks and strategy. AFL fans are always cheering and celebrating, whether it be when their team puts one between the big sticks or lays a big hit.

The chant, ‘BALLLLL’ has become synonymous with Australian sport. Considering the action is aplenty, the fans are focused on the game and not anything else. One doesn’t need a great understanding of the game to appreciate a huge pack mark or a booming long goal either.

The question is: how can Australian soccer combat the weaknesses in its game and take advantage of the benefits? More people play soccer than any other sport.

For starters, this breakdown in relationship between fans and the governing body needs to be repaired.

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I am pleased to see FFA considering allowing legal pyrotechnics at games in the future. This will add to the atmosphere and keep the fans happy.

Most importantly, the A-League needs to add to the fan experience. Rather than just have the game as their product, what else can they do?

American sport is the world leader when it comes to providing sheer entertainment. It’s more than the sport – it’s about the entire experience. The music and the live entertainment before, during and after the game… it’s pure theatre.

Perhaps the A-League can invest in something like this. It is a great way to sell to the fans and get the various active groups at different clubs involved.

Another idea is to get every kid registered to play soccer and a free membership for the club of their choice in Australia. This will help create a link to an A-League club down at the grassroots level and also encourage parents to fork out cash for a ticket or membership of their own to take their kids to a game.

The A-League needs to send players out to schools and local clubs regularly. The AFL does this in spades and is reaping huge benefits.

Even in Sydney the AFL has smartly invested in grassroots engagement, having players from the Giants and Swans attend schools, clubs and running clinics. It ensures the game flourishes in the country’s biggest city.

If we look around more and more, Aussie rules grounds are being developed in NSW – not traditionally an AFL state.

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Soccer and Aussie Rules are both wonderful products. There is simply no need to compete with each other.

Soccer people need to stop throwing stones that will inevitably crack the glass house we live in. Let’s find ways to make our product better and more appealing.

Learning from the success of the AFL is a great way to go about doing this.