Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tipping Under the New Government

Tipping is open.

There's not much to say about the weekend games really. Sydney vs the Roar was distinctly underwhelming, and nothing happened on the table.

But Saturday night was very emotional for me, and as I talk a little about politics I apologise to anyone it may offend.

The last Federal election left me gutted. Ok, no secret - I have not enjoyed the Howard Government one bit. From the time he got in 11 years ago I have felt my society get less creative, less adventurous, more fearful and at worst, more bigoted and ugly. For me this was not just a series of events and statements, it was a deep, foreboding feeling. The world became different, and in a bad way, and after the last election I just felt that the slide might be terminal, and I switched off politics.

I remained religiously detached from this election campaign, basically for my own emotional protection. Until about a week before anyway. It was not until the Wednesday before that I heard myself risking my soul by uttering the phrase to a friend, "I think Rudd will win it."

Drinking whiskey with a friend on Saturday night, it was a long time after it should have been obvious that I allowed myself to believe it (even though I was wearing my trusty frangipani). I was an emotional power station. At 9.30, after only a few drinks mind you, I threw up. It was just emotion, bottled and finally released. I felt like I was on ecstasy, and struggled to communicate or think. I could only feel, relieved and recharged, blissed.

I felt like partying forever and I could hear parties across the suburb, but at about 11.30 I just crashed, and dreamed all night. The dreams were tactile, just reaching out and touching things. Not people but objects with texture and shape, and each object felt perfect, sublime, like it was meant to be just there and just like that. When I woke at about 5am I wept and wept for my beautiful country.

We will be disillusioned with this government in no time of course. That's normal and right. But this is not the arrogant mafiosa bunch of thugs that the last Labor government seemed to be. This is a very fresh bunch of people, including some strong, impressive (far from token) chicks, and no doubt given the nature of the result quite a sprinkling of loose cannons. Couple this with the sort of cooperative federalism that seems possible, for things like education, hospitals and national environmental issues like the Murray-Darling. Then couple it with the probability of a balance of power in the Senate of either Greens or independents or both. These three things make me feel we might get some very creative environmental legislation in particular, which is far overdue. I think we'll also get a reinvigoration of initiative from the grass-roots, who can (I think) throw off their fear to think and act creatively, critically and differently.

We are in a new world. For the moment, the A-League seemed to pause, and the table looks the same as last week. But the A-League goes on.

May the games be beautiful in all the right ways, and go the bloody Roar!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

With a Prayer to the Infinite (Tipping)

Oh ineffable infinite, so incomprehensible, unnameable and mysterious that whenever someone tries to describe, sculpt, name or literate you they turn into a goose, assuming the arrogant proposition that a mote is capable of speaking outwards with some impact, we plea that all the football games this week be enjoyable and exciting for all, with fair outcome, that they be contested in a spirit of excellence, humanity and sportsmanship, and that there be no injuries more serious than, say, a nastily grazed knee.

Tip away ladies and gentleman.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Roar Rock Ok?

The most complicated part of my game preparation today was getting a frangipani to put behind my ear for the game. I had to plan ahead, because I had to go more-or-less straight to the game after work, after catching a cab to get Jacob and his mate Stav. So on the way to work in the morning I got a couple of the flowers and did my best during the day to keep them ok. They were pretty bad by the end of the day, but I stuck with it and stuck one behind my ear, decrepit as it was, for the game. The only other preparation I had was having a Sunshine Kebab for lunch (they sponsor the Roar). You have no idea how nervous I was about this game, especially after my hubristic outburst last week. I really thought the Roar were up to it, but so many things go wrong in football, and, ok, maybe beating Wellington at home wasn't too convincing. We beat them last time at home after all.

The moment of confidence came when I found a frangipani tree right near the stadium as we walked the last 100 meters to the game, and popped a beautiful fresh one back there under my hat. Nothing could go wrong now.

Ten minutes into the game of course I knew we were fine. We seemed all over the so-called 'Victory', and Kruse's goal off Matty's cross was class. For any doubters now, let's be clear - we didn't have Tiatto, we didn't have Zullo, and after half an hour we lost Moore as well. Ok, I admit after Moore went off - who frankly was dulling Thomson's game with aplomb - I was worried. But no need. Does anyone want to doubt that Farina and the Roar rock? Go on - let me know.

Toward the end the Victory had a few free kicks and Jacob, as cynical and emotionally self-protective as ever, kept saying, "they're going to score." I grinned at him at these points and said, "I remind you that I have a frangipani behind my ear." At his cynical rejoinder I explained, "Look, some people put their faith in God, I am putting my faith in a frangipani behind my ear." The logic was unassailable. It quite clearly worked. From now on I have a frangipani behind my ear at every home game. I just hope the frangipani season holds out 'till the end of the season.

On the way home from the train Jacob and Stav played some very creative soccer with an empty plastic Coke bottle along the road, passing, crossing, back-healing, doing rainbows, reminding me why this stuff was so cool. Tomorrow they play, in the West End Terrors, the Reds, in Indoor Soccer, and I reckon they're gonna win that.

Joyous evening. What more do we want?

Look out Sydney... we're coming for you next.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Version 3; Round 13 Tipping

Tip away ladies and gentlemen.

A couple of people are either dropping out or forgetting to tip in time. Note that if you email me I'll email you my mobile number which will make texting your tips an option (Cecilia and Tony did this last week). If you email me your mobile I'll even text you a reminder on the last day.

Well I'm glad the Roar are keeping me happy because The Red Eye Pirates lost again last night 10:8 (yep, 18 goals in 40 minutes). An exciting game for sure, and a lot of our game is coming together, but we were well outplayed. I was goalkeeper as usual and every one of their 10 goals hurt. The 'Ottoman Empire' attacked in force - in 2s and 3s, and had a brilliant crossing game which made it very hard, as whenever I came out I was leaving space behind me for the receiver of a well-timed cross. Their swamping attacking game also explains largely how we got so many on the counter. There's lot's we have to think about.

And The West End Terrors also lost their game last week against the 'Mad Mongolians', 3:2. The boys struggled to find their form after a week off and were down 3:0 at half time before getting themselves together and coming very close to a full equalisation. A learning experience for them too.

Anyway, the Roar at least are keeping me happy. Good to split your emotional investments.

May the games this week, oh infinite so incomprehensible, be fair, beautiful and free of serious injury.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Too good to not write about

Too good to not write about. I have no plan ok, I'm just typing. I also am having no regard for my reputation as a commentator. Balance and professionalism can go to buggery.

Firstly I somehow decided to not bother with my Roar jersey. I went for style (well, in my own quixotic sense of the word), and wore my black cotton shirt with my Levis, and the marone sweater my Aunty Joyce knitted wrapped around my waist in case the rainy evening turned cold. And I wore my hat - it's old fashioned, like the English fan might have worn thirty or forty years ago. Look it's just the way I felt. On the way to the station I saw a perfect frangipani flower, so (to Jacob's embarrassment no doubt, but he is used to his old man, and has realised that it's better than me being dull) I popped that behind my ear to complete the effect (whatever effect that might be).

Train to Roma Street, complementary bus to the Stadium, buy tickets, wander through gates. Look, it's weird being a Roar fan. It's almost like you can be quite relaxed playing a top-of-the-table team away, but playing a wooden spoon team at home is completely nerve-racking, as they are the ones we can't help losing, so I have been nervous and anxious all week about this game. But we walked through the turnstiles and I felt something. Maybe it was the music that was playing - I don't know - but the atmosphere struck me hard, and I turned to Jacob and said with utter confidence - a confidence I hadn't felt all week - "This feels good; we're going to win."

Look, Frank Farina coached the Socceroos for seven years or something. Ok, he didn't make the grade and we needed a world master to push us the extra mile to make the World Cup Finals. I can deal with that, and Hiddink is right up there in my iconic pantheon. But a notion seemed to foster out there that Farina was second rate, and once upon a time, as a novice fan from the cold, I think I believed that notion. But not now, and frankly not for a while. This man has a real plan, a real strategy. His plan is carefully crafted around his players, most of which he inherited from Miron and some of which he (apparently brilliantly) recruited himself. It didn't come together in a sudden flash. But those who have really followed the Roar have seen the plan all season, sometimes looking effective, sometimes frustratingly looking good but not quite getting there, and have seen for at least the last month that the plan is really quite consistently there.

Frank has stuck with players that have been trashed in the media and the blogosphere - Reinaldo, Marcinho, Lynch. He has bolstered and stuck with a disgustingly strong defense - Moore, Tiatto, Seo, McCloughan, Oggy. And then he brought the young guns on. People criticised him - maybe rightly - for taking his time with this, but he did recruit these boys in the first place, and he built his team before bringing both Kruse and Zullo on simultaneously. The so-called 4-3-3 was in place, though really it's an attacking 4-5-1, because the young wingers run the whole field along the line. Reinaldo, through all the vitriol, is still the central target man. It works everyone. Be afraid you bastards. Frank has engineered a machine that works, and it hasn't peaked yet.

Tonight, like never before, we got to see the machine. Finally we see the Roar controlling the game, controlling the pace - all from the back really; Seo in particular is virtually flawless as a player. Get possession and keep it. Play the game. Pass back, sideways, back again, feel it out, just keep possession. What joy to watch.

Then in attack, when you've called the moment, don't hesitate. Go, go, go. Still keep possession, but with quick touches, back and forth. And when you fuck up, don't flinch but with no hesitation again swamp the opposition before they can get any control of the pace. In the first half tonight I counted five near misses - but not just silly pot-shots, but well constructed attacks that unfortunately didn't come off. Was I getting frustrated and sensing the same old, "Oh God, do we have to endure another dominance but no goals game"? Yep I was. But the quality was for all to see.

The red card, and four yellows? For me watching the game they were not just unlucky or even just incidental. They were a direct result of dominance and pressure which sent Wellington over the edge. How do you stop Seo after all? How do you stop Zullo except by fouling him (two of the yellows)? Wellington lost the plot as a direct observable result of the Roar utterly outplaying them.

And then of course the goals. Reinaldo knockers? Swallow it you punks. And all the goals (including the penalty if you account for the attack that led to it), were perfectly according to plan and formation. Sure you can mark Reinaldo into the ground but when there's two very fast wingers out to the extreme widths who can cross to the center or to the other wing it's not going to help much. Meanwhile you have to deal with Massimo and Matty in the middle who are both so quick they can be anywhere. Suck on it A-League, and swallow every drop. This is a team to be scared of.

That's enough from me. I'm happy ok. This is a very happy puppy talking about the team he is in love with. Second place looks just fine. But if you're a Central Coast fan, or a fan of any other team, be afraid. We're just getting rolling.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Round 12 Divination

Tipping is open for Round 12.

Jacob's Indoor team had a spare last weekend.

Last night the Red Eye Pirates, my futsal team, with two out injured and several of us (including me) sick, went down 5:4 to the Communards. It was a fun game, but afterwards someone said we were "unlucky" (especially as we were up 3:1 at half time). I had to retort, "No we weren't, we didn't defend and they did." You just can't keep two (of four outfielders) up front in futsal when the opposition has the ball. And when it's the 'girl's turn' (in this mixed comp when a bloke scores the next goal has to be from a girl), there's no excuse for not keeping the two girls (in this case) well covered. This is the goal keepers perspective of course, and I was pretty slow myself last night, but this is what we need to talk about in my view.

Ironically it's because the Communards haven't been as good as us so far that they have great defensive habits and although we were constantly in their area pummeling the goalmouth, we were generally competing against at least two defenders as well as their goalie, whereas each time I faced a breakaway striker alone. Great goals though from Will, Craig and Imogen, and good friendly fun all round.

To the ineffable infinite, may the games this week be extraordinary to watch, fair, well adjudicated and free of serious injuries, as well as being fun for all concerned.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thinking Aloud About Youth Leagues

Both Mike and Eamonn have already given us some views on the new National Football Development Plan. It's all very exciting, to say the least.

Here's some thoughts flying around my head about the National Youth League idea.

First comes my prejudice. There is a fundamental, necessary, institutional flaw in the A-League, which is that the small amount of teams are approved and appointed from the top, and there is no organic way in which teams can be relegated or promoted into it on merit. Now I'm so far from being an expert on these things that it's not funny, but according to Beppe, the Italian in the West End United team I played for during the winter, every senior team in Italy (and I think in many football countries) can technically aim to play their way into higher and higher divisions, including the top division, purely by winning games, and indeed any team at all, if they don't keep the grade, can technically be relegated to kingdom come. This brings an organicism to the entire football infrastructure and indirectly, I believe, feeds the participant=fan equation which the FFA is rightly concerned with (in my experience of various amateur senior and junior teams, less than 1 in 10 football participants actually follow the A-League).

Well we understand that the A-League can't work like that. There's just not enough money, it costs a lot to maintain a professional club, and it is crucial that every A-League club can stay afloat financially and maintain quality personell. That sort of universal organicism is a long way off at best, however unfortunate and sort of contrived things currently appear to be.

But why should the youth league, which will inevitably be hugely funded by the participants themselves and indeed with the levy by the whole of Australia's youth clubs, follow this pattern? And why should we assume that the A-League teams are going to attract and produce the most competitive teams? Surely at youth level we must allow for high quality, not just in individuals but in clubs, teams and coaches, to pop up anywhere. If the Cloncury Cucumbers U17s manage to kick arse throughout their region and state, all payed for by their parents and whatever sponsorships they can muster, why shouldn't they be able to aim for the top without being dismantled and cherrypicked by the AIS and 7 elite clubs?

I admit I don't understand. I don't completely grasp what a youth league will mean institutionally, or indeed how professional it will be (I assume the coaches will be professionals at least). But it just seems to me that insisting that the youth league be as top-down and restrictive as the A-League shows a lack of imagination, and is possibly missing out on being the full opportunity it could be for Australian Soccer.

The very least that can be said is that the financial and institutional demands will be less for a youth league. The players will, I assume, not be paid, we won't have to worry about marquee and imported players and indeed the player's families or individual scholarships will be footing a large part of the bills. And why should we assume that they'll only be using the big stadiums either? Surely there is also an opportunity for these teams to compete on hundreds of possible regional pitches around the country. Why should the talent in Hobart, Broome, Darwin and Broken Hill be necessarily excluded? Isn't there an opportunity here to broaden things enormously?

Feel free to explain to me that my assumptions are shit and I don't know what I'm talking about. These are pretty off-the-cuff thoughts.