Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Family Outing at Skilled Park

Gold Coast vs Brisbane at Skilled Park. Well it sounded good, and I pretended it was a Christmas present to myself, Dawn and Jacob.

How could one resist it? Boxing Day afternoon and it's the first highly accessible 'away game' for the Brisbane Roar, hence the first away game I have attended. Brisbane were clearly the underdogs, and fighting the perfect evil Goliath - Clive Palmer's Bling Toy FC. Adding to the spice is Charlie Miller's recent defection from Brisbane to the Gold Coast - yes the very man who punched the last significant defector's head in an equivalently soon matchup (referring to Robbie Kruse and the incident leading to a match suspension for Miller).

It got much more complicated than that on Christmas Day. My family (Mum, sisters and sundry) came to my place for lunch, and they're all staying on the Coast, at Mum's place. So when asked if I have any plans for Boxing Day and mentioning that we're thinking of going to the game it quickly turns in to a 'great idea' for a mass family event. I resisted at first. "What? We're just going to the soccer ok? If you think going to the soccer would be good, then go. Why do we have to organise anything?" I mean I'm talking about my family here - they're not actually people or anything. Besides, we were planning on sitting at the away end and Mum and sister Margo at least should really go for the Gold Coast, geographically speaking. The others are Melbournites, sister Gay, her hubby David and their daughter Beth.

Two events turned the situation into a more organised family event. One, my mother stole my best knife, and two, they left the ham behind. The robbery was fascinating in that it was done in broad daylight. I watched as Mum opened the drawer, took my best knife out and packed it with her stuff. I asked rhetorically, "Are you sure that's your knife Mum? We didn't actually use your knife or carving fork and I never saw them." "Yes that's it," she insisted, lying. "I just washed up the knife and the fork," she lied. So in a sort of zen bemusement I left it alone. She's a bit dottery ok?

Mum (pictured) called the next morning, on Boxing day. She'd found her knife and fork, so was naturally repentant. She had herself decided not to attend the soccer but had devised a plan whereby she'd meet me at Nerang train station or the stadium, get the ham off me and return my knife. The flaw of course is that I might not be allowed to carry a 14 inch chef's knife into the stadium with me, not to mention the bore of carrying a large ham on the train. So I succumbed to a family event, we drove to Mum's place, exchanged belongings and caught the Nerang train to the game.

The train was strictly standing room. Even on the platform (in Nerang) there were more Roar shirts than we see at Fairfield Station on the way to Suncorp, and a lot of the travellers on board were in orange.When we got there the crowd looked like the picture on the left. Estimates I've read here and there vary enormously, but I think I'm being completely reasonable when I guess that half of the 10,000 crowd were Roar supporters.

I bought the tickets. The lady selling them helped me when she asked, "Are you Brisbane or Gold Coast supporters?" Rather than enquiring as to why the fuck I would be wearing a Roar jersey if I supported the Gold Coast, I politely replied, "Brisbane," being as truthful as possible within the small number of multiple choice answers available. She said, "Well I'll put you in the away supporters area then," to which I innocently replied, "Oh yeah, I guess so," before distributing the tickets to my family.

I'm glad we were there. The Den was out in force and the atmosphere they created was terrific. Like really, hats off to them. They rocked. It certainly occurs to me, in the context of the Roar's apparent crowd problems, much discussed including by myself, that the fans the Roar has kept - say 8,000 odd hard core - are extremely loyal, despite all sorts of difficult circumstances and bodgy management. You simply can't say the Roar hasn't got a decent fan base, it's just that the stadium (Suncorp, 54,000 capacity) is too big. Most A-League clubs would love our fan base.

And no I'm not going to tell the sorry narrative of the game as it's been written about elsewhere extensively. Catastrophic obviously. My sister Margo, a rugby follower but with an extraordinary capacity for astute observation, noted with no previous knowledge of the team that Tiatto when he came on was the only decent looking player on the Roar. I agree, and it has been said elsewhere as well, but it was interesting hearing it come from a pure, ignorant but intelligent, perspective.

This team just isn't there. Moore should be worried about his World Cup spot. Reinaldo looked ok when he came on. Oar looked good too, but Zullo was clearly challenged in his new role at left back. Overall the team doesn't have the spirit to win and, in my view, that reflects on the Coach and the Club.

Ange? Should he be sacked? Is he a terrible coach? Honestly I don't feel qualified to answer this question. The only thing I knew about him is that he completely failed to coach Australia's youth team to the Youth World Cup, and I remember Fozzie hammering him on the World Game for this. From some of the snippets and circumstances that I've gleaned, one could interpret Ange's style as one suiting youth. The older players seem to be going for example, and Miller's comment was that Ange, "doesn't want players to have a life." So do we have a (failed) youth coach trying to coach a team of youth, maybe not up to mentoring the older lads? I don't know to assert, but I do raise the question.

I no longer get depressed when the Roar lose. Since I've become progressively pissed off with the management, for reasons I won't go through again here, I guess my emotional attachment to the Roar has waned, but the fact is I still love the team and want them to win.

It's about my city. I love Brisbane and have been defending it from stuck-up southerners (and culturally cringing locals) for 25 years. Soccer is the ultimate game, global, tribal and spectacular. Brisbane fields a team. The Roar board would pretty much have to start sacrificing children before each game for me to actually not support the team. But I do despair generally. And I will continue to attack the morons in charge with prejudice, because I have discovered that love of a team does not mean loving its management any more than loving my country means loving the government.

So what can I say? What does my spirit have to say to these young men representing my glorious sub-tropical city in the iconic sport of our time? Not much. Just this: For fuck's sake, come on guys!!!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We Believe In Brisbane


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Roar - Its Woes and its Women

Marco Monteverde over at the Courier Mail is often worth keeping an eye on because he breaks stories. The headline of the linked article, "Roar is banking on Robbie Fowler to lift crowd numbers," hides the true importance of the story however, much of which is exclusive quotes from Roar chairman Chris Bombolas. For some reason the Courier Mail failed to publish my comment on the story, so I better blog...

The headline does reinforce the basic tragedy we are witnessing. The Roar is clearly in trouble. Bombolas states, "I'd be lying if we didn't say we were worried... The bottom line is we need to get some results now. Winning might get a few more people back. ... We keep making excuses and we keep talking it up, we keep saying that we had all the chances, but we're just not winning." Coming from the top these are seriously concerned comments, and they are the context for the hope that Robbie Fowler will bring a crowd to Suncorp tomorrow night. In short, there is just no hope here.

We've had the big talked-up 'game we have to win' against Melbourne a few weeks back, and we lost, and the publicity barely brought any new numbers. Then we lost again, against bottom-of-table Adelaide, to the worst crowd ever. It was over a year ago that we gathered the Roar was in trouble, needing an average 15,000 at Suncorp to break even. All the information is there for us to know, regardless of any new spin, that the Roar is in very serious trouble indeed; that the Roar is in danger as a franchise.

But are they learning? No they're not. Sure they stupidly tried to get the books balanced by radically increasing ticket prices, but now that they've 'listened to the fans' (cough) and made them cheaper than ever they've managed to a) piss off the season ticket holders who rightly feel ripped off, b) fail to bring back the crowds and c) made it even more glaringly obvious that their trouble is chronic and not just a blip. If they weren't breaking even before, now we're aware with every game that they are digging a large pit of debt.

Sacking Frank Farina, and hence (apparently) losing their high profile players, was also stupid, but I guess there's no going back. They are left with a team that is not only failing on the park and failing to draw crowds, but is not even more implicitly interesting than, say, the Brisbane Strikers, who are virtually free to watch.

They're left with a humble, but surprisingly loyal, fan base following a humble, but surprisingly gifted, team. All is not lost but the whole operation clearly needs to adjust its boot size downward.

But we get this news: "Despite the poor crowds the Roar remain committed to signing a new tenancy deal at Suncorp Stadium."

Are these people completely stupid? "To have 5000 in a 52,500 capacity stadium is a crying shame, but we've got to stay at the best stadium that will cater for corporates, the general public and the players," Bombolas says, then asks, "Where is the alternative?"

Well Ballymore is fine for the 'general public' - actually I love it. I can't see the problem for the players, but hell, give the dressing rooms a paint job if that's necessary. The real ones that Bombolas is clearly concerned about is 'corporates'. What I want to know is who? What's the story? Which sponsor is it who have threatened to pull the plug if they leave Suncorp? Reading between the lines, it is clear that at least one has. Is it Coffee Club, Luxury Paints, or someone else? Whoever it is, they're going to kill the club.

"You can't expect corporates and sponsors who put in their hard earned dollars to be in facilities that are very dated."

Which ones have made it clear to you, Bombolas, that they won't support The Roar at Ballymore?

"Ballymore's not ready."

Ah, so by this can I educe the excellent news that there are efforts to make Ballymore ready? No, I can't can I? There's no Plan B is there? We stay at Suncorp, which utterly fails for the small fan base, because the 'corporates' won't support a smaller venue. I've never been brilliant at maths but this is an equation I can cope with. Answer: The Roar is fucked.

See also on 442, Roar's Ghost Town Fear.

The Good News

Thank the soccer gods for the Roar Women. They won a tough semi-final against Central Coast on Sunday and will be in the Grand Final against Sydney away this Saturday. It's being televised on the ABC at 3pm (Brisbane time).

Along with my progressive disillusionment with the Men's team, and with the Roar Board and, let's face it, with the FFA, I have had the delight of watching the W-League throughout its short season and loved every minute. It has been very inexpensive ($5 for home games), I've got to watch one game on free-to-air TV every week, it has lived up to its 'football with style' slogan with free, attacking, uncynical football, and has been played at a wonderful stadium with free parking (Ballymore). To Westfield and whoever else helps this competition happen, my sincere thanks.

For a pre-match review of the Grand Final, I can't compete with Fiona Crawford at 442, who has given great coverage to the W-League all season, along with blogger Merryn Sherwood at Girls With Game.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

World Cup Blogging - Sweeping Team Review

It's six months until the opening match of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I've mentioned several times that I'll be attending with my son Jacob, and that I intend to blog about it. This post is meant as a sort of introduction to the blogging project.

My intentions, none of which I'm willing to be held to in the final analysis, are to provide an interesting diary of my World Cup journey, including photographs and discussions about the teams and the experience with the fans on and off the field. Actually I could talk about anything, but it will all be about my World Cup Trip.

An initial overview of the teams is in order, but let me make it clear from the beginning that I consider the World Cup to have begun, not in Uruguay in 1930, but in 1915, with very few rules and no refereeing and lasting nearly five years. Of course the rules of war and soccer have some key rule differences, and I'll get to that in another blog, but suffice to say that they are both the determined struggle between nations for World Domination, and although there'd been previous, more localised competitions for domination, the very first true World Cup was World War I.

World War I, upon its completion (the USA the clear victor), gave rise to two extraordinary institutions, both of whose purpose it was to end war (as we've known it) for all time. The League of Nations failed of course, but FIFA has had some success.

The rules have only been suspended once since for the World Cup, in World War II (where the USA once again won the grand final), and for two whole olympiads. Since then the conflicts between nations without rules and referees have thankfully remained mostly local, though many of the countries in the South Africa World Cup have been in battle with each other since. Actual World Cups have been kept to the soccer format.

Soccer is, of course, a much more civilised manner for countries to seek World Domination than war. It's interesting to have a look over the participants of South Africa 2010 with a view to their current status in the World. A fascinating pattern emerges in this case.

In short, the thirty-two countries virtually define the anglocentric sphere, indeed the Western block of the world. For the first time USA, England, Australia and even New Zealand are all competing. The breadth of representation is theoretically there, as there is even a representative of Oceania, but New Zealand is the most anglophilic nation in Oceania, as is Australia, the leading qualifier in Asia, the most anglophilic country in "Asia."

Let's be clear I'm not trying to overlay any political judgements of my own here; I'm just making observations. All of the white cricketing nations are at the World Cup and virtually none of the non-white cricketing nations.

Although 'Asia' is represented by four countries, there is no representation longditudinally from Serbia East to... Australia. The other three are all adjacent to each other, two of them the most pro-American countries in Asia, Japan and South Korea, and then perversely North Korea. Fully flanked by America's allies in the region (not to mention the key American bases of Australia and New Zealand), North Korea, a dangerous and ridiculous caracature of both Asian authoritarianism and communism, both of which it alone represents. And its placing alongside the Portuguese block (Brasil and Portugal no less), and The Ivory Coast, could have been designed to make the caracature to be a spectacle of failure.

Every other World Cup contender is a respectable social democracy, from an anglo-American perspective.

There are no Arab states apart from Algeria, to the very West of Arabica. Notably the US's greatest potential geopolitical rivals, Russia, China, India and Iran - most of which have World Cup histories - are absent. Israel is perhaps the most notable of US allies to actually be missing, but so are all her enemies. The Middle East in fact is not there at all. Not even the ambiguous 'allies' of the USA like Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who often are there.

Note the distinct blocks of participants on the World Map. European countries (including Algeria and not including only Serbia and Slovakia, close by and themselves a strange little couple of the most white and western East European lands) forms one geographic block. North American countries, with Honduras just across the water from Mexico, is a distinct block. If you go to the southernmost of South America with a latitudinal ruler and work your way up the continent, the first five countries you encounter are the World Cup representatives - all the wealthiest and most powerful countries, all politically close to the West. The Carribean and Northern South America is barely represented by Honduras alone. Asia is a small block of the Koreas and Japan, and then of course there's Australia and New Zealand geographically and culturally allied.

Africa is represented of course, but barely. Again there's Algeria in the far North, a Mediteranean country trying to represent North Africa and Arabica at the same time. Then South Africa in the far South, the most Westernised and affluent African country. Apart from these two all four countries are all-but adjacent in the Gulf of Guinea, or Ivory Coast, area. This is the relatively Western, affluent area of Africa, where the oil is, and generally with cooperative governments.

South Africa has a number of official languages, but it speaks to the World in English. The only non-European main-languages spoken at the World Cup will be Japanese, Korean and Arabic (by Algeria, which also uses French). The vast majority of the background chatter will be Spanish, English, French and Portuguese, with Germanic languages also represented. Latin and Greek based languages will be spoken by almost everyone.

All the classic Western countries are there, as well as all the major colonialists. France, the symbol of liberty, Greece, the symbol of democracy, England, the symbol of pluralistic democracy (as well as soccer itself), Swizerland, the symbol of neutrality, Spain, the symbol of piracy and loot, Italy, the symbol of ancient empire, culture and catholicism. The West is there in full force. All the seats of the major empires of civilisation are there - ooh, except the pre-Western ones of Persia (Iran), Babylonia (Iraq) and Egypt.

In short this is an Angloamerican World Cup, and even moreso than usual. An American ally, a capitalist westernised democracy, will win it. American Civilisation will win it. It represents a World just about the way the Americans might wish it was if they could.

I'll be talking fairly freely about the various contender's political histories, and especially about any engagements outside sport the various pairings of countries have had. Germany and Australian teams have fought one another, for example, in both World wars - I'll be examining who won these battles if anyone - mere group rounds for these unruly World Cups - and how the teams looked then.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Father and Son Discussing Australia's Chances at the World Cup

The following conversation happened on Facebook Chat:

Jacob: Lol. Good prediction by me (:. Bring that to South Africa we'll see how right it is.

Hamish: Ha ha. I'm back to my position that it's gonna be damn tough for Oz in group D though. Ghana has this Chelsea striker who wasn't playing when we played them, and a couple of other gun Euro players.

Jacob: Were they playing in their qualifiers? If so then they still didn't do great so we're fine.

Hamish: Fifa puts us as favourite for 4th place. Topped their group. The game Serbia lost against Lithuania was when they'd already qualified and was a second team. And they did top France.

Jacob: They didn't beat France though.

Hamish: They did once, I think. But they did top them in the group.

Jacob: No they drew and lost to France. And they beat Romania 5-0 after Romania knew they couldn't get in so wasn't like they were all determined or anything.

Hamish: Sure. From the analysis I'm reading neither Ghana or Serbia can be underestimated. But it's good for Australia if people underestimate us, so it could be good.

Jacob: Indeed. Hang on I'll read your link...

Jacob: They don't say we're tipped to be fourth.

Hamish: They seem to be giving them in order, and they definitely give Ghana second.

Jacob: They just say Serbia's great and all and really qualifiers didn't look too convincing to me. They didn't beat France. Ghana didn't have to beat any good teams Dad seriously, though they're obviously good.

Hamish: Neither did Australia.

Jacob: Japan is higher ranked than Ghana or any country they versed, so yeah, we did.

Hamish: Ok, but Japan beat us in the Asia Cup, and we could only draw against them away.

Ranking means shit at this level - well it means a bit but not too much. Like Serbia is one more than us but they had to qualify against much harder teams.

Jacob: The only country that was good in Serbia's group was France and they didn't even beat them.

Hamish: I just reckon it'll be bloody hard - that is, every game will be bloody hard. Ozzie spirit is our best hope - I hope they bring extra supplies.

Jacob: It's not even our only hope though.

Hamish: Honestly, I reckon the best hope is against Germany in the first game.

Jacob: You're not positive enough.

Hamish: Ha ha. It's usually the other way around.

Jacob: I know.

Dude, Germany is impossible. It's like Brazil. We just won't, but Ghana qualified over countries that are not as good as us or our competition, and Serbia had one overly hard country in their group who they beat on the table without winning against them.

Hamish: No, it's not impossible. As Shane Davis says, we don't suit their game, and as Dario says (from Germany), they reckon we're easy.

Dario reckons he'll be wearing his Socceroos Jersey to training to stir them.

Jacob: What a mad guy. Dude!!!!!!!!

Hamish: Yeah cool.

Jacob: How can you be positive against fucking Germany and not Ghana or Serbia for fuck's sake? Urgh!

Hamish: Ha ha.

Ghana have some killer players - prob better than Timmy and Harry - and they are at least as tough and physical as us - which is our strength. Then they have 30,000 Africans drumming, singing and dancing for them. There's nothing easy about that.

Serbia I'm less sure of, but from what I read they're extremely good on the ball, and will be much better technically. Maybe we can beat them with our strength, stamina and spirit, but still no easy match.

Germany think they're the shit, but they're outside their territory, will underestimate us in their first game of what they think will be a long campaign, and their style will struggle against our physicality and stamina.

Honestly, the odds say about two of the favourites will stuff their group, and Germany could easilly be one of them - the other likelies are England, Portugal and Argentina.

Jacob: Ok for your Ghana bit. They will be strong.

Hamish: Of course anything can happen, but yep, they're no easy beats.

Jacob: But we've shown that that's not a problem before. I know they didn't have some good players but you can't underestimate Aussie. For example...

Harry Kewell... ex Liverpool player (top 4 club in EPL);
Timmy (top 5 club in EPL Everton);
Mark Schwarzer, Middleborough keeper, probably one of best in world. Never lost a professional penalty shoot out;
Lucas, he's in Europe;
Craig was in europe.

They're a good bunch of players. Just 'cause Ghana has some killers doesn't mean we can't match them.

Serbia... I havn't seen them play but again their qualifiers aren't convincing to me.

Hamish: I love your optimism. Go Ozzie is all I can say.

Jacob: Ghana's toughest opponent is ranked 47th Dad. Sure ranks don't matter, but to be 47th means you're not good, simple as that.

Hamish: Fair call, but they've kicked some arse at World Cup level before too, and you know the continental system skews rankings. It's pretty hard to say.

Jacob: WE HAVE KICKED ASS AT WORLD CUP. Lost one nil to the winners by a bullshit penalty. You're underestimating us Hamish!

Hamish: Ok ok. We'll see, personally. And I can't wait to sing Advance Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda, Land Down Under and even bloody Oi Oi Oi.

I'm going to publish this conversation on my blog. So any final comments?

Jacob: LOL. Alright. Wait. I'm not done.

Hamish: Ok.

Jacob: Serbia... hang on!

Hamish: Ok.

Jacob: Apart from France none of Serbia's opponents are ranked in the top 50, and they never even beat France. For eff's sake think positive. France obviously were not fielding their best team anyway because they lost to Austria.

Hamish: Ok then... anything to add?

Jacob: Negative. That will be all.


Jacob's Ladder

Here is my son's predictions.

I love it that all over the world, in pubs, lounge rooms and work places, there are people now working on these important documents. They write them on notebooks, beer coasters, whiteboards, walls and in the dust with sticks. These documents forge alliances, bond peers and patriots, start arguments and ruin mariages. All of them, of course, are nonsense, but this is the stage of dreaming, of celebrating imagined futures and ignoring the pessimists.

The invitation list is done. The tables have been set. The world furiously speculates while it waits for grim reality to prove us all frauds and scheisters.