I am a resident of the Hills Shire in the north west region of Sydney. It is a stunningly beautiful area: multicultural, diverse and a pleasant place to have raised a family.
Vast parklands, ample playing fields, excellent facilities and public spaces have led to my children enjoying their formative years in both casual play as well as formal sporting competition.
Having two daughters meant much of that time was spent in the frustrating, whistle-blowing realm of frosty winter mornings at netball courts and balmy evenings cheering on the girls in touch footy and Oz tag competitions.
Every now and again, my path would cross 2GB radio personality Ray Hadley, who was at that time also a resident. Every now and again it was at a sporting venue, but more often it was in the general comings and goings of everyday life in the area simply known by its residents as the Hills.
I never once spoke to him, nor will I ever.
Ray Hadley sits on a lofty perch worshipped by a hoard of somewhat naïve and gullible listeners who hang on every word he utters. The small voice I emit in the public sphere and the disdain for which he and his listeners have for it when the message dares to present an opinion differing from the one they have collectively agreed to hold is exactly the power on which he thrives.
He uses it rather chaotically, flip flopping from issue to issue depending upon the direction of the wind and the subject most likely to produce a mountain of clicks and commercial dollars.
Hadley did so on the 27th of April, with football his latest target after disgusting and violent images appeared on social media platforms in the aftermath of the NSW Premier League match between Rockdale Ilinden FC and Sydney United 58.
Despite such abhorrent incidents being few and far between in modern Australian domestic football, Hadley was on the charge and tore Football Australia CEO James Johnson to pieces in a ten-minute exchange on that Tuesday morning.
Frankly, it was a no contest.
The shock jock hammered away about what he viewed as the stupidity of Australian football’s decision to remove historical and cultural words, phrases and symbols in 2014 only to reverse that decision in 2019. In their detail, both decisions were far less simplistic than the broad summation Hadley provided.
Johnson was hammered from pillar to post, caught in the headlights. The thousands of listeners hoping to see the boss of ‘soccer’ belittled for pandering to what they perceive as violent, ethnic minorities who should leave their tensions abroad got everything they hoped for.
As a CEO, Johnson should be ashamed of his lack of preparedness, failing to raise the most obvious realities, such as the incident being an outlier when it comes to general patterns of behaviour in football and the appalling misogyny, violence, drunken buffoonery and criminality that consistently blacken the reputation of the game Hadley most vigorously supports, rugby league.
Instead, Hadley had his way with Johnson. Football’s boss took three days to muster a creditable response, yet the horse had bolted in terms of Hadley’s ability to galvanise the existing beliefs embedded in his base.
Thus, football took yet another disproportionate media whack. It appears the common excuses – ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘football communities are just microcosms of broader society’ – only hold weight when wielded by the big guns.
Most interesting is exactly why Hadley would feel the need to ignore a mountain of data, evidence and common knowledge about widespread problems in rugby league and make a concerted effort to target football and ensure the sins committed by a handful of fans were not only punished but also used to denigrate and disrespect the millions who play and engage with the game each and every day.
That motivation might have origins in Hadley’s own experiences, a political or media-driven agenda or perhaps be merely a pandering to broad and ingrained discriminatory views still held by what appears to be a significant percentage of Australian citizens.
Whatever the case may be, the attack on football was disgustingly transparent, dismissive of error elsewhere and deserved a far stronger response from Johnson.