Monday, November 23, 2009

Roar Women Dodging a Hubristic Bullet (BR v AU 2:2)

Hubris: excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

What the definition doesn't say is, "eventually it gets you." Many times as I'd marveled admiringly at how well the Brisbane Roar women have done for so long, a little voice - the classically trained part of my brain I guess - said, "It's only a matter of time." The principle isn't just that success can't last forever, which of course it can't. It's that with continuing success, eventually, inevitably, there comes a time when you let your guard down, when you take your success for granted, when, however unconsciously, you assume that you are inherently better, and that your superiority exists regardless of vigilant training, effort and concentration.

I heard that little voice at various times during the week. I realised I was guilty myself! How could the champions lose against a bottom-of-the table team who haven't won a game all season and have only scored three goals in seven games? Impossible! A friend of the team noted that this might be the Roar's chance to beat the W-League scoreline record of 6:0! In the language of hubris, that is very dangerous talk, but how could I disagree?

So how could they be down by two goals after 25 minutes?

Clearly they thought they had the game in the bag and dropped their guard. Brooke Spence, such an experienced, tough and hard-working part of the Roar's formidable defense, was out with a broken foot. Sure there's depth to replace her (in Pam Bignold as it happened), but any adjustment can have teething problems, and the coach apparently decided to throw even more caution to the wind by giving the second keeper, who to my knowledge has never played a game at this level, a chance. Now I mean no disrespect to Kate Stewart, but especially in the disastrous first period she was showing her inexperience and I daresay Casey would have stopped the first goal. Her distribution also took some time to get confident. I can't blame her. What could anyone expect?

Up front the ever-present Beutel was also left off the squad. I could be wrong but it looks like the coach thought he'd 'try some things out' against the easy-to-beat team.

But that's not all. In the first half the spectators were treated to a mess, especially compared to the purring machine we have seen before. I suspect the girls wouldn't mind me saying this because they must know it's true. There were mistakes all over the park, desperate long forward kicks to nowhere, easy dispossessions, air-kicks. I have a nasty theory.

Half these girls live on the Gold Coast. Their average age is about 19 or 20. Schoolies week started on... Saturday night. My imagination has a conversation running something like this...

"One more drink eh?"
"No way. We have a game tomorrow night."
"Ha! It's Adelaide. We'll be right."


Full credits to the come back. First a glorious individual effort from Tameka Butt, cutting straight through the middle of Adelaide's defense to slot past the keeper one-on-one. In the second half we started seeing the lovely passing again, the complex combinations and the skill. Claire Polkinghorne deserves special mention for her constant work, often single handedly ending an Adelaide attack and then making a play in the same sequence. She is fantastic to watch.

It was the rallying come-back, showing buckets of discipline and mental strength, that dodged the bullet. The Brisbane Roar girls remain undefeated, but only just. Possibly it's a lesson at the perfect time, with two road games to go and then the finals rounds.

The two games away to come, against Perth and Newcastle, are easy on paper. I don't doubt for a second the Roar can win both of them, but not if they think they can't lose.

After all that, I must say I had a great evening as usual, and to top it off, I asked Casey Dumont to sign my W-League shirt. She did much better and brought it around to the whole team. Thanks so much girls. I'll treasure it and, risking hubris myself, hope to be wearing it to the grand final.



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rolling Rambling Rave (and a Recovering Roar)

Now after several very critical blogs about the Brisbane Roar my dear son Jacob is insisting that I write a positive one, and there was some real positives from last night so I shall concentrate on them. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), John over at A Seat At the A-league did a pretty good job of the negatives, so I get to play good cop.

But first an aside about my lad Jacob. His indoor soccer team, 'The West End [censored]', is undefeated after 8 rounds and top of their table. Yesterday they won 21:5 (3 to Jacob). The problem when they're thrashing a team is their game falls apart as each one of them starts taking turns to run at the goal and shoot by themselves, rather than using it as a training game for their real nemesis (The Razor Blades) who they haven't played yet. Their defense fell to bits and they conceded 3 goals in as many minutes (to a team who has only scored 10 in 7 games). I've discovered the strategy of cheering loudly for their opposition to stir them up. Yesterday it seemed to work, and they started slotting their own again, except with decent crossing and maintaining their shape.

I'm also still playing futsal on a Tuesday night, though no longer with the Red Eye Pirates, who are disbanded unfortunately, but with the Ligers. All fun. I might write about this crew some more some time, but yesterday I heard a cool rumour about the futsal centre (at West End Primary School) which I intend to check out tomorrow night. No other than Roar striker Sergio van Dijk plays in goals for a futsal team in that same centre on Monday nights. I'm told his keeping is pretty crap, and I guess it's just a fun way for a bit of extra fitness and sociality for him, but I am very keen to see for myself.

Ok, back to the Brisbane Roar, and the game last night. 0:1 loss to Melbourne, as we know I'm sure. But here are the positives as I see it:

1. It cost Jacob and I $25 to get in. That makes it affordable. It makes it more of a, "Hey, let's go to the football," than a ($65), "Ah, I'll just check my finances to see if we can afford to go to the football." This issue is exacerbated for me as I'm saving my biscuits for the big trip to South Africa in June next year. Much more expensive I know (about $20,000 for Jacob and I for three games), but let's just say I reckon it's worth every penny.

2. The advertising was good. The adds had a parochial (Brisbane) theme (which as I've written before is probably the best angle). I saw one during the final Rove program on Sunday night (the most overrated comedian in Australian television history, but popular all the same). Then I saw one during the shorts before 2012 at the cinema (this movie should be cut to 45 minutes, abolishing all the actors, renamed "The End of the World" and put to a rock n' roll soundtrack, after which it would be quite brilliant viewing). There was some print adds too I spotted, and generally I'd never felt so exposed to a game beforehand as this game. I suspected that this was a big reason for the increased crowd, and it was confirmed anecdotally by a friend I met at half-time who said he saw adds a few times before deciding to go with his girlfriend. He also noted the excellent timeslot, but I know that's more-or-less out of the Roar board's control, especially at this stage of the season.

3. Now, I try not to let my impressions be too educated. That is, I try to reflect what I actually felt at the time, on the assumption that this authentic viewpoint will be shared by many everyday (as contrary to hardcore) punters. So I already know that many people disagree with what I'm about to say, and that perhaps it reflects my hopeless ignorance about the game, but keep in mind that most people are at least as ignorant as me. I thought the lads played as well as I've seen them play. I can not name one player that played badly.

John's comment that we are too slow up front certainly rings true, but all that can be said for sure is that the Melbourne defense beat the Roar's attack. Without an elaborate analysis with high-tech equipment it's really impossible to say whether we were too slow or Melbourne were exceptionally quick to defend. We certainly seemed to dominate and make more convincing attacks, starting from about 90 seconds into the game.

For reasons to do with one of Jacob's mates I was watching Packer's game in particular. I love a wing back who attacks, and his combination with Tiatto attacking up the wing was great to watch. In general there was plenty of combination play. Henrique showed both his speed and inexperience, and missed one good chance in particular, but I still couldn't say he played badly.

But I can't with all integrity get through this without some criticism of the experience. As has been said over and over, the refereeing quality is shocking and inconsistent. Without a replay nobody in the home crowd knew why an apparently clinical goal was disallowed. I had to surf the media to find out. At another point we were sitting precisely behind the linesman, perpendicular to the sideline, when the linesman who was actually looking away incorrectly called Henrique offside. I completely participated in hurling abuse at the stupid bastard, and the crowd around me felt pre-riot. There were other incidents less blatant, and the totality of the experience was... I'm searching for the right words... deeply disturbing. Just left a lump of gunk where your fan's heart is supposed to be. It utterly ruined an otherwise positive experience.

This evening (Ballymore 6pm) I'm off to the last Roar women's homegame of the season, and the reffing issue made me consider one of the reasons I love it so much. Clearly it's not that the reffing's better - that would be a foolish claim I think. It's that the quality of refs and officials can keep up with the relatively slow pace and hence get most things right. Poor decisions on the part of officials, especially when you are denied a replay and have no way of knowing why a decision is made, I am increasingly convinced, is an enormous detraction from enjoying the game.

Anyway, I can't wait for tonight, when for $5 I know I'll have a really wonderful time, win or lose. The girls put the lads to shame when it comes to fair play (see Fiona Crawford's blog on this). When one stays down you know she is injured and you immediately feel for the player's pain because you know it's real. (All the best for a speedy recovery Brooke Spence).

Jacob is too much of a man to enjoy the women's game. He prefers boys. :) Truly, I've even explained to him how many chicks there are of his age there watching, and he's still not convinced. He prefers the pace - along with the diving, theatrics, poor reffing and long journeys on public transport. I can see his perspective of course, but it is my job to give him shit. He gives as good as he gets.

Well that was a ramble. To anyone who got this far, my apologies.

Go girls!!!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fantasising About Women

Fantasy #1

The Roar women are champions and so far are in the champion position this season as well. To be accurate and fair, and to avoid being too hubristic, they have some serious competition this year in Sydney, Melbourne and Central Coast. Yesterday I reckon they barely outplayed Melbourne at Ballymore, but it couldn't be said that Melbourne didn't deserve their point (1:1). It was a brilliant struggle and the 1400+ fans got a great show from both teams. But it is also absolutely fair to say that Brisbane remain the favourites, still undefeated this season, and clearly a very special bunch of women.

The situation begs for more competition. I would just love to see this team play the American champions, or for that matter a top women's club from anywhere in the world. I honestly don't know if they'd win, and I guess nobody does until it's tried. But I can't help thinking such a match possible commercially. Women's teams and women's competitions could, I believe, attract a variety of sponsorships that the men's game might not. In the United States the women's competition is much more established and attracts big crowds, which is why I think it would be the best place for such women's champions games to be held. Surely the U.S. fans would like their heroines to face higher competition as well, and would be very tempted by the prospect of a tour by Australia's most successful women's team.

Fantasy #2

As a general rule female players would not cut it in professional men's teams, but I think it might only be a general rule. For a team like the Brisbane Roar (men) in the A-League I can see a window of possibility which would be very exciting for the A-League and soccer in general. A female keeper, defender or even midfielder is probably out of the question. 90 minutes with the boys is also probably out of the question. My speculation is for a high quality striker, like Brazil's Marta or Perth's De Vanna to play an impact role up front off the bench, Timmy Cahill style.

So far as I know it's not against any rules and if it is, why?

For one thing the defenders would be under pressure to defend legitimately and not foul them, with the fear of chagrin from both the ref and the fans in the back of their minds. And if that were the case Marta or De Vanna could carve up your average A-League defense. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I don't think I would be. Once again I don't think they'd be effective for a full 90 minutes with the pace of the men's game. But in that last 15 minutes I think they might be uniquely effective.

Can you imagine the attention this would attract?

When comparing men to women playing soccer - and it is clear that men are, all things being equal (as such), bigger, stronger and faster - it is important to keep in mind that some of the distance between the quality is just about resources, coaching, professionalism and training regimes. That's not to say the gap could be closed, but it might not be quite as great as we think.

I have other fantasies about women but I won't be writing about them on this blog.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Why the Roar Need a New Board

The financial crisis has highlighted a dilemna in capitalist society, especially so in the United States. Simply put, some corporations and institutions have been deemed just too big to fail - the damage of letting their poor decisions break them would be so great for society that it is deemed in the public interest to bail them out. The dilemna is that if they can rely on being bailed out they are, given the normal forces of competing self-interest, likely to continue taking careless risks, knowing they'll be bailed out if their gambling fails. It's a very difficult area for governments, balancing public interest and the need to maintain the fear of failure as a basic incentive for institutions to make the best possible decisions.

It seems reasonable to me, and to many others, that if a company is just too big to fail, and hence has to be bailed out, that at the very least the entire board of said company should be replaced as a part of the bail-out package, and that the departing board members lose any extra entitlements. That seems to be the best compromise - it maintains that crucial fear of failure for the individuals on the boards at least, even if not for the institution as a whole. I know from innumerable informal discussions that many people share this basic view, and judge the decisions of governments and the actions of such companies on more-or-less this criteria.

Same goes for A-League clubs. The FFA clearly (and rightly I think) believe that it is better for soccer and for the A-League to help a club financially that to let it go bust. But doesn't that give the respective boards the message that even if they take ludicrous risks and make stupid decisions, it'll be ok because the FFA can't let them fail? Well, yes it does. Bailing them out is fine, if that's what's deemed in everyone's overall interests, but, well, you can see what I'm getting at. For the same people to continue to run the said club is absurd. The individuals involved must go if they have failed, as the only basic incentive for them to be very careful to make good decisions.

The board of the Brisbane Roar have made so many poor decisions, and have shown such incompetence in building the club in what should have been the most perfect market for an A-League club, that they really can't hold any respect whatsoever. Let's go through a bit of it.

They immediately set out to alienate soccer fans. I mean that. Oh they tried to develop 'community relations' all right, but not with Brisbane's enormous soccer playing and soccer watching community, but with some fictoid 'family' base, that doesn't drink, smoke, swear, dance, have sex, make rude gestures or actually have any passion for life. Since becoming a soccer fan a few years ago I've met hundreds of real soccer fans, mostly amateur players, people who kick about in the park on a Sunday afternoon (in Davies Park, West End, every Sunday at 4pm, incidentally), and people who have kids in teams. Guess what? Most of them are not Mormons, but Australians, of every colour, gender, religion and sexuality to be sure, but real live Australians nevertheless who live in a real world. They don't follow the A-League, almost without exception. It's not just that they haven't been reached out to, it's become increasingly clear that the Roar don't want most of these people because they don't fit into the fluffy pussy mold that the Roar (and the FFA, to be fair) is apparently aiming for.

I got a warning I'd be thrown out once for yelling the F word, and later heard stories of even the Orange Army being told that "shit" was out of bounds. Is this the real world they're trying to market to?

Now getting to the recent past, in that infamous away game against Melbourne where frankly I was disgusted by the violent bullying of Robbie Kruse by the Roar older boys. The Roar board cracked down of course... oh no, actually they didn't. They fined Tiatto an 'undisclosed sum' for giving the finger (ooh so rude!) and completely ignored Miller punching Robbie in the head. The thing about violence is it is not just a fluffy Christian issue, but an objectively ugly behaviour. False morality exposed. Later on they actually claimed that they held back on disciplining the players because Frank told them to. Um... So the Board doesn't take responsibility for its decisions? It's Frank's fault for 'telling them to'. I have to laugh but I want to cry. And meanwhile I can't help suspecting that their claim that Frank 'told them to' is utter bullshit, given their clear motives to scapegoat him.

Suncorp was ambitious in the first place, and I can't complain about that. Hindsight is not really fair, and I was among the many who thought it was fantastic - best stadium in the country, wonderful reputation as 'the cauldron' etc. But at a certain point there has to be a swallowing of ego and a recognition that it's not working. The small crowds actually made it an anti-fortress - great pitch and facilities with the intimidation factor of a possum. The away teams just loved it, even as the Roar lost money every week.

I have heard the Roar had the opportunity to buy Ballymore Stadium outright. If so, not doing so has to be counted as one of their follies. Ballymore is also a fantastic stadium, albeit with half the capacity (but still plenty for the crowds we were getting). It is also the recognised home of Brisbane soccer.

Central Coast model anyone? Wellington model? I like what the Fury is doing as well. Attempting to build a sustainable support according to reality, and engaging with an actual rather than an idealised, largely fictional community.

The FFA offered last year to buy a part of the Roar and help them out, but the offer was refused. We start to get the picture of a bunch of petulant egos that have no idea but who simply can't face it that they've fucked up.

The last stupid decision they made was sacking the coach who has had two moderately successful seasons and is himself a Brisbane soccer icon that every soccer player/supporter over 30 knows. He's probably Brisbane's number one soccer identity in fact.

It wasn't just stupid because Frank is a good coach and a drink driving charge is simply not grounds to be sacked, but let's just make the point that noone on the Board would ever be sacked for the same thing, and that there are journalists, engineers, judges, politicians and doctors who continue in their employment despite losing their licenses for DD. It was also stupid because it's going to cost them $300,000. They can't afford it. Oh that's right - it's ok because the FFA won't let them fail.

I could go on. The response to two years of dwindling crowds was the classic accountant's folly of raising the prices. "Watch my calculator - see, if you put the price up we're in profit!" Then, when crowds inevitably bottom out even more, they drop prices - twice in three weeks - and congratulate themselves for "listening to the fans." Don't make me fucking choke. We're just back to last year's model, except with even greater financial losses.

The Roar is being run by a bunch of rank amateurs and I strongly suspect they're there for the trough rather than the sport. They have no idea and they deserve zero confidence from anyone. I have no doubt that the players despise them. The FFA must be embarassed by them. Most of Brisbane's soccer fans don't follow the Roar anyway, but the few who do have zero reason to have any faith in these people at all.

The Roar - or at least the flagship men's team - have completely lost this fan. I've gotten right into the women's game, which at least has the advantage of being attacking, uncynical football. The stories about the Homeless World Cup inspire and move me. Following Jacob's team is absolute joy. Playing myself is grueling but extremely rewarding. Watching a good game on SBS gives me the pleasure of witnessing virtuosity at the highest level. If the Brisbane Roar wants my support, it's going to need a new board, a new plan, a new vision for where it wants to go.

Of course the FFA must move in. The operation must be rationalised, moved to Ballymore and concentrate on developing the support of the real soccer-loving people of Brisbane, as we find them, rather than as we want them. Of course it must be moral - it must emphasise fair play, zero tolerance of diving, falsehood and violent behaviour. Swearing, gesturing and getting pissed have nothing at all to do with real morality - they are subjects of religion.

But first and foremost, we need a new Board. Let me know when that happens will you, and I'll get back to you. Meanwhile, I'll keep loving soccer, and there's plenty of it to enjoy without stretching patience and credulity with this bunch of tossers.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Brisbane's Champion Team

A few times over the past few years I've noted the obvious word play, "The Roar purred." I guess it would have been used more if it was true more often, but even when they were really getting it together, like toward the end of last season, it didn't quite work as a metaphor.

Yesterday against Perth at Ballymore the Brisbane Roar Women purred.

Now I'll get a caveat out of the way. People will inevitably point out that the pace is slower in the woman's game. It is. And the slower pace is distracting, at first. But you get used to it, and frankly the pace is the only difference. Obviously I'm blessed by being able to watch a genuinely brilliant team, but in many other ways it's straight-out better. I'm beginning to think much better.

Brisbane played no long balls. I'll spell that out - they played z-e-r-o long balls. Even the keeper, the young lioness Casey Dumont, played the ball out to the defense virtually every time. On the odd occasion Brisbane lost possession, they fought like animals to get it back all over the field, but then in possession, they kept it and played it everywhere. They were a machine. I was honestly more in awe of the brilliant, tactically clever, technically highly trained, consistent demonstration of dominance than I have ever seen before. Ever.

Brisbane did not stop attacking for the entire game. 3:0 at half time. 6:0 at full time, the final, by my personal favourite striker Sasha McDonnell, at 90+1 minutes. Not an inch of cynicism.

There was not a hint of diving or theatrics throughout the entire game. To those who knowingly sneer that the women's game can never be as good as the men's, but who also spend a lot of time complaining about cynical defensive play and diving, I ask this question: "Are you sure?"

The women's game is slower, but if you can get used to this, are you sure that the women's game doesn't better fulfil almost every other criteria for spectator enjoyment of a soccer game?

My frustration is that I think Brisbane has something VERY special going on here and very few people realise. I can say with a straight face, unlike for any other Australian soccer team, that this team could play it with ANY TEAM IN THE WORLD. That this is not even being explored is wrong.

Is anyone looking at playing Brisbane (already the Australian champions and premiers) against the champion US women's team? Sure it would cost money but women's soccer is big in the US so there would easilly be enough of a market to sell the TV rights and come up with a sponsor or two. The tragedy, and the reason it may seem far fetched here, is that noone in Brisbane knows about its most formidable sporting team.

I am in love with them all, and the home games at Ballymore are among the most satisfying and enjoyable days out that I have had. $5 people. Kids free. And you can buy beer.

Next week is away against Canberra, the closest thing to a nemesis Brisbane has (Canberra is the only team to have beaten them, once, last year). It will be televised on the ABC at 3pm (Sat 7th).

Then there are just TWO home games left before the finals rounds. For what it's worth with my humble Brisbane readership (there's at least 3 or 4 of you) this is a PLUG. The Brisbane Roar women rock, right now.

vs Melbourne Saturday 14th November, 6pm
vs Adelaide Sunday 22nd November, 6pm

Love to see you there, but please don't talk to me during the game. :)