Monday, October 19, 2009

Enter Sasha

Enter Sasha McDonnell, the first professional woman player who caught my attention, somewhat by accident a few years ago. One of the reasons I came across her was she's a Brisbane girl, so I was mightily annoyed last year when she signed with Canberra.

Sasha (second from left) just after her goal

The way I discovered she had signed for Brisbane this season, believe it or not, was Wikipedia, which also had the W-League table updated before the official A-League site. Sasha is still not on the team web page.

She wasn't even on the bench for the first game. She did play away last week against Melbourne and apparently had a good game, but I was very happy when, at 0:0, they gave her a go in the 81st minute yesterday against the Mariners. Two minutes later, with her first touches, she scored the winning goal.

She's a poacher not a play maker, but she looks great, is very fast and is clearly a handful for defenders. My honest view is Sasha is not as versatile or as capable of making plays as Courtney Beutel, say. But love isn't always rational.

Congratulations Sasha for scoring your first goal for your home town's team. May there be many more.

I went to Ballymore yesterday alone and it was, once again, an entirely positive experience. Yes I love the team but I also fall further in love with the stadium every time.

Having a smoke at half time I got chatting to another smoker, as you do. He unashamedly told me he never went to the men's games because he hated public transport and it cost too much. But his daughter was a footballer who played for Oz U19s. He told me a RUMOUR. I'd never heard it, it concerned me, and just in case it's true I thought I better write it.

He said that there was someone with money ready to put a lot of money into a QUEENSLAND women's team next year. That the competition would still be 8 teams but that the GC and Brisbane at least would be combining for the W-League. If this is true, it a) sucks, and b) will leave me with no reason to have an orange scarf at all. (For the time being, I'm guessing for a month or two, I just couldn't be bothered with the men.)

My own dream is that enough BRISBANE people support these girls - possibly Brisbane's most successful and in-form sporting team at this time - to make a change a big risk. I sometimes wonder if football administrators don't need a workshop on how tribalism works. Sure you can make a fluffy competition and hope it's a good option for family family types on a Sunday afternoon. But it's going to be the most fickle audience in the world. And who is going to tattoo "South East Queensland" on their chest? BRISBANE is its own cult, and if we want fan bases that a) grow, and b) stick around, the only chance of doing so is around a civic cult.

Just incidentally, exactly which 'families' are we going for? I come with my son and his mates to games, but I swear, drink and generally believe that a good dose of wickedness is essential for an ethical life. Where are these morally pure families that will be offended at unchristian behaviour? If they do exist, are they really a fan base?

Anyway I hope the rumour is wrong, but if it's right, you read it here first.

Found a great women's soccer website: Girls With Game.

Incidentally, Jacob's Indoor team won 18:0 on Saturday, their third straight win. Satisfying of course, but not as rivetting as a hard-fought 2:1 win.

On other private news, I'm worried about my beautiful fiance Dawn. She seems to like soccer. That could either mean that, a) she's as mad as I am, or b) she loves me very much. Either interpretation is fine.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roar vs Mariners 0:3 and the Rest

What's there to say?

The coach is sacked, a whole lot of laundry is aired, some no doubt utter bullshit, other true. Frank is scapegoated for a long period of administrative incompetence in the Roar and the FFA.

At the same time - quick, someone mentioned a 50% hike on the already most expensive tickets in the league might have 'contributed' to the disappearing crowds - the Roar announces a 15% price cut and a special promotion letting kids in free. According to John atA Seat At The A-League they were giving tickets away outside. Anyway I took advantage of this and brought three kids. A sign of my waning loyalty is that for the first time I just bought the cheepest ticket available and then sat wherever I bloody well wanted. So $29 for four people was pretty good!

7,400. Lowest crowd ever, to watch a 0:3 tragedy.

Now, no matter how atheist, naturalist, secularist and humanist you are, is there no point at all at which you wonder, however fleetingly, that the universe is trying to tell you something?

Frank Farina was a scapegoat for a disastrous period that noone but the Board can ultimately take responsibility for, but are we sure the universe isn't trying to tell us something else too?

What is the 'Suncorp curse'? At one point it was almost miraculous in its absurd consistency - certainly for long enough to tell us something.

And the women at Ballymore? Well into their second season now at Ballymore they have been defeated just once, and reign as premiers and Champions.

If we are AT ALL superstitious, the ides all point to Ballymore. "Goooo toooo Ballleeeemooooore", the universe chants, over and over. Actually a bit of old fashioned common sense says the same thing, but I'm trying a new tack in frustration.

Look we've got 8000 fans still if we can halt the rot about now. Even at Suncorp, can't we just close the whole second tier and the whole eastern side. The ground, with its patchy concentrations in several disparate parts of the massive stadium, speaks of someone holding out with, "...but what will we do if 35,000 show up." Someone is continuing to be ridiculous, and that person hasn't been sacked yet.

Meanwhile at the beginning of the season there was a name change to Brisbane Roar. Now a name change is a big thing, and the timing to have a big splash of renewal was perfect, but the change came behind nothing, almost a feeling of blushful embarassment.

Look, there are two seperate things the Roar need to do NOTHING about.

1) Soccer is the World Game. The game itself is constantly publicised on every channel and everywhere else. Constantly there are massive world competitions, gossip about the world's richest sportsmen etcetera. The game happens to be highly skilled, accessible and beautiful at the same time. Even in Australia junior participation has been greater than the other codes for a long time. Soccer can and does speak quite well for itself.

2) Brisbane is a large, growing and increasingly proud city. I'd say the civic cult is going from strength to strength. Idiomatic titles like Brizvegas and Brisburgh illustrate this, but many people I know who live here openly love their city and say so.

All the Brisbane Roar has to do then, with a realistic home at Ballymore, is state the message, and repeat the message, that Brisbane Roar represent BRISBANE in the WORLD GAME. If they keep emphasising those two things, they are effectively mobilising a multi-billion dollar promotion strategy.

Suncorp 'the greatest stadium' isn't going to sell it. 'The Brisbane Roar is wonderful' isn't going to sell it, even if it's true. 'Fun family day' isn't going to sell it on its own due to the expense, even if the prices were more reasonable. 'Soccer is really cool' is redundant. 'Soccer is the real football code' is insulting to Australians everywhere.

Ballymore is Brisbane's traditional soccer home and it is big (25,000), homey and intimate. I for one would love to support my city there, in its efforts to compete against opposition from across the world in the greatest of all sporting contests, the lingua franca sporting code of the world.

Meanwhile, sack the accountant and the PR graduate and hire a bloody seer. You would do better Brisbane Roar.

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Good Luck Frank Farina

Dear Frank Farina,

You were the best coach the Roar has had and if we find a better one in the current circumstances we'll be lucky.

The board were stupid to sack you, and you are clearly correct to point out that you are being scapegoated - to the extent that you didn't need to say it.

False moralism, of which you are a victim, is sickening, anti-creative and anti-freedom. None of the real crooks and incompetents are being sacked.

My love stays with the boys, who apparently supported you 'till the end. I won't blame any of them if they want to move on now, but for those who stay and any new lads the new coach brings in, I hope they manage to pull a good game together.

I love the lads, but can't stand the Board or the FFA.

But my respect for you is undiminished. All the best in the future in whatever direction you decide to take.

Sincere Regards,
Hamish Alcorn.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writing the World Cup Guest List Part 2

Overnight the peoples of Ivory Coast, Chile, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Denmark and Mexico popped the champagne. Now there are 19 on the party list, and there's mass patriotic emotion attached to the competition for the final 13 places. I'll have a look at some of the more interesting ones (to me ok).

Last night New Zealand held Bahrain to a 0:0 draw on Bahrain's turf. By the reports it was not an amazing game and Bahrain dominated, but it's an amazing result for our cousins, and sets up the decider between the two teams on 14th November in New Zealand.

For either of these countries qualification to the World Cup would be a kind of miracle.The New Zealand Herald calls the coming game, "the most important 90 minutes in New Zealand football history," as they would. Australian fans are naturally behind the kiwis, but over at the World Game Scott McIntyre makes a compelling case for backing Bahrain. It is a country with 4000 registered footballers (Australia has about half a million) and a brilliant coach. Getting this far for them, beating Saudi Arabia in the play off for Asia's half spot, is already an enormous miracle. It's more of a miracle than New Zealand defeating the rest of Oceania that's for sure.

My guess is that Bahrain will best them. Bahrain has been through a long campaign, with an inspired coach. New Zealand is relying on spirit and the luck of the gods, but Bahrain will be short of none of those either.

The most interesting thing happening on the South American front is that Argentina just might not make it, which will make their star coach Maradona look really bad. His star-gloss has already taken a battering since his glory days on the pitch, but failing to get Argentina to the World Cup, if that transpires, will outshine all of his previous sins to the Argentinians.

I've been following Chile from the beginning and am glad they made it. The other teams still in the mix for the last definite spot or the play off (with North America/Carribean) spot are both proud footballing nations, Uruguay, who play Argentina in what will be one of the most passionately followed matches of this Thursday (there's 32 qualifiers on Thursday all up), and Ecuador, who will be hoping that Chile will relax a bit now they've qualified and be overwhelmed in their last game, which would give Ecuador the play-off spot. South America as a whole at the moment is emotionally schitzophrenic, with resignation in Bolivia and Peru, the dawning of final despair in Venezuela and Colombia, smug fulfilment in Brazil and Paraguay, uproarious celebration in Chile, and anxious, hopeful anticipation in Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador.

It's the fans from these South American countries I'm really looking forward to partying with.

Europe, needless to say, is even more emotionally divided right now. I suppose we had to invite the Germans, but I'm hoping the Greeks make it, for personal hellenophilic reasons. Guus Hidink's Russian team isn't through yet, having a dead rubber on Thursday against Azerbaijan (Germany has won the group), before having to play off against another European team in November. Portugal, with last year's world player of the year, and France, grand finalists in 2006, with also be among the last countries to learn their fate. It seems odd that Australia was among the very first.

As I foreshadowed last night, the Ivory Coast is now in full celebration, having got their invite with last night's win over Malawi. Africa has always had a strong soccer tradition and its emergence as a proud soccer region has been much discussed, but clearly this World Cup is special for them. The biggest group showdown left is probably between Egypt, the current African champions, and Algeria. Who will stay and who will go? Algeria has tomorrow's game in hand, before a decisive showdown between the two nations on November 14. The Egyptians will be mightily pissed off if their Pharoahs fail.

As I complete this blog post Honduras is playing the United States. The USA are the favourites but have to overcome the bogey that Honduras have not been defeated at home during the whole qualification process. If the USA wins Honduras will probably face the prospect of having to play Argentina, Ecuador or Uruguay in a play-off. If Honduras wins, and it clearly might, the USA will still await her fate. Right now it's 0:0 after 30 minutes.

At the same time Trinidad and Tobago play for pride against Costa Rica, who still have a chance at a play-off spot if other results work for them. For my money the North American play-off spot is a tough gig, and the South American 5th placer will probably win it.

Congratulations to the Roar women yesterday in their victory away to Melbourne. Two games, two wins, 4 goals, none conceded. Go girls!

And best of luck to the Roar lads this afternoon. I'm not going to the game, as a personal one-match boycott due to their atrocious behaviour on the pitch last week. But I still hope they beat the Gold Coast, who have hubris issues of their own.

Update at 2pm: The USA has just qualified for the World Cup, beating Honduras 2:3.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writing the World Cup Guest List

I'm a bit overwhelmed with the soccer available this weekend, and excited.

The only live soccer I'll be seeing was this morning, when the West End Terrorists (Jacob's team, though they now only use their name privately and on the team sheet are just, 'West End') won their second indoor game 8:2, against the Feral Rats. Last week they also won their game, and all things considered they are one of the favourites for the comp. But for various reasons that's all I'll probably actually witness this weekend.

But there's so much on. It's struck me many times that moreso than any other sport it is impossible to actually 'follow soccer'. It's an ocean of leagues, even without the variations like futsal, indoor and beach soccer. I've ended up with vague favourites in various major leagues in the world, along with Brisbane Roar of course. But even for the Roar I've noticed I've neglected the youth league, barely even checking the scores. The lads' indoor soccer and my own futsal games are of course the most important and intense, but they're more organic, even rational, outbursts of interest. But when I add it up, I 'follow' an enormous amount of soccer, and in reference to the ocean, almost none at all.

Then there's the internationals, with our mighty Socceroos, and especially the World Cup. That's where this weekend is crazy, and as I have previously declared, this is to be of particular interest in this blog until the said event, which Jacob and I shall be attending.

There's a lot of decisive internationals happening in the next few days, after which most of the World Cup teams will have been decided, and the final showdowns will be set.

First a sweeping recap. The first of the 204 teams to play an actual World Cup 2010 game were Tahiti and New Caledonia on the 26 August 2007. Both of those teams have long been knocked out of the comp, and neither would have expected to get close, but both small nations would have had their journey nonetheless. Tahiti, apart from a solitary win over the Cook Islands, didn't get anywhere, but New Caledonia would have been rightly proud to come second to New Zealand in the Oceania region.

When Australia qualified for Germany 2006 the fact that soccer is not our main sport didn't stop the nation from being deeply emotionally effected. Studies have shown over and over again how productivity improves in an economy when the local team wins. But Argentina and Portugal, soccer mad countries both, will be devastated if they don't get to South Africa (both quite possible), and Algeria,, New Zealand and Slovakia will get the full ectacy if they make it (also quite possible). The Italians and Brazilians will be disappointed if they don't make the final four at least, whereas New Caledonians will find plenty of national pride in beating the whole Pacific except for New Zealand.

This competition, I believe the greatest competition in the history of civilisation, sweeps up millions in different ways, and eventually of course it will sweep up billions as the climax unfolds next year. All of it is ostensibly for a unique and quite odd looking 'cup' which is not a cup, but a gold earth held in two grasping hands. According to one source I have the football had the original mythopoeic meaning of the sun. I think that now it means the world - the globalised world-as-seen-from-space - and the World Cup makes this explicit.

Kicking off this pending marathon of 39 qualifiers in 10 hours, at 10pm tonight Brisbane time, is Zambia vs Egypt. Without a victory Zambia's slim hopes will be ended, but both teams are struggling to catch Algeria, the favourite for the African Group C.

The second game at 10.30pm (all Brisbane time) between Malawi and Ivory Coast could be decisive, as if Ivory Coast win it, as expected, they will also be uncatchable in African Group E, and will hence join Ghana and South Africa the hosts as Africa's representatives at the World Cup Finals. Malawi is already out regardless, playing for pride as they say, and although a Malawi win will mathematically keep Burkina Faso's hopes alive, the latter would have to score about 15 goals to none in their remaining games, so basically Ivory Coast is in. They'll have the champagne on ice ready right now, especially pleased to be qualifying for the World Cup to be in their own continent.

This is the sticky, competitive end of the qualifiers, with the egos of top soccer nations on the line as well as aspiring aspirants. Eleven teams have already qualified, but by tomorrow afternoon that number will be more like 20-25. Nations will be in celebration, others in shock.

On the 15th of this month another 32 games will be played, which will leave Africa and virtually all of North and South America worked out, as well as 9 out of 13 of the European places. By the 18th of November it will all be settled.

So far the national tribes attending, apart from South Africa itself, the hosts, are (from Africa)Ghana, (from Asia) Australia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea, (from South America) Brazil and Paraguay and (from Europe) Netherlands, England and Spain. From my own perspective, as a fan attending the event, of interest is not just the teams attending, but the national tribes, the languages and fan-cults that will be attending. I was sorry when Jamaica was knocked out for this reason for example (they have made it before), and pretty 'meh' with North Korea making it. We're talking about a party guest list here.

Anyway, I won't be watching any of these games, but I'll be following the scores, and with my globe on my desk I will be imagining the emotional maelstrom throughout the world in the next 10 hours as great joy and great despair descend upon the various millions. And I'll be watching to see the guest list of a much anticipated party unfold.


Monday, October 05, 2009

A League of Their Own

Wouldn't you love the job of marketing the Brisbane Roar women? Talk about assets.

They cleaned up the W-League in its first season, winning both the Premiership and the Championship last year.

Actually last year they lost just one game, to Canberra at home. They drew just one game as well, to Canberra away. Canberra was their only nemesis.

To be fair they also drew against Sydney in the semis at Ballymore, winning the penalty shoot-out 5:4.

But then they played Canberra again, finally beating them in the grand final (also at Ballymore), and doing so in resounding 3:0 style.

The Grand Final was one of the mosty enjoyable games of soccer I've ever attended. There was a great crowd (of a couple thousand I guess), a fresh, carnival atmosphere with minimal Orwellian trimmings, and attractive football. If there is one word to describe the difference in atmosphere between the W-League games I've been to and the A-League games, it's joy. It's just fun.

Last Saturday was the first game of the new W-League, also at Ballymore, with the Roar playing, you guessed it, Canberra, the only team to have ever beaten them. A 3:0 win, repeating the Grand Final score, declared that nothing's changed. The Roar Women are the team to beat.

For game one, the crowd of over 1000 was pretty good, and I can see nothing in the way of it getting bigger. Everyone enjoys the experience (especially when Brisbane wins, which it has a wonderful habit of doing), and it costs them... wait for this... Five Bucks.

Fuck the transport issue. Get a couple of mates and catch a cab.

Did I mention that the girls are young, gorgeous and athletic? Of course I didn't, I'm far too correct for that.

What must be mentioned is that the football, whilst, same as the A-League, is not Champions League standard, it is, also like the A-League, good enough to be entertaining and fun. In my honest opinion it is less cynical. Last Saturday the Brisbane girls never stopped attacking after scoring the first goal, nor after the second, and after the third all they wanted was a fourth. The football was tough, spirited and pleasing on the eye, played by inspired, gifted and highly trained athletes.

Meanwhile, the ABC is playing a W-League game every week and giving it good coverage.

Anyway, wouldn't you love the job of marketing this? Is there anything stopping the crowds from growing?

So, um, why can't they even update the table now three full days after the game? Maybe Wikipedia is a better source for info than the official page. It's also where I learned (yes, I confirmed this) that Sasha McDonnell has moved from Canberra and has signed with the Roar (she didn't play on Saturday). The official site still has last year's team profile.

Who is marketing this? Is anyone?

Is someone afraid that W-League crowds, at Ballymore, could in a month or two rival A-League crowds at Suncorp?

The next Brisbane Roar women's game at home is against the Central Coast Mariners at 6pm, Sunday 18th October, Ballymore Stadium.

This Saturday at 5pm (proper time) they play Melbourne away (Epping Soccer Stadium), but I'm assuming the ABC will be playing the Perth vs Newcastle game (at 3pm). If any Melbourne bloggers go, I'd love to hear about it.

One critical note: they need food at Ballymore. Not just crisps and softdrink. At least some greasy crap.