Thursday, 19 December 2013

The King of Summer

 Anyone who knows me would be aware that soccer is hardly my favourite sport. When I was a boy the sight of my schoolmates playing with the round ball on ovals and bitumen play areas filled me with disdain and caused me to feel a heightened sense of derision toward the so-called "world game" that did me no credit.

 I could never understand the appeal of the game when there were so many other wonderful sports, particularly football games, that seemed far more worthy as an activity for gifted athletes. Sports where, to my mind, a bit of strength and aggression were required, not just the subtle art of kicking a football exactly where you want it to go while an opponent is trying to take it off you.

 Now I am much older and with hindsight and maturity which accompanies the wisdom of lengthening age, I realise my critique of the game and the animosity I felt toward it was unfair. But I still dislike soccer.

  Soccer in Australia is a growing sport although there has always been an undercurrent of support for the game that was possibly not readily apparent in the sports-pages of newspapers and on television newscasts who were only ever interested in "traditional" Australian sports.

 With Australia's high immigration rate and multicultural society this was not surprising.

 The sport has come a long way since the ethnic based clubs of the National Soccer League battled to make a mark in the Australian sporting landscape many moons ago. The A-League, a significant and well financed competition now has no trouble getting space in the media and the bigger clubs draw crowds for their blockbuster matches which are comparable to the best turnouts for top of the table Rugby League clashes.

 The game is on the move in Australia and good luck to them. I do think though they have to walk before they can run.

 The A-League plays it's season during the heart of the Australian summer, avoiding a clash with the other major football codes but bringing it right into direct competition with the old chestnut of Australian sport, the king of summer, cricket.

 There is some thought among soccer fans who deride cricket that the old game of bat and ball is on the wane and the high ground of public consciousness and battle for the sporting dollar is theirs for the taking. The current Ashes series has shown how deluded these fans are.

 It was very disappointing for me to read today the comments of David Gallop, the former head of the National Rugby League and current Chief Executive of the A-League, who declared that his game is "moving forward" and that the real cricket season is now over because the battle for the Ashes has been decided even though there are two more Test matches to play. Scared much David?

 It must be a significant blow to the morale of those who run soccer in Australia to see the charge that Australia's cricket team has made back into the heart's and mind's of sporting fans and Australians in general with their gallant and stirring victories in the Ashes series.

 Cricket, although it never really went away, has been rejuvenated this summer by the outstanding performances and success of the national team and the enduring lure and gravitas of one of the oldest and most bitter sporting rivalries in the world. Australia versus England for the Ashes. Soccer has nothing that can stand against it.

 Soccer has a huge role to play in the future sporting landscape of this nation. The game will continue to grow but those who run the game and support it exclusively must be more humble when considering it's role among other sports.

 The pretentious attitude of the soccer faithful is highlighted by fans who insist it must be called "football", even though there are three other football codes in this country, two of which at least are far more successful than the A-League. They must accept that they need to make their game attractive for those who spend their dollars watching sport and take to heart that they are relative late comers to Australian sport. You don't knock cricket off it's pedestal simply because you are the "world game" and you think that is the way it should be.

 The vast gulf between where soccer is placed in this country and where it's fans and administrators think it should be was highlighted by television ratings last Friday night. According to figures just released, 118 000 people watched the A-League match on SBS and Fox Sports. On the same night, two million people watched the cricket from Perth. The gap between expectation and reality could not be wider.

 Soccer is a great game but a little less pretentiousness and arrogance could make it greater and more popular in Australia. Stand your ground, support and promote your game, but know your place in the world and accept that sometimes others are better and more popular for a reason.

 I am sure the game in Australia has a great future. I wish them well. 

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