Culture is to blame for wrong offside calls, not the referees

06 January 2015

Sydney FC’s Marc Janko was denied “goal of the year” by a refereeing blunder according to their coach Graham Arnold in an A-League match last weekend: “They do it every week … they may as well just give the championship trophy to the referees because they decide what’s going on. They ruin games every week and today they have ruined goal of the year.” While no one disputes Janko’s goal was legal, and you need to admire Arnold’s humour of awarding the referees the championship, the fault is not with the referee, it’s with the sport’s culture.

The simple fact is that the sport loves denying goals. If the roles were reversed, and Newcastle Jets scored a cracking goal and the player was an eyelash offside, you could bet Arnold would be going even more bonkers. Fans, also, will similarly be just as apoplectic if there’s a hint of offside. We just won’t tolerate such goals, feeling that they are the greatest injustice in the game.

As response to the outrage of close offside calls, the referees are not making mistakes, they are refereeing according to the culture that the sport demands. Facts are that it is impossible for a referee to be looking at two spots at once, so there’s always a degree of an educated guess, or a hunch, when waving offside, no matter their level of experience. Given the sport’s hatred of marginally offside goals, their inclination is to lean towards waving offside. That even includes betraying FIFA’s “favour the attackers” edict.

Football’s culture fervently ignores “favour the attacker”. You see commentators all the time debating a close call, whether a shoulder was a whisker offside or not, or the player was “level” with the last defender. Wrong. If it’s that close, the instinctive response should be “that’s good enough, play on”. You favour the attacker. That also includes the more common outcome of an incorrect offside call – that a “goal scoring opportunity” is denied. Janko’s case was more unusual in that a goal was scored, then cancelled, make it feel more egregious. Really, any wrong call, no matter the outcome, should feel egregious.

No, the referees are not destroying the sport, the culture is. Denying goals, and denying goal scoring opportunities, and loving it. Arnold’s idea of full-time referees won’t work. In my observation, 90% of close offside calls at any level of the game are incorrect. Those that are incorrect, they are close enough under the “favour attackers” edict to be deemed correct. Therefore every single close offside call in the sport is wrong.

Clearly the edict fails. The only solution is for the law to change and the culture to follow. Let’s remember, the offside law was invented to stop loitering near the goal; never for this cynical, tactical ploy of running attackers offside by a few millimetres. The offside law should be updated to read “clearly offside” and the edict to favour the attackers  should advise “up to a full bodywidth offside is acceptable”. Then we might start to favour the attackers, and start to favour football, and also make the referees’ job far more humanly possible.

Full site: Socceroo Realm

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Socceroo Realm 2014 Year In Review

01 January 2015

With the World Cup in Brazil and some controversial issues, it was a busy year for the Socceroo Realm. It also marked the first full year the website has duplicated its content elsewhere – onto WordPress. The main site (socceroorealm.com) has been online since 1998 and in the early years was always top 5 in internet searches and one of the few opinion sites about. As the game grew, and, especially, as social media grew, the main site was swamped. The turning point was the 2010 World Cup, which received less than a quarter of the traffic of 2006. So much media was now out there that the feisty little Socceroo Realm was struggling for air.

Even though writing is purely done for the enjoyment, satisfaction comes with the feedback from readers. Even the late Johnny Warren seemed to be one, if you consider the frequency of phrases quoted almost verbatim. Most notorious was the “bad day” after the Uruguay loss in 2001 that “some media” apparently were saying. I never read “bad day” in any article, and I read everything. Only the Socceroo Realm mentioned that game as a “bad day” – using it as a theme in two posts.

Twitter was the first step outside the Socceroo Realm’s own little domain, then came WordPress. WordPress also benefits in offering friendly viewing for mobile devices, offers searching within the blog and from outside, and the ability to update away from my computer. The main Socceroo Realm website is basic HTML written when Netscape ruled, and would require a major knowledge boost and oodles of time to retro-fit it. Since WordPress is such a wonderful tool and so prolific as the host of many websites, the move made sense. Also thanks to WordPress, we get this wonderful Year In Review.

(click the image for the full report)

Top 5 Blogs

1) Reality check as Spain outclasses Australia

Not surprising that the World Cup in Brazil leads the list. After the reasonable performances in the first two games provided optimism for the final match, Australia was ultimately put into its place. The blog also reviewed the overall performance of the team, and offered predictions for the rest of the tournament. As a footnote to that blog, Eugene Galekovic should have started against Spain. Let’s face it, Matthew Ryan made mistakes against the Dutch. Galekovic was now at his second World Cup and never played a minute. In a game that was a dead rubber, he should have been rewarded. We saw the emotion all Colombians received when 43yo Faryd Mondragon was given the final few minutes against Japan to become the oldest ever player at a World Cup. Galekovic deserved the honour of lining up on the field for the national anthem.

2) Bigotry rears its ugly head – and it’s us

Football (as a community and a culture) will need to embrace the mainstream media if it really hopes to be the biggest sport in this country. Sadly, the insecure, precious nature of SBS at its worse manifested itself into ridiculous chest-thumping and outrage over a satirical cartoon about Arab money buying Melbourne City (nee Heart). Then to turn into yet another attack on the mainstream media, it was breathtaking in its hypocrisy and stupidity. Of course, on that very day in the same publication were 10 actual articles about football – all positive. Just like there’s been everyday since in the mainstream media, football has been fully and positively covered. Go to a News or Fairfax site right now and it’s oodles of stuff on the Asian Cup and A-League. Still waiting for SBS to write an article about that.

3) Shattering loss and elimination in a case of “what if”

Australia’s game against the Netherlands. Led it, then blew it.

4) Finally hope for Melbourne’s second club as Manchester City moves in

The Socceroo Realm has derided the Melbourne Heart concept since day one, and it was no surprise the entity would collapse. I metaphorically bet a friend that within 5 years they’re gone or subsumed. It took four years. The best part of the new ownership is giving the club a serious look to them – a real football club – simply by being called something sensible: Melbourne City. I’ve personally found them more attractive to support and they would be certainly my choice of the two Melbourne clubs. They still have problems with their coach, who seems one to be more interested in excuses than results. Also, there’s a growing campaign by supporters to add red into the home strip in place of the thin navy blue (the colour of Melbourne Victory). Considering the logo features red as do supporter scarves, this makes total sense and helps with the lineage between City and Heart. Then Melbourne really will have a separate and viable second football club.

5) End triple-punishment and dubious offsides, for the good of the game

These are the two issues that currently cripple the game. The first has been self-inflicted by way of an honourable idea that’s lost its originating purpose; the second is the lack of realisation that referees cannot see two places at once.

Where were the readers from?

Australia dominated (obviously), then USA, Brazil and UK. Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were the most obscure from the 56 countries in total.

Bigotry rears its ugly head again – and it’s us

27 January 2014

The day after Manchester City purchased an 80% controlling arm of Melbourne Heart, Melbourne’s Herald Sun ran this cartoon:

Melbourne Heart New Owners (c) Herald Sun

Melbourne Heart New Owners (c) Herald Sun

While the odd twits on twitter immediately ran with it accusing the HS used the cartoon to “welcome” the investment of money by the Arab-owned Manchester City, it wasn’t until SBS and their theworldgame website that a full exploitation of it came to fruition. Philip Micallef, who says he did not derive any pleasure from writing the piece, said this:

In a case of bad taste at best and blatant racism at worst, it published a cartoon depicting an Arab sheikh and a set of ‘cheer girls’ dressed in black burqas ushering the Heart team onto the field. A caption read “That should sheikh up the A-League”. What on earth was the Herald Sun thinking?

Did it think at all about the ramifications of publishing such a tasteless cartoon in the present political climate? Did it realise that as host country of the 2015 Asian Cup it is Australia’s obligation to welcome the participants not poke fun at their culture? Did it really believe that its hundreds of thousands of readers would approve of such ignorance and opportunism or, more seriously, find it funny? Did it honestly expect to get away with its flagrant disregard for basic human courtesy.

Australia arguably embraces multiculturalism like no other country and the Herald Sun’s cartoon went against everything that we stand for. I refuse to believe that there were more sinister motives at play here like purposely damaging the event’s credibility behind the publication of the controversial cartoon. However if the newspaper’s intention was merely to have some fun, surely it must have known that what is considered ‘just a bit of fun’ by us might not be seen as ‘fun’ by people from a different background, whether they live in Australia, Indonesia or Iran.

Ironically, Micallef’s description of the cartoon, “depicting an Arab sheikh and a set of ‘cheer girls’ dressed in black burqas ushering the Heart team onto the field”, is stunning for its accuracy and simplicity. Should the girls be dressed in bikinis? That would have stripped these women of their basic human courtesy. The intention of the newspaper was to satirise the news, as it does every single day about the biggest story. In a country that arguably embraces multiculturalism like no other, then no group should should be excluded, or we make a blanket law that protects all groups.

The real heart of the issue is not this cartoon by the HS, it’s again this vendetta by SBS and “us”, the football public, against a news operation because we are so insecure and precious about our flaws in the game. Craig Foster, in his Fairfax column about the purchase, also made a sleight at “half” of the media in Melbourne, only because that “half” doesn’t have him on their payroll. This grievance is built particularly that certain media outlets have the temerity to report crowd trouble and violence associated with our game, and therefore are anti-football. While I, the biggest proponent of free speech, especially when it comes to satire, did find this cartoon a little unsavoury, in no way would that suddenly propel me into a tirade of ridiculous claims of xenophobia and that a news operation is trying to destroy the game in this country and create racial hatred. At most, I’d suggest HS is better than this, that it doesn’t match their general reportage of the game, so is it worth the risk of upsetting their true enemies? No, not the risk of upsetting Muslims. They’ve actually fled to this country because basic freedoms are allowed. It’s the risk of upsetting the rapacious and hypocritical traditional football media. If a Catholic-run club bought MH and the cartoon had a group of priests cheering with “GO BOYS” across their tummies, would there be an issue? Not only would we all be laughing it up, the cartoon would be immediately inducted into the Hall Of Fame of Cartoon Satire.

If only such scene as depicted were even true. In these despotic nations, women aren’t even allowed to attend games. The only time I’ve seen such a breach of this ultra sexism and misogyny was after the Iran Game, where TV scenes in Tehran showed women “breaking free”, to fill the streets and the national stadium, unable to keep further suppressed their desire to grandly celebration their nation’s success. Yes, they were dressed like this, except for any lettering on their clothes, nor carrying pom-poms. Mark Knight, who is a superb satirist and indeed has mocked the Catholic religion in cartoons because NO one is immune to his wit, erred in that he should have used sheikhs, not women. Then again, what message is actually offensive? I see a despondent sheikh annoyed that women are out celebrating a football team, and this could shake up the A-League. Or maybe it will shake up the Islamic religion? Maybe it’s our own sensitivities that Arab Oil and Tourism, often built on slave labour, are funding this new club. Much like we’re aghast that Qatar “bought” the 2022 World Cup. Instead of confronting our insecurities, we attempt to brush it aside, and throw around labels like “racism” and “xenophobia” to distract from our own uneasiness by tarnishing someone else. The classic case of self-absolution by diminution of others.

It wouldn’t be so deceitful this crusade against HS if there was at least a minuscule attempt at balance by SBS. Fine to trash them for the cartoon; it’s disgraceful to use it to impugn the daily coverage as anything even remotely near similar. On the day of the announcement, the HS homepage had a massive headline reporting this great news. That led to at least four fully featured articles of news, opinion and video – all positive. In fact, you could visit HS every day and look under sport then football (note football, not soccer), and see an expansive and positive coverage of our game. When is that ever mentioned by SBS? Never. Of course, it doesn’t tickle the agenda of biased media against our poor, wretched souls struggling to survive. So it’s the cartoon, the once since probably never cartoon, that gets all the attention.

The absurdity of our crusade is even more ridiculous when our goal is to make football mainstream. There’s no bigger mainstream newspaper than the HS, serving the biggest A-League and sports market of Melbourne. Instead of recognising their otherwise superb coverage of the game, we continue to malign them, and push a lie. When SBS was an outcast from A-League coverage because they snubbed the inaugural rights and almost weekly either by Les Murray, Craig Foster or Jess Fink via their TV shows and website undertook hit-pieces against the A-League, who’s been responsible for the huge resurgence and growth and knowledge of the domestic game? News Ltd – via Fox Sports and their newspapers, with Fairfax also superb. They rescued the domestic game of which now SBS can capitalise upon. Without these mainstream organisations exposing the sport to the mainstream, the sport would barely register beyond that of the NSL days. A reader’s comment in Micallef’s article said he’s never read HS, yet here that person goes making judgements – judgements based on total ignorance and the football community’s agenda of bias and deceit alleging an anti-football media. While SBS is still doing hit pieces on News Ltd, isn’t it any wonder that people like Rebecca Wilson will still reciprocate against us?

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a reader of all media, and with subscriptions to News Ltd and Fairfax, is that those claiming bias are the most biased people themselves. Politicians and their sympathetic stooges are notorious for it. We, football, are even worst, being the most precious and insecure lot in history, and with still so much growing up to do. We’re the ones painting football in a bad light. We defend loutish behaviour at A-League games by condemning any media that dares report it. We now refuse to question our concerns raised by a satirical cartoon about Arab money flowing into the game. Of course, it’s Arab money that owns an English football club as well. Oops, that’s another concern. Anything British influencing the game in this country is supposed to be extirpated; what happened to that crusade? Yep, washed away once Arab mega dollars are thrown into our face.

The defintion of bigotry: “Intolerance towards those that hold different opinions from oneself.” Are we that? We’re even worse. We’re intolerant towards those that hold the same opinion as ourselves and when those very people are outsiders to us. Shame, shame, shame.

Source: http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/philip-micallef/blog/1179682/Bigotry-rears-its-ugly-head-again

More: socceroorealm.com

Finally hope for Melbourne’s second club as Manchester City moves in

25 January 2014

Melbourne’s now entrenched second club, Melbourne Heart, has been purchased ironically by Manchester’s second club, Manchester City, in a $11.25m deal. Manchester City will take an 80% controlling interest in the new club, with the owners of rugby league club Melbourne Storm taking the remaining 20%. It’s expected part of administration, facilities and other resources will be shared between Storm and the new club. This will really streamline and professionalise a club that’s lacked a true homebase since inception, nor a true model for success.

“New club” you read? Let’s be realistic in that Melbourne Heart was a dead club walking, with the owners potentially handing back the license to the FFA as the inaugural 5 year stint came to completion this season. With the worst crowds in the league, a wretched playing record that’s seen only one meek finals appearance and culminated in only one win this season and a horrible branding, ethos and marketing, it became stale and stagnant and long-term unviable. Not only had it become entrenched as Melbourne’s second club, it was seen as a second rate club. It’s only redeeming feature was that the owners under Peter Sidwell managed to keep it in minor profit through the years. Their heart seemed far more in that, rather than taking the club to the next level. This profitability was mostly on the back of FFA awarding them two of the highly profitable 3 derbies with Melbourne Victory as home games for most seasons, and by closing half the Bubble Stadium to save costs for almost all other games. According to Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper, the owners will walk away with a $5m profit from the sale, maybe as much as $6m. Not a bad business success.

Part of MH’s attraction of being in such a destitute position meant that Man City had power for some sort of re-branding. This was not possible with the other purchasing option in the A-League, the ultra successful Western Sydney Wanderers, still owned by the FFA. The consortium has already registered the name Melbourne City Football Club, and is almost certain to use it, just like the partnership with baseball’s New York Yankees to start the New York City MLS side. Melbourne is also seen as having far more room for growth than the Sydney club, with still a large latent base of football fans, if 95,000 to see Liverpool at the MCG is any indication. There’s simply no reason that some of these fans might see Melbourne City as an equivalent traditional and serious club, and attend some games. Two Melbourne clubs with average crowds over 15,000 should be attainable given a sound environment.

While Sporting Melbourne FC should always have been the name of Melbourne’s second club, and would still be the best choice, Melbourne City is worthy. The key issue with MH was its lack of “point of difference” from MV. To choose between the two, it boiled down to colour and nickname preference, with “heart” just a laughable comparison against “victory” as an attribute for a team. “Victory” also borrowed elegantly from the “Vic” in Victoria, and adopted the white V on their shirt in using the state’s colours. The colour red has little or no significance to the city of Melbourne, nor does “heart” have significance or any relevance. To make matters worse, the club played up the underdog tag with lame slogans like “heart believe” to inspire triumph rather than earn it through hard work and accountable results. As derisory and insipid as the nickname was, it also provided an awful series of puns for newspaper headlines, like heart beat, heart break and pulse. It was endless. All that we missed was flatlining, and that was coming soon anyway.

With “City”, the point of difference will be about identity. It’s a traditional name, and it has neutral connotations, unlike the bravado of the name “Victory” suggests. Because it is “City”, it suggests the team represents more for the city, compared to Victory a more fragmented base. With no other teams in the A-League with a “City” suffix, the team will no doubt be referred to as “City” in an abbreviated form, much as Man City is in the EPL. The FFA must protect this, and all other nicknames or suffixes in the A-League like United and FC. In a Herald-Sun poll, a whopping 81% of responders supported the name change, and it was repeated fractionally on a Fox Sports poll. If that’s not sufficient public endorsement, nothing is. The few fans of the club that like the existing nickname must make the sacrifice for the greater good. Reality is that it’s not about them, it’s about the future.

Even with the incredible investment, some history must be preserved. This can’t be a subsidiary of actual Manchester City in Australia, adopting a sky blue shirt or anything like that. The club must be seen to be independent, with a strong, unique identity. The history of the NSL has showed us how external baggage dramatically suppresses growth and maligns a club. The FFA already has requirements against this and it must be enforced. So the red and white colours remain, even if that means polishing the overall, somewhat garish, design. For their 100th match last week, MH presented a design of red and white quarters with black shorts, and far more professional. Personally it’s the sash of the away-strip that must come to the fore, becoming the motif that permeates through both home and away playing strips, the club logo and all branding. Maybe the away-strip incorporates sky-blue, like something in that colour with a white-trimmed red sash. That must be all the visible link to Manchester City.

The huge benefit of Man City is the dollars. The fans the second Melbourne club could have attracted have long since decided to return or stick with Victory. So it will be about broadening the support mostly by recruiting new fans. It could take 5 or even 10 years now. Much of it will depend on success on the field, and this is also an area that Man City’s and Storm’s expertise will come to the fore. No “name” coaches and has-been former Socceroos. The drive must be to quality coaching and players that can fulfil a role on the pitch, not that can fulfil a name to schmooze with sponsors. There’s also so many other areas to exploit in attracting crowds, notable ticket prices and membership options. Melbourne Victory present very much as the elitist club in this sense, so Melbourne City has the chance to present as the people’s club. The club for the city of Melbourne.

More: socceroorealm.com

Top 5 Football Highlights… and some lows… of 2013

18 January 2014

A year of concern that, with some introspection, proved exciting and buoyed the nation for the challenges that will come further in Asia, and then in 2014, at the World Cup

1) Australia defeating Iraq 1-0 to qualify for the World Cup

While Australia would still have qualified had they lost that final game of World Cup qualifying, it just would not have been right. Jordan, at home, later that evening snuffed out Oman’s hopes to over-take Australia. The match against Iraq in Sydney, much like the campaign, proved a struggle. It wasn’t until an inspired substitution on 77 minutes by coach Holger Osieck to bring on Joshua Kennedy, who happened to be a striker, to replace Tim Cahill, who happened to be not a striker, that 6 minutes later Kennedy scored the solitary goal that won the game. The nation was in raptures, proving a great fillip for all those that had doubts, and vindication of Osieck’s return to using experienced players for the final 3 games. The move to replace Cahill might have been Osieck’s best move of his entire tenure. Withing weeks, he was sacked. That said as much for his general coaching style, and as much as the frustration of the nation expecting more from their national team.

2) The World Cup draw

Spain, Netherlands and Chile – WOW! They are Australia’s group opponents. While the usual moans and groans about the “group of death” abounded, reality soon set that this is a time for great challenge and excitement. It beats the hell out of something like Switzerland, Croatia and Algeria.

3) Ange Postecoglou new Socceroos coach

After 6-0 losses to Brazil and then France, Holger Osieck was out and the precocious Ange Postecoglou in. This is exciting not just for the return to an Australian coach, especially one that reeks of the good side of the Australian sporting psyche of a respectful “have a go” attitude, it’s also a reward for the rate of development of the domestic coaches in general. Postecoglou has earned the credibility to coach a national team full of prima-donnas earning millions more than him. While the low ebb of talent at present does not quite present the problem that it might have previously, without clout, a coach can easily loose respect from the players. Postecoglou already showed a no-nonsense style, sweeping out the “boys club” of players like Craig Moore at Brisbane Roar upon his start there, and won’t have the same problem at national level. More importantly, he’s shown as an innovator and tactically astute – something that will benefit both the team and him. His develop will only be aided by taking on the likes of our World Cup opponents. Surmount those and he’ll be regarded as a genius. If he doesn’t, it’s a great learning experience for the Asian Cup in 2015 and then the World Cup 2018.

4) A-League Grand Final and season in general

This was not just a success for Central Coast finally being deserved champions after three previous grand final losses, it also showed the potential of the sport with the raging success of Western Sydney Wanderers. Even I had doubts whether western Sydney really such a hot-bed for the sport that was being touted to the public. They showed it is with vibrant crowds and slick administration, not to forget the premiership in their inaugural season. Credit to the FFA for acting swiftly here after booting out the insipid and ill-conceived Gold Coast. Credit for the huge rise in crowds and TV ratings for the A-League season. Credit also for streamlining the finals system. Cut from 4 weeks to 3 weeks to remove repeat match-ups and streamline the process, it probably still should be over 4 weeks, except the semi finals be over two legs to give the top two a type of second chance. At present they get the first week off and then face the one-off semi-final at home. It seems wrong for a whole season to unravel after one game.

5) Australia 2 – Oman 2

While it caused great mirth among fans, this match proved the catalyst for the exciting finale to the campaign, the exciting finale to the match, and an exciting switch in the coaching regime. It was at this point that the FFA started to question the value of Osieck. In fairness, Australia were hit by injury and suspension for this game, and recovered from a 2-0 deficit. These things happen in the sport. As a nation, we should be more humble, lest we become obnoxious, arrogrant brats, like our cricketers.

The lows…

Easily the media, and we’re talking the football media, their denialism and lack of responsibility for crowd troubles at A-League games. Us as a sport are responsible to stop these unsavoury problems continually damaging the image of our sport. While the FFA and most commentators have now swung about, especially after the appalling MV-WSW debacle late in the year, there’s still some stubborn resistance, notably from the likes of Les Murray and some of the core fans themselves that feel victimised and that it’s all sensationalised by the mainstream media. Interesting that our sport wants to become mainstream itself. How about acting it?

Elsewhere, Australia made a Turkey of themselves at the World Youth Cup while Mark Schwarzer sensationally retired from the national team upon Postecoglou naming his first squad complete with Schwarzer in it. It’s very strange to just bail on the eve of the World Cup and before even waiting or knowing of Postecoglou’s plans for Schwarzer. There was not a hint of any such action or desire to retire. Now at Chelsea as a reserve, Schwarzer probably saw his first team national selection as not guaranteed, and rather than fight for the spot, just quit altogether. A shame, because even as a third-choice for the national team – of which no doubt he’d gain such a selection – his experience would have been invaluable in Brazil for the two youngsters fighting to assume his role.

More, including links to all these stories: socceroorealm.com

Aloisi debacle, fans brawl in streets – that wasn’t the A-League’s real howler

30 December 2013

Fans from Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers brawl and cause vandalism in the streets; WSW fans then light flares and set off fire-crackers at the ground and punches are thrown? Yes, we saw all that. John Aloisi finally sacked from the basket case that is Melbourne Heart after another embarrassing loss. Yes, we all saw that. While they were two very significant events the past few days, the most damaging one went ignored: thousands of people turned away at the MV/WSW game through lack of tickets despite the stadium only two-thirds to capacity. If I wasn’t there, I could not have believed it myself. Since I was there, and was one of them, it’s not only believable, it was a disgrace.

Can’t get a ticket despite thousands of vacant seats

First thing, for some bizarre reason, all seats were made reserved despite this being a non-derby game. Gone were the $25 General Admission seats normally for the ends. They were now C-reserved at $35, with B (upper levels of side stands) at $45 and A (lower side stands) at a whopping $55. This created queues as people had to look at seating charts to pick out seats, and then it created the impossible situation for any group of people (even small groups of 3 or 4) to not get tickets together at the “cheapest” price. Remember, this is domestic A-League, not an international test match of Ashes cricket that cost many of the very same sports-goers just $5 more for 5 more hours of sport earlier in the day. The A-League consistently has been a rip-off, not just in Melbourne either. Brisbane and Newcastle have had infamous reporting in the past. Of the several frustrated groups I had in front of me trying to buy tickets, all of them gave up. This happened both times I queued. Why did I queue twice?

Problem two, my friends are MV members, so I figured I’d just cough up $45 and buy the seat next to them. They said it’s never been used all season, nor the previous season, and still wasn’t for this game. In fact, they were swimming in spare seats. Could the system sell me this seat? No. Apparently it was “sold”. I thought it was incompetence from the junior seller, so that’s why I tried at another window. I also wanted more proof of the debacle I was witnessing with the ticket selling of fans turned away. While I could have got a ticket to sit alone, I went more for the experience to hang with friends. For $45, I damn well should have had that option too.

Content with walking away on the principle of not rewarding this shemozzle, I strode to the city and took train home, expecting to see almost a full house of 30,000+, or at least 27,000+. The actual crowd? A lousy 22,000 – only a few thousand more than a regular period fixture. While it’s true MV probably raked in similar revenue with the reserved seating policy compared to maybe the 25,000 with GA and cheaper prices, they burnt many people in the process. These numbers, most of whom would be opportunistic fans in Melbourne on holidays or even crossing from the cricket, will be lost forever. We’ll never know the real number, because you can never count a negative, and the next time it happens, it will most likely be to a new batch of disappointed people. All that it means, at least to this occasional A-League attendee: If you spontaneously feel inclined to amble to the Bubble Stadium to watch a humble football match during Christmas time, don’t bother trying.

Debacle at Melbourne Heart

It wasn’t a great few days for the A-League, and especially not a great few weeks for Melbourne’s second club. John Aloisi, winless all season and for the final weeks of last season, was finally sacked by the Melbourne Sympathy. Even this obvious and delayed decision was greeted with sympathy for the coach by many fans and journalists. While there is a divide that wanted him long gone, the sympathetic side, the “this is not how we do things at Melbourne Heart”, were disappointed. If that’s not bad enough, John van’t Schip is the interim replacement. Remember him? The former coach that quit after being home-sick, ended up taking a job in Mexico, was sacked six months later, and is straight back at MH as technical director. Again, more sympathy? Hence the “Melbourne Sympathy” tag. These decisions, not to mention the hiring of the under-credentialled Aloisi in the first place, is endemic of club so absorbed with sympathy that it’s become a total basket case. Since inception, not one decision has been correct. Why has it materialised this way? All because of the dopey nickname.

No doubt many will be confused that a nickname matters so much. It does, and there’s two posts previously on this page covering it. A nickname is supposed to resonate strength, a purpose or a philosophy. The psychology of it bleeds throughout the club, the fans, the marketing and, ultimately, the key football decisions and results. You see it with glib “Heart Believe” slogans on the players race. You see it with weak decisions about the club’s ethos. Forget about winning, let’s play with heart. Let’s treat people nicely. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Let’s show sympathy for former stars. Let’s pretend all we need is a fake image to conjure emotion to force success, rather than physically forge it through tangible effects like good coaches, strong recruiting and an astute board. Let’s simply believe it will happen. Because if we believe it, it will, right?

The fact Aloisi put beating Wellington this round as the standard to keep his job defies belief. Wellington are last, and are playing away from home. The standard should be to beat the top 3 or 4 teams. That Wellington did win, only did MH a favour. No more “let’s do it for JA” nonsense from the players. No more “we’re creating the chances, we’re just not scoring” drivel from the coach. No more excuses. It’s results that count, and this club has been woeful every year. Even the second year in which they made the finals, it was a quick and embarrassing exit. Well, it probably wasn’t embarrassing to them, and that’s the problem. Van’t Schip said he’ll continue with the MH “philosophy”. I guess he means losing.

Much of MH’s troubles had the FFA as accomplices to the negligence. Initially, this dopey nickname was banned and a new name was being sought from either Sporting Melbourne FC, Melbournians FC or Melbourne Revolution. The FFA changed their mind and despite MH being long-used as the working name for the club, Sporting Melbourne FC ran a close second in a Herald Sun poll in Melbourne. It also had many commentators in raptures, notably on Fox Sports. All this key evidence was ignored.

Apparently MH are in the process of gaining new owners. If the new owners don’t re-brand and re-launch, they are wasting their time. There needs to be a clean break from this sordid history. It can be done. While they’ve missed the boat for those unconvinced MV fans that have now long settled back at MV after examining MH and deciding it was rubbish, Western Sydney Wanderers show that it can be done. With the second Melbourne club not having geography to rely upon, getting the branding as the “point of difference (POD)” is even more critical.

No one knows MH’s POD. Apparently it is playing attractive football via a youth policy. Someone invite me to the 21st birthdays of Vince Grella and Harry Kewell then. In sport, you can’t slant a team in that direction just for a POD. Ultimately, it’s success that counts, and their simply isn’t the pool of players on the market to give that slant and ensure the best chance of winning. In actuality, MH’s POD boiled down to the colour red, a dopey, meaningless and irrelevant nickname, and a logo that looks like a tooth. When you’re up against the successful Melbourne Victory – you know, the club that brandishes victory as its motto and has captured the essence of the state with the blue and whites colours and big V on its shirt – you’re a dead duck. If you’re one of the two clubs chanting “Melbourne” at derbies and not being distinguishable as a separate entity, you not only project you are second rate, you confirm you are second rate, and very much the second club in Melbourne. That’s a path to eternal oblivion.

These are the changes that must be made:

1) Renamed as Sporting Melbourne FC. This defines you as a traditional club, no gimmicks. You chant “Sporting” at derbies to provide identity.
2) The away-strip of white with red sash becomes the home strip. Again, a very traditional footballing style.
3) A new badge and branding uses the sash as its key motif
4) A new away-strip using a sash. It could be a reverse, or even a black with white sash, any combination. Stick to the sash.
5) Settle the training base. Apparently they are all over Melbourne, including as far out as LaTrobe University. With the “Sporting” name, maybe link with a sports institute, like the Victorian Institute of Sport or a nearby Uni.

After that, there needs to be a strong technical director that oversees a meaningful agenda for recruiting and playing style. No more aging ex-Socceroos. Any coach hired must have strong tactical attributes, not be a “name” simply to schmooze with sponsors. That Ante Milicic was overlooked for Aloisi was criminal. He’s now at WSW as their mastermind behind the scenes.

Mostly, it will take patience and solid, dedicated management. As stated earlier, the many fans unsure of MV and looked to a new club have now decided… against MH. Personally, I’m still undecided, preferring to follow Brisbane, and not interested in season memberships either. MV don’t offer a 3 or 5 game membership, so their loss. The new club needs to exploit these gaps in the market. Ticket prices and ticketing control can be another key separation. Keep general admission, including a GA members area and add visitor passes so occasional goers can sit with their membered family and friends. Offer 3 and 5 game memberships. These are extremely popular in the AFL, even if you must exclude derbies as one of the allowed games. These lower members then get first right to purchase their seat, otherwise it’s for general sale. Long term, even though 5 years away, look to get Ange Postecoglou at the club. Image counts, and with the right branding and right coach, the easy – and controllable – aspect is done.

Brawls in the streets before the game, flares at the ground, vandalism and punches thrown after

A terrible look for the A-League. Opposing Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers fans weilding metal bars threw rocks and chairs at each other outside a city pub before the game; then a barrage of flares and fire-crackers were set off at the game itself predominately by WSW fans. An absolute disgrace to the game. Like the situation with Melbourne Heart, this has been covered in earlier blogs on this page, especially with reference to the apathy by much of the football community and senior commentators of “it’s just a few bad apples”. If it is just a few, why are we letting them ruin the reputation of our sport? Essentially, the clubs and FFA must crack down. Even if that ultimately leads to extreme measures like a closed gate.

So far this season the behaviour has been great, with fans to be commended. While there’s still a few noses out of place (MV cheer squad not as vocal as previously and sat in the upper deck at Docklands games), the clubs are winning the war against this un-Australian footballing “culture”, and therefore the sport is winning. Most pleasing about the troubles is that the football media didn’t play the victim again. Normally when such events are reported, it’s seen as a witch-hunt. These particular events were bad enough that any football fan can see past their bias and accept the reporting was deserved. The interview on Channel 9 news of the MV member – a mother there with her child – almost in tears and disgusted and wanting to tear up her membership showed that predominantly football fans are calm and families and true ambassadors of the sport, and only want to sit at a game where beer, punches and flares are not thrown. These thugs should see her to understand the consequences of the loutish behaviour. While words like “riots” and “ugly” might be typical of the media’s attempts at sensationalism, they are justified to present the message, and should compel the clubs to act further. The simple fact always remains that if this ridiculous behaviour is stopped, there’ll never be anything to report.

05 January 2014: Update

Ticketing

Last week MV against WSW had 100% reserved seating that saw countless turned away, especially groups of people, after being unable to get seats together. This supposed “sell-out” had only 22,000 in a stadium of nearly 32,000. Last night, Saturday, against Brisbane, the C-section (ends) were general admission as normal. No one turned away, no massive queues at the ticket windows, people could just buy tickets quickly rather than force to pick seats off a chart, a crowd of 23,000. Are we learning?

Crowd Troubles

Football Federation Australia acted strongly against Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers for the unruly conduct of their crowds. Both teams received a suspended sentence of 3 points docked, to be activated if there’s any further crowd trouble for the remainder of the season. That trouble includes any unruly behaviour outside the stadium, in city centres as was the case last week. While both clubs worried about the realistic chance of this being policed fairly, potentially that rival supporters could impersonate another club’s fans and then create mischief to force sanctions, reality is that’s unlikely and easy to prove, plus both clubs would be sanctioned in any event. The mere threat of such sanctions should dissuade such fans from acting. The clubs themselves had a tit-for-tat in the media, especially MV slamming WSW via a press release. More heartening is that both clubs have vowed to act with the FFA to stamp out their “rogue supporters”. MV’s chairman Anthony Del Petrio: “Every stakeholder is in total agreement that anti-social behaviour must be prevented and will not be tolerated. Safety and enjoyment must be upheld at all times. How we achieve this is where the debate begins. We applaud the FFA for its zero tolerance measures.”

Disturbingly, and disappointingly, there’s still rogue commentators out there. Relatively quiet on the issue until now, Les Murray was engaged in a conversation with the Age’s Michael Lynch on twitter today about the flares, citing the situation in Italy, “When I commentated on Italian games in the 80s, for the 1st half hour I couldn’t see the players for the smoke”, and “Every game had flares and no one seemed to care. Part of the culture.” Murray was commentating from the SBS studio in Australia off the telecast at the time, so then, and probably these days when viewing from the comfort of a corporate or commentary box at the ground, is oblivious to the disgusting nature of smoke from flares that was the nature of the initial complaint in that conversation.

It wasn’t that long ago that “no one seemed to care” about cigarette smoking, and that it was “part of the culture”, so should we allow that too? For Murray, who often tweets against the glorification of alcohol, it does seem a strange hypocrisy that the one vice he does condone is the one that besmirches the game he loves. If smoking and boozing was a football culture, would he also begin to condone that? Smoking is banned in public because it infringed on the freedoms of others. No one should have to sit next to it and breathe noxious smoke from another person, and likewise no should need to breathe in smoke from a flare. Furthermore, flares are a physical danger that can cause serious burns. On the evening news there was a mother and her child scared and crying about the incidents they were forced to endure. Well Mr Murray, go tell them it’s “part of the culture” and just suck it up if they want to real football fans. Enough.

To show these events are not rare, nor is there a witch-hunt by the media because so few of these ever made the news (I only recall the Melbourne Derby of 2 Feb 2013, and there was a king-hit at a game involving Sydney), here are the dossiers of “football culture” from Victoria Police for the past three years released to the media under Freedom of Information laws detailing countless flares, smoke bombs, fights, king-hits, spitting, assaults, vandalism, abuse and intimidation…

16/10/10
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Crowd: 17,299
Behaviour: Generally good; disruptive elements in Victory cheer squad
Incidents: Four flares ignited and penalty notice issued for riotous behaviour.
Details: Male tried to start a fight with Sydney cheer squad, police arrested him.

27/11/10
Melbourne Heart v Sydney FC
Crowd: 4857
Behaviour: Overall good
Incidents: Flare discharge outside ground
Details: There was an altercation pre-game between supporters at a Richmond Pub. Melbourne supporters were accused of having “ambushed” Sydney supporters and “caused some fear and anguish”.

22/1/11
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 32,231
Behaviour: Poor
Incidents: 14 flare deployments, assault and taunting between supporter groups.
Details: 14-year-old boy abused police and “struck out” towards them after being seen acting aggressively towards other spectators after the match.
“Crowd behaviour in the Victory Supporter’s cheer squad was extremely poor”.
A male was “king hit” on the footbridge leading away from the venue after the match and received facial injuries.

30/1/11
Melbourne Victory v Gold Coast United
Crowd: 8207
Behaviour: Poor
Incidents: Three police assaulted, one police uniform damaged, 1 flare let off.
Details: An officer attempting to evict fan who had pulled the hair of another crowd member was “bitten on the leg by penetrating skin, but not causing bleeding”.
“Crowd behaviour in the Victory supporter’s cheer squad was again extremely poor”.
They held a silent protest for 15 minutes of the match but “then reverted to their usual behaviours”.
Moved en masse “in an apparent show of force/strength” to different seating areas. “This crowd/mob mobility was also a concerning behaviour”.

23/12/11
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Crowd: 26,579
Behaviour: Highly charged and active crowd, but mostly well behaved
Incident: Heart supporter spat on Victory supporter during match, had his membership card confiscated for further action. After the match fights erupted as a group of supporters walked across Gosch’s Paddock.
Details: “100 Heart active supporters were walking across Gosch’s Paddock a flare was set off and then a fight broke out. A number of fights then erupted.” Police, security and mounted branch attended.

13/1/12
Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Crowd: 20,959
Behaviour: Good
Incidents: One eviction
Details: Adelaide supporters were held back 15 minutes until Victory supporters had cleared area after the game. A banner erected by Victory supporters reading “Backrow Hooligans” was taken down.

5/10/12
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 41,262
Behaviour: Generally crowd was manageable although hard core supporter groups became unruly at times.
Incident: Flares ignited and chairs thrown onto arena
Details: Heart supporters destroyed 65 seats and threw them onto the ground.

22/12/12
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Crowd: 26,459
Behaviour: Extremely poor
Incidents: 18 flares lit and home made smoke bombs set off. A 12-year-old was detected carrying a flare and had it confiscated. Coins, liquid and bottles thrown at security, about 500 supporters invaded the pitch.
Details: “Police were overwhelmed to a point where we could only monitor the crowd due to the volatile behaviour. The general demeanour of the Victory support group was aggressive and anti social.”

26/1/13
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Crowd: 28,852
Behaviour: Victory supporters antagonistic towards Sydney supporters although separated
Incidents: Two flares lit
Details: Sydney supporters held back after game to allow Victory fans to disperse, also deployed additional members for Sydney supporters travel to the game from Federation Square.

2/2/13
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 41,203
Behaviour: Seats broken and flares lit in both supporter areas
Incidents: 9 flares struck throughout the game and about 170 seats damaged.
Details: “It is clear from this match and previous recent matches that crowd behaviour, particularly in the active supporter area is deteriorating.”

16/3/13
Melbourne Heart v Western Sydney
Crowd: 5991
Behaviour: Reasonable up until last 15 minutes of match
Incidents: Hostile crowd behaviour
Details: “Approximately 100 Heart supporters moved to the northern end of the ground and started to bait the opposition. This tactic was successful. For a few minutes it was chaotic as the crowd was becoming very hostile towards each other.”

-General Notes

Fans’ behaviour is “totally different to AFL and cricket”. It’s a “touch one, touch all” mentality.

A BANNER was removed telling a Victory supporter to “stay strong” after he had been sentenced over an assault in which the victim lost an eye.

SECURITY was pelted with coins and bottles before 500 supporters invaded the pitch in late 2012.

A POLICE unit called for back-up after being surrounded by up to 20 Heart supporters earlier that year.

More: socceroorealm.com

Ange making the right moves with first squad

2013/11/07 1230 AET

Schwarzer also quits. A dummy spit?

Holman, Wilkshire, Carney, Thompson, Ognenovski out. Neill remains. Schwarzer retires. Did he have a dummy spit? All good decisions so far. The much anticipated first squad by Ange Postecoglou, to play Costa Rica in Sydney on 19 November, mostly confirmed the one key reality that blocked Holger Osieck’s attempts to rejuvenate the squad: the cupboard is bare. While on face value Ange has been bolder with selections like Bozanic, Franjic and Wilkinson, he’s not dealing with crucial World Cup qualifiers. Still, the signs are good, especially the theme among the discards of them being from lowly clubs in the Middle East or simply players passed their expiration date. Only Mark Bresciano survives as a player from the Middle East, and that’s most likely experience. Likewise Lucas Neill, the much maligned target of the fans’ furore at the plodding status of the team, experience is vital. He’s become the target of a bigger problem, not the problem himself. There’s still none coming through to push him out and with Ognenovski gone and Ange looking to try other options at right-back – preferably an actual defender, not a midfielder a likely Wilkshire – some experience will be needed. As the new players are integrated, Neill can be eased out or even moved to right-back. Players like Archie Thompson and David Carney, they simply are passed their expiration and are squad players at best. Surely these are the spots to be reserved for integrating the emerging players.

The major shock with the squad was Mark Schwarzer retiring from the team upon the announcement. It’s a very dubious way for such a most venerated player to leave the team, especially after all his comments of wanting Brazil to be his swansong. It reeks of a dummy spit after he didn’t play in the recent matches against Canada and France, and Ange has not guaranteed Schwarzer would return as number one choice – and rightfully so – under Ange’s regime. Even as second or third choice, his experience would be invaluable, not to mention the spirit of the team coming before the individual. Some of this individualism was exposed prior to the 2010 World Cup, as evidenced by the saga of Tim Cahill ejected from a Sydney bar and then an anonymous player emailing a Sydney newspaper to complain about prima donnas within the team, and the drama over Harry Kewell “will he or won’t he” play at the Cup itself. Cahill still shows spurts of petulance, while Neill did himself no favours recently with some of his comments criticising younger teammates for lack of hunger. Ange’s first challenge is restoring the Australian pride and fighting mentality into this team, which he wonderfully exudes himself. Then there’s matters like ending this “no striker” system of playing Cahill as a striker. He’s not a striker. His goal-rate has dried up since this move. He’s most dangerous as a lurking midfielder. Put him there. Ange seems on foot with this notion of playing players in their right positions. Again, good decisions so far.

Oliver BOZANIC FC Luzern, SWITZERLAND
Mark BRESCIANO Al Gharafa, QATAR
Tim CAHILL New York Red Bulls, USA
Jason DAVIDSON SC Heracles Almelo, NETHERLANDS
Ivan FRANJIC Brisbane Roar, AUSTRALIA
James HOLLAND FK Austria Vienna, AUSTRIA
Mile JEDINAK Crystal Palace FC, ENGLAND
Josh KENNEDY Nagoya Grampus, JAPAN
Robbie KRUSE TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen, GERMANY
Mitchell LANGERAK (gk) B.V. Borussia 09 Dortmund, GERMANY
Matthew LECKIE FSV Frankfurt 1899, GERMANY
Ryan McGOWAN Shandong Luneng Taishan FC, CHINA PR
Matthew McKAY Brisbane Roar, AUSTRALIA
Mark MILLIGAN Melbourne Victory, AUSTRALIA
Lucas NEILL Omiya Ardija, JAPAN
Tommy OAR FC Utrecht, NETHERLANDS
Tom ROGIC Celtic FC, SCOTLAND
Mat RYAN (gk) Club Brugge KV, BELGIUM
Dario VIDOSIC FC Sion, SWITZERLAND
Rhys WILLIAMS Middlesbrough FC, ENGLAND
Alex WILKINSON Jeonbuk Hyundai FC, KOREA REPUBLIC
Michael ZULLO Adelaide United, AUSTRALIA