Aussie Rules... The World Cup?
Well... it was quite a night here in Melbourne last night. The media here is full of the World Cup, every other ad is for some Socceroo-linked product [Rexona deodorant in gold 'n green, anyone?], but it's struggling to convince everybody.
1 AM in the morning and World Cup fever finally struck. I managed to stay up to watch it, and ended up feeling like I'd been struck with a case of deja vu - long-ball tactics, bereft of any real imagination or ideas... England v Paraguay - again?!? But then... a not terribly-exciting-match suddenly turned on its head into 8 minutes of exhilaration and excitement, and suddenly I remember why this is The Best Game In The World...
The Aussie media types [the ones who give a stuff - more of the other types shortly] have been scathing in their view of England's performance in their first match, just about stopping short of crying en masse "booooring, booooring England!" whilst moistening collective trouserage over the excitement produced by Argentina v Ivory Coast, for instance. Never mind that Paraguay played a poor game, stifling tactically and largely uninventive in attack. England weren't at their best, of course, but it's certainly not the worst game I've ever seen. But, nope, as ever, it was all England's fault, of course... croikey, Bruce, if only those bloody Poms were Saaath American.
Was there a hint of the same critical nonsense regarding the Socceroos' tired and largely guileless performance last night? Noooo... Mind you, when one of the pundits on SBS TV is the infamous-in-West-London footballer Ned Zelić [need I say, ex-QPR?] , should I really be surprised? He's the only Aussie who could make Harry Kewell and Cartman look consistently industrious in the English game. He was clearly too good for our country, which is evidently why he left so quickly without making any sort of mark...
BELOW: Mark Viduka, after 83 minutes, yesterday
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm really really happy for my adoptive nation's team and its supporters [and let out a past-midnight type cheer-cum-squeak for each of the three goals], and I they deserved to get something put of the game, particularly as their opposition were super-negative and ven more unimaginative than Paraguay and England. I particularly disliked Japan's amateur dramatics, which accompanied the slighted hint of physical contact by the bullying Aussies [who, heavens! had the added audacity to be both strong and tall].
I even had some sympathy with humour-free sourpuss Guus after his hissy fit at the suggestion that the Aussies were over-physical [read: dirty fouling bastards] by certain areas of the media. i.e. All the non-Antipodean areas that may be playing them in the World Cup. Hello, Holland!
I've taken to the Aussie "soccer" [sic... as a parrot to be using the "S" word] evangelists, particularly as the game has taken so much stick in the Newspapers, TV and Radio here in Victoria. Now, Victoria is Footy Country, by which I mean AFL or Australian Rules Football, that bizarre mix of rugby, Gaelic Football and the High Jump. The game that non-Aussies think of as "Aussie No-Rules", remembering mass brawls, too-tight shorts, four goalposts and little chaps in white coats and pork-pie hats waving big white flags to signal a goal.
The quadruple posts and scrotum-crushing skimpies still exist, but the butchers outfits and communal fighting have been [largely] consigned to history. And I've really taken to it, to be honest. I go to games whenever I can. It's a great game, and I've now got a much better grasp of the rules, subtleties and nuances than when I first landed. I no longer just stand up and shout "BAAAAALLLLL!!!!" whenever I'm not sure what's going on. Just because that's seemingly what everyone else does, doesn't make it big or clever.
As I alluded above, the AFL ruling body have been getting pretty twitchy about the impact of [proper] football as the World Cup approaches, especially as 95000 people turned out at the MCG for a friendly against Greece [for which I had a ticket but saw a band instead]. Around 60,000 Aussies have gone to Germany, too, which is a pretty impressive turn out for what is universally regarded as a non-footballing nation.
The AFL are countering the threat with plenty of spin, e.g. here; the newspapers are full of letters and leaders about the "true Victorian sport" and "soccer is boring, nil-nil, one-nil, hooligans" cliche cliche blah blah etc. etc. One guy used the defence that you see more variety in Aussie Rules, given that there are twelve different ways you can move the ball. Yeah, right, excellent point, Sherlock.
Anyway... I reckon soccer may well remain a well-supported National-team game, much like the cricket but where the local and non-Test crowds appear almost as piddlingly crap as the UK.
There's clearly room for both as this is a sport-mad Nation and State [though they remain largely ambivalent about both rugby codes in Vic], with the State League soccer system still playing through winter [still largely divided on ethnic heritage grounds despite losing their previous "Hellas" and "Croatia" suffixes] and the successful new inter-state team set-up, which I've previously mentioned at length here.
Many of the soccer fans of ethnic South European, Balkan and South American heritage here appear to be still following their home countries, though this may change if the Socceroos' success continues. The English expats will probably always follow England, of course. How ashamed are you that we just can't fit in, Mr Tebbitt?
My team, Carlton are excelling [insert your own ironic tone here], have won 2 out of 11 games so far, and only just off the bottom spot, having suffered inconsistency and the obligatory spankings along the way. Just like my beloved QPR, Carlton are under-achieving, financially screwed and with a complicated and troubled management structure. Hmmm. My life is destined to repeat itself even ten thousand miles away, it seems.
As an aside, I'm really very happy for Peter Crouch [ex-QPR] having his 15 minutes of fame, particularly as he's fondly remembered for having given QPR1st [a QPR fans' players fund-raising organisation in the darkest hours of near-administration a few years back] ten grand. Not the normal sort of altruism you see from footballers when they can spend 10K on a nasty piece of "artistic" furniture or a new blingbasstic sound system for their top-of-the-range Mercedes or Hummer.
I know the nice-touch-for-a-tall-man type quotes are predominating, and his robot dancing have been the main content of the headlines, but I've never met anyone from a club he's played for who speaks of him in anything but positive terms. And well, he does have a nice touch...
Finally... as we're on sport-type stuff, I should mention the fact [non-gloatingly, you understand] that we've got tickets for 3 of the 4 days of the Ashes Melbourne Test released so far, along with the 2 one-dayers to be played here. I think we'll struggle next Summer, but I just HAVE to go... couldn't not do, living here, just in case we happen to do something a bit special. We have general admission tickets, so we'll probably end up sitting poles apart rather than prompting the rubbing of hands from potential divorce lawyers...