Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Soccer and Civic Pride, by Dawn Albinger

Well I haven't blogged for a long time, but today I am very pleased to introduce as a guest blogger my beautiful partner and wife Dawn Albinger. Thanks for you fresh, candid journey notes, my love.


I grinned all the way from King George square to the corner of Albert and Charlotte streets. I grinned as I ordered the decaf and muesli. I’ve been grinning at our customers for an hour since I made it back to Archives Fine Books. I think it’s called ‘civic pride’, and whilst I have certainly felt happy often in my life, this is a particular kind of buzz that I have not often experienced. I felt a version of it last year when thousands of people rallied in my suburb of Fairfield to clean up after the floods. And I’m feeling another version of it today after celebrating the Brisbane Roar A-League championship victory.

It’s not without some self-consciousness that I make this admission. I’m an artist, a theatre-maker and performer, and for most of my life – and especially the early part of my career – I defined myself in opposition to the kind of ‘mob mentality’ that I thought characterised the sports fanatic. ‘I’ was all about being a unique individual, and one of my conceits was that I was more discerning than your average sports fan.  Yet on ‘Orange Sunday’ I was in the second row at Suncorp Stadium: yelling, chanting, whistling, screaming, leaping out of my seat: hugging husband and stranger alike when Berisha Besart scored the equaliser and then took the penalty to help Brisbane Roar make history yet again. And today I lined up for the ticker-tape parade so I could clap and cheer and salute the team and their coach and their training staff.

So what’s changed? How have I gone from being the kind of artist who deplored footy fandom as some kind of ‘lowest common denominator’ entertainment – rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, and violence – to enjoying the thrill of adding my voice to 50,000 others when my team scores a goal? And how have I come to call it ‘my’ team, as though I participate somehow in wearing both crushing defeat and ecstatic victory? I have been mulling this over for a few months and I haven’t quite arrived at a satisfactory answer. It lies somewhere between my love for my soccer-mad husband and the joy I take in his love of the game; my own relationship with soccer that has been developing since I joined a soccer team for the first time at the age of 45 and discovered to my astonishment that I love running and that I still have a lot to learn about team-work; my delight in discovering the metaphors that soccer constantly provides for life; and the fact that through soccer I experience a sense of embodied community: people coming together for a common cause.

Soccer makes me smile. I love that in Brisbane we have a multi-cultural team made up of men who 110% committed to the game and yet have interests besides soccer: music, art, philosophy, life. I love that for two years we have had a coach who encourages this, who has lifted the quality of the game nationally, and who has led our team from obscurity to championship glory. I love that I returned to Brisbane and discovered The Beautiful Game at the precise moment that Ange began his journey with the Roar. I love it. I’m a fan. And today I felt a real connection between loving my city and loving my soccer team.

There are many things I want to understand and change about the world I live in – sexism, racism, homophobia, violence included – and I have addressed some of these issues through my theatre. I have discovered that the global soccer federation FIFA has also gone some way to addressing racism in particular, which is to be celebrated. It could go further on the other issues (especially homophobia and parity for women in sports). But one thing I am very happy about and don’t want to change is the Brisbane Roar. My connection to soccer and to the Brisbane Roar team has deepened my civic pride. And I’m proud to call myself a fan.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Socceroos Coach Announced

Well I must say I was a little surprised when Ben Buckley called last night to offer me the job of Socceroos' Head Coach, starting immediately.

Of course I know when the time for my national duty has come, and I accepted. But not before I had a long talk with Buckley in which I said I would be making a number of changes, some of them which will shock some people and many fans, and he guaranteed that I would have complete freedom and control over the roster. His only stipulation was that I should develop a team to play what is often variously referred to as 'total football', 'attacking, flowing football' or 'entertaining football'. My own term for it is 'ensemble football', but I may henceforth also just use the term, 'The Brisbane System'.

Now of course the media and the fans, not to mention the FFA, are all clamouring to know which players I intend to use for the rest of the World Cup Qualifiers and beyond, and I'll get to that presently, but first things first. If we pit our 11 best players against the 11 best players of the top international sides, and all the rest is equal, we will lose. A soccer game is a contest of systems, and the first thing to be clear on, for the media, the fans and the players, is what system we will be using. The players will depend upon the system, not the other way around.

One of Australia's great apostles of ensemble football is Craig Foster. He understands well that a good team needs a system, and because he also understands that criticism is not helpful without positive alternatives, he has pushed a Dutch system as the model which Australia will follow. More recently he talks more about Barcelona.

But Australia no longer needs to look abroad for a great system. Ange Postecoglou and Ken Stead at the Brisbane Roar (these two should always be spoken of as a partnership) have developed a system right here in Australia, no doubt heavily influenced by the great sides of Europe but very much an Australian born system at the same time. It is still developing and is currently going through new tactical tests in the A-League. Aside from its effectiveness a major advantage of this system is that many Australians play it or play against it and all are exposed to it every week.

Just as the champion Spanish team is made up of most of the Barcelona squad, and hence the extraordinarily well developed culture of the Barcelona method of play can transfer directly to their national team, I intend to look first to the successful Australian Roar players for the team. They are all faced with competition from others of course, but when I look at players outside the Roar I will not merely be looking at their form, the league they play in, or their team's success, but how they are being coached and the style that their team plays. I don't need defenders who play in a team which uses a lot of long ball, regardless of whether they are in the EPL or not or how successful they are. I need players who can play how I need them to play.

At this point I should mention the conversation I had with one of my predecessors this morning. Pim Verbeek infamously suggested that if people wanted to play for Australia then they should seek to play overseas first. Well this morning he told me that if he was coaching now he would say they should seek to play either overseas or at the Brisbane Roar.

Needless to say Ange Postecoglou and Ken Stead will be my constant consultants. I have bought into their philosophy and hope that I can, as the national team redevelops, contribute to it and take it abroad. We think this system, if fully developed and supported, can take on the world.

In short (very short) the system is a 4-3-3 which can become a 3-4-3 as the holding midfielder drops back and the wing backs surge forward. At its most attacking extreme it becomes 3-2-5 in fact.

But fluidity is the key. Interchangeabilities must be developed one by one, and the more of them the better. I cannot just say to my players, 'swap places if that's helpful'. Two players can only swap places if they have trained to do this. These interchangeabilites are an example of how developing our team takes time. We can take shortcuts by choosing players who already have a relationship in a system and who are trained to understand how we use space.

At the same time we must, like the Roar, always train and play with the ball on the ground, making use of triangular shapes with short passing, maintaining possession and pressing like motherfuckers every time we lose the ball. All of this is hard. I can't take a player - it doesn't matter if they are the player of the year in the EPL - who has never played this way and include them in my team. The more my players already play this way, the more successful I can be in developing, from the bottom, the most successful Australian team to date.

That's what we want isn't it? Obviously I am being hired to make the new Socceroos, the first Socceroos of the new football era, the best team Australia has ever fielded.

At this time the biggest problem for the Socceroos is the midfield. I haven't decided on my whole squad, and of course I must keep up to date with rising talent, but I do know of a midfield of three which works very well. Matthew McKay, Eric Paartalu and Mitch Nichols are the 'first' three across the middle.

Here is the first 11 I am currently looking to train with for the game against Saudi Arabia in Sydney, which will be the first competition test of the new team.

Michael Theoklitos
Shane Stefanatto-Matthew Jurman-Matthew Špiranović-Ivan Franjic
Matt McKay-Eric Paartalu-Mitch Nichols
Tommy Oar-Brett Holman-Dario Vidošić

Now, just taking one position as an example, there may be better goal keepers than Theo. I would say not by much, but that may be so. But have they been trained to act as a sweeper when the team is up field? Have they been to begin attacks with short, tactical distribution to the back line? Have they had the boot up the center of the field thoroughly beaten out of them with whips and stout sticks? I don't have time to train a player in these tactical techniques, these game habits. I need to find a keeper who already knows what I need them to do in the system, as much as possible.

With that in mind I am very open to suggestions from fans about how I might better staff the field. Obviously I need a complete back-up team to complete the squad, and there are many contenders. But here I have very frankly given you, the media and fans, a skeleton picture of what we as a football nation are about to embark upon. Humbly I ask for your patience and your support.

Our goal is to reach the top 4 at Brazil 2014.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix 1:1

It is anxious times for a Brisbane Roar fan. I mean hell, the undefeated streak stretches to 34 games. But it's hard not to notice that the last two games have presented a new challenge. It's hard not to notice that we have not scored from open play in the last two games.

In week one, Central Coast tried to handle us the way they almost did last season, with their half-open, counter attacking game, but once again, came up short.

The next week Sydney tried to press us high, and failed.

The Gold Coast also tried to press high; opening themselves up, and they were shown three goals against them for their efforts.

Adelaide - bless them - tried to beat us at our own game, and were utterly exposed.

Melbourne defended. They did not beat us, but with only nine men, they stifled us. Going by Archie's insistence before that game that Melbourne needed the first goal and that if Brisbane got the first goal Melbourne were basically stuffed, it's my suspicion that the tight defense we saw Melbourne play in the second half last week was not entirely improvisation due to extraneous circumstance. I believe it was Melbourne's plan to get an early goal - as it has been observed that Brisbane is often exposed early on - and then defend approximately as they did.

But regardless of how much their defensiveness was forced upon them, it worked. And Wellington, on paper the weakest team in the League, did the same thing. And it worked again.

That's the season so far. The sweep of the story is that the League has not figured out how to defeat Brisbane and indeed they have more-or-less given up trying. But they have worked out how to neutralise Brisbane. Perhaps Ange is right and there's nothing to worry about. There were good chances tonight after all. But my feeling is that other teams will do the same thing, with a reasonable expectation of success, and that we need a new trick.

One of the questions is about Brisbane's depth. In terms of on field leadership I don't think Matty McKay has been entirely replaced. It was him who would rally the troops, leading by example, for the final efforts, especially when the team was down. There doesn't seem to be that extra kick in the team; that turbo mode. The second halves of the last two games have been tactically clever enough, and accurate enough in terms of passes, but have appeared almost monotonous. We are left asking, "And???"

With Nichols away Issey was brought in to start and Broich was brought into the middle. Broich in the middle is great by me but Issey does not seem comfortable with the system yet, hogs the ball a bit and hence loses possession too much. He also shows some magic, and he did come very close to scoring so, unlike my son and consultant Jacob, who thinks Issey is "fuckin useless" I haven't given up on him. Depth is a challenge though.

Brattan deserves a mention at this point as he does appear to be able to do his job in the system.

"The system." There was a moment which I would love to successfully describe as it summed up the difference between what the Roar are doing and what other teams appear to be doing, in the first two thirds of the field anyway. Franjic received the ball very close to us, watched his defender frantically attempting to press him, and passed it off to his left (to Smith I think). It was the look on Franjic's face. It might be boredom. Certainly kind of cocky, contemptuous of the quite obviously pointless work the defender was doing. It looked like Franjic was pulling the same string as he had pulled a thousand times before, the outcome entirely predictable. And indeed, the defender huffed off to the left as Franjic gently sidestepped into the space created, as he knew he would before he even received the ball. It was just a moment, but seemed to sum up what was happening out there.

The thing is, the Roar machine is working. No team is beating us, and the opposition coaches from the last two weeks appear to be overjoyed to get the point from a draw. There is no team saying, "We can be better," merely teams saying, "We can stuff your game."

We'll see about that, of course. What a team does when we do score ourselves into the lead, as we nearly did about eight times in the second half, remains the open question. Keep in mind that the longer the game goes on the more the Roar have the advantage of their fitness and conserved energy. That's basically why teams need to score against the Roar as early in the game as possible. I suspect that the full defensive shell is also energy conserving to an extent.

It is in desperation that I am attempting a constructive solution to the Roar's new tactical dilemma. The second half tonight was a déjà vu of the second half last week versus the Victory. One thing that we did not see is any deviation from the ground level passing game plan. Any other team would be trying to chip balls over the top to a target man in the box. Not the Roar. They are so pure that it may defeat them.

If teams continue to conduct this kind of tortoise defense against the Roar maybe a target option would be good for the last ten minutes of the game, just to break things up, just to give the opposition something new to think about.

I don't suspect Berisha is the man. Paartalu appears a good choice for his height but he is key to the defense and the distribution around the defensive wall. I want to see Adnan given a go at this. According to Wikipedia he has been utilised just this way in the past and has scored goals like this, as well as from set pieces. The man is about 9 foot tall and we have had, in the first game against Central Coast, a glimpse of this aerial ability. It doesn't really get mentioned because he played such a small part in that game but he won two aerial challenges in that game with apparent effortlessness. The second was in the box from a corner but it went over the bar. I actually suspect that Ange is holding this weapon back purposely.

The neat thing is you can have Adnan on the bench as defensive cover, but then in this particular instance - when the opposition has retracted into its tortoise like defense - push him right up front as a natural target man. It's not changing the system. It's just giving it a new trick, for a contingency.

This game review was supposed to be 'visceral' I think. It would have been moreso if I was in the intoxication of the 5:1 drubbing that I expected Roar would deliver. The game was compelling and the atmosphere, with the 16,500 fans, was brilliant. Some are saying that the Roar are looking 'toothless' or whatever, but I still find myself hypnotised by their passages of play. But for a Roar fan tonight's game, on the back of last week in particular, was sobering.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pass and Move

When I began this blog over five years ago I honestly thought there were no active A-League blogs. I soon discovered I was wrong and wrote a reasonably comprehensive review of the amateur blogs which focused on the A-League at that time.

One of the things I was hungry for from the beginning was high quality, football-knowledgeable analysis of the games. There was some, and frankly I found the best of it better than anything that the mainstream has to offer. For all of Fozzie's apostolic mission to increase our understanding of the game, for example, he doesn't actually write or present detailed and comprehensive tactical analysis of games and, come to that, neither does SBS. 442 doesn't do much better.

My suspicion is that although there are hard core fans who seek a deeper intellectual relationship with the game, they would not actually have an enormous audience compared to the "Broich thinks the coach is really good" or "Sydney confident for the big game" type bullshit that is constantly spewed at us.

Since that time, of my three favourites, James Brown went and got a girlfriend, Mike Salter had a kid and only Tony Tannous has left his old blog and joined the Roar Sports Opinion team. Of the latter I would say that some of the best analysis of all of those early A-League seasons remain on the record on Tony's old blog The Round Ball Analyst.

Occasionally I would also take the time to surf around international fan sites as well, and it was apparent that their media was enormously more developed, not just in quantity but in sophistication and understanding, I daresay the lag in  the quality of football media in general is parallel with the lag in the quality of the football. We can't expect Australian media and bloggers to be as sophisticated as Europeans, perhaps.

And although James, Mike, Tony and others were doing their best, and better than any mainstream, with people as ignorant as myself as their audience, there was another level available, not merely in knowledge and quality of analysis but in presentation and consistency.

Ok, maybe I craved more pictures. During the last World Cup I discovered Zonal Marking, and was overjoyed when it did an analysis of Pim Verbeek's Socceroos vs Germany. Well, I wasn't that overjoyed with the content as such, but I was awakened to a type of analysis, that this website appeared to consistently do, which was exciting.

Anyway that's a bit of my own journey with it all, and in that time I've learned a lot about this game, and also about how much I don't know. Aside from bloggers my teachers of strategy and tactics were mostly the coaches of the Roar in a way, Miron Bleiberg, Frank Farina and, especially Ange Postecoglou. It is the latter that seemed to put a lot of the pieces together for me.

As I watched Ange develop and implement his system, and then begun to watch it work, I felt that I understood much better some of Craig Foster's rave, and also his passionate vehemence. Another level is possible, another level of football, and that level is facilitated by increasing understanding of the game among coaches, parents, fans and journalists.

The real fear with regard to the Brisbane Roar, according to this narrative, is that when Ange goes the Australian media and fans will forget it as a freakish success, the pressure will be off the other teams to do the extremely difficult, and the A-League will revert to the sort of mediocrity in which a thug-led Melbourne Victory can win. The only antidote to this fear is increasing understanding of the game.

The narrative about Ange is well established. He has 'brought the A-League to another level', 'raised the bar for all the other teams' etcetera. And he really has.

But a new player has also come onto the Australian blogging scene. It is my opinion that he's raised the bar of tactical analysis (for both A-League and Socceroos actually) but interestingly, he's declared that intent.

I am saying that Pass and Move is to soccer blogging what Ange is to the A-League. I guess it's a coincidence that 'Pass and Move' is also a good description of what Ange has brought to the Roar's game. Here is Pass and Move's manifesto in full:
Pass and Move is a football blog dedicated to tactical analysis, with a special emphasis on the Socceroos and the A-League, the top flight of Australian competition. It was inspired by the work of Michael Cox on Zonal Marking and Jonathon Wilson for the Guardian.
Pass and Move is an attempt to elevate the level of tactical discourse and insight about football in Australia; the central tent of Pass and Move is to move beyond merely reporting 'what' occurred during a match and ascertaining 'why' and 'how' it was won, drawn or lost.
Pass and Move hope to encourage others to broaden their own football knowledge. Check out the Recommended Reading below, and help spread the word about Pass and Move.

Advancing the level of understanding is not merely something Pass and Move does by analysis. Pass and Move does an occasional "Commentary on the Commentary" where he discusses mainstream discussions of a game and explains to us why they are full of shit. Now, clearly in each case there may be room for real argument, but this analysis is better, more comprehensive, coherent and clear than anything else around for our country. It also has cool pictures of the formations.

Now, no I don't know this guy. I don't even know if it's a guy. This review is from my heart. It is in the interests of our game in Australia for us to actively support the best possible analysis of out league, our national team and the games thereof. The more we build understanding among fans and media, the more likely it will be that, when Ange goes, the Australian football public will insist that the teams in the A-League continue to aim for the very difficult: that high place of practice which I am calling ensemble football, that has not been seen enough in our country.

I am also aware when I read the posts in Pass and Move, which are almost daily in frequency, that there is enormous love and effort behind the blog, and I am aware that with little reward the person behind it will not last, or not as consistently. Just like we must encourage good football, we must encourage good football writing. And I sincerely think we should actively support this blog. If Fozzie's apostolic mission is important to him, he should also actively support this blog. Same goes for any other football evangelist.

One last thing. As a Roar fan I am delighted that Pass and Move has so far reviewed all of our games this season. These reviews remain an extraordinary literary record of our season. But Pass and Move only reviews two games per round. These games are determined by popular vote on surveys down the right hand side ("Which Round x match are you most excited about?"). So it is of utmost importance that Roar fans get on the site and vote for our games to be reviewed.

Just as a final note, I feel fairly confident in predicting that the Roar are going to destroy Wellington Phoenix on Sunday afternoon and then make biscuits out of them. That, I'm afraid, is the extent of my own tactical capacity.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

"Wouldn't cost that much to buy mate. The A League teams sell players for fuck all." A Tribute to Matty McKay

The above quote is lifted from the Rangers fan forum and is not referring to Matty actually but to Thomas Broich and Mitch Nichols, who they merrily discuss their club's prospects of poaching, given what they see as the bargain purchase of Matty.
The page about Matty, which begins when the first talk of the transfer emerged, goes for 50 pages. The fans appear very pleased indeed with their Australian international signing, a common sentiment being that if he had been from a mediocre European team he would have cost over a million pounds.
Someone even put together a Matty compilation:

The best part is a 'comment' by our own A-League blogger, Pass and Move, who does the Rangers fans an enormous service by giving a fairly detailed and expert view of Matt McKay as a player. I reproduce it here with the permission of Pass and Move, as a tribute to a great player.
Matty was a founding member of Brisbane Roar and really the first player that I really watched evolve. The first time I saw a picture of him I was struck by his mischievous grin which, for me, alongside his dogged work rate, marked him as a winner in waiting.
Thank you Pass and Move for permission to republish this for Football Down Under's audience.

Posted 09 August 2011 - 02:56 PM
Hey Guys, 
I'm an Aussie, so obviously reasonably well informed about Matt McKay in the A-League and his performance for the Socceroos. Cards on the table, I know next to nothing about the venerable Scottish game, except that I have to go see an Old Firm derby before I depart this Earth, cause they fucking rule. I am a Melbourne fan, not a Brisbane devotee.

First off, he wasn't even in contention for the World Cup squad 'cause for some reason we hired a douche of a coach who decided to play a 4-4-2 against Germany with a right winger and an attacking midfielder up front. Holger Osieck was appointed afterwards, spouted off some drivel about playing players based on performance not league/club, and we all thought he was full of shite. Well he proved us wrong. He took four or five A-League players into the Asian Cup, which we were all apprehensive as f**k about on account of our World Cup beatings. Matty got his chance in the game against Bahrain, last of the group stage, as an injury replacement for our left back. He did okay, defending about as well as he could.

Then came the first knock out game against Iraq. Every pundit, armchair coach and his dog in Australia was waxing lyrical about how it was unfortunate for Matty, that Brett Emerton would be back from suspension, and Matty would have to lose his place. Well Holger said f**k that, stuck Matty in as a left midfielder. He fucking owned. Best Aussie of the night, even counting Harry Kewell who was somehow coaxed back to damn near Leeds form. Three minutes away from penalties, McKay steals the ball from a huffing and puffing Iraqi, lays on a f**king INCH-PERFECT cross from the half-way line, right into Harry's onrushing head, who scores a mammoth goal. He DID NOT play as a winger - he has an engine that'll go all night and into the next morning, but it's less a ferrari and more a volkswagon. More of a tucked in old-style 90's left midfielder, who linked with Harry and Carney (converted wing-back) and sprayed passes all over the park.

Then came the annihilation against Uzbekistan. Again, Aussies old and young were still trembling from our World Cup beatings, every pundit figured Matty's selection against Iraq was a reward, a mere bauble for being a good lad. Again, kept Brett Emerton, who at this stage holds the record for the second highest number of caps for Australia out of the line up. Again played as a tucked-in left midfielder. This worked really well because Holger played two absolute destroyers in the middle, so our left midfielder (McKay) and right midfielder (Holman) tucked in and rampaged with the safety of two-holders behind them. Matty was again the best Aussie of the night, and took three assists to his name. This is a video I watch when I'm depressed:
This is a Zonal Marking article analysing his performace:  We Won 6-0, probably helped by their suicidally high-line and playing their playmaker at center back for some stupid reason.

Then the final against Japan. Finally Aussies are starting to realise Holger isn't a dipshit, and McKay is actually, on current form, our best player. In the third minute, instrumental in a sweeping Arsenal-esque move, gets in on the end, Keeper rooted and BLASTS... his shot over the bar. We lost the game deep into injury time, which is still too painful to think about. But something everyone remembers about the game is this. Australia and Japan had players from the best leagues in the world on the park. Cahill from Everton, Kagawa from Dortmund, Schwarzer from Fulham, Honda from CSKA Moscow, etc etc. Matty McKay was the fittest mother f**ker on the pitch. He would literally NOT STOP running. Like I said he isn't the fastest bloke, but he was running those Jap blokes into the ground. and still laying on quality passes, spraying them diagonally, threading them through the defence, and once again displaying his puzzling inability to finish at point-blank range. What's even stranger is the A-League is one of the shortest leagues on the planet. We have a five month off season for f**k's sake. But Australia has the best sports science in the world, and I would bet money some of the fittest footballers (makes up for a lack of passing ability).

Latest game in the green and gold was the friendly against Germany. I can not emphasise how hungry the Aussies were for some German schnitzel. (4-0 rollicking from the World Cup.) For about 60 minutes, Australia looked like a bunch of amateurs. Gomez finds an absolute pearl. They get lazy and drop off, thinking to run down the clock. Now for that 60 minutes, McKay was again the best player in green and gold in a side including Cahill, Holman, Schwarzer, Neill and Kewell. Then somehow we switch on and stop passing straight to the Germans. McKay again instrumental in passing. Then Carney bombs down from left back, links up with McKay who is literally in the middle of three German blokes, all at least a head taller, and he lays on a first touch back heel flick into the box, Carney sweeps it up and finishes. We won 2-0.

In terms of A-League performances, Matty has always been regarded as a handy player, but only since the new gaffer (Postecouglou; remember his name. After he wins he Asian Champions League, he will conquer Europe) came in has his form stepped up to a new level altogether. you might have heard McKay captained the Brisbane Roar to their first every Premiership and Championship, acting as a lynchpin throughout the entire season. In the Grand Final, Brisbame went down 2-0 in the first period of ET. Undefeated for 29 games, (34/35 all season) about to fall at the last hurdle. He delivers an inspirational speech, Brisbane close the gap with three minutes to go. Brisbane get a corner and equalise with the LAST TOUCH of the game. Matty takes the third penalty and they win the game, withstanding the pressure from 50,000 screaming delirious orange clad fresh-from-horrific-flood-destruction Brisbaners. Now obviously the A-League can't compare with the standard of European football, but he was literally the competition's best performer.

In terms of general play, when Brisbane played a conventional 442, Matt partnered another player on the left side of the middle (LCM). After Brisbane switched to a 4-1-2-3, Matt played as the left of the '2'. In terms of physical stature, he is clearly not the biggest player. But I would put good money on him going to Rangers and being one of if the fittest players (if not the fittest). He has tidy passing range. Words used to describe him have included 'metronomic'. He is not a trequartista, nor a proper defensive midfielder. If I had to compare him to a premiership player, I'd say he's a skint man's version of Tom Huddlestone, who we all know is a hobo's version of Michael Carrick. From what I've gathered, he'd compliment Davis in terms of playing style. The national coach deploys Matty as an important creative hub on the left, linking well with our multitude of left-wingers-cum-left-backs and Harry Kewell, a left sided first choice striker. But it is important to note that Holger plays with two defensive midfielders in the centre. I'm not talking Busquets defensive or Xabi Alonso defensive. Real tough tacklers. Scotland is renowned for physical play, but Matty should deal with that fine. Australia has also garnered a well deserved reputation for physicality. And the Aussies have to do it in 35-40 degree heat. Also once again, he doesn't play as a left winger - has the crossing ability but not the pace. Plus his game is more based around short passing and positional interchange. Yes that sorta sounds like Barca. Well Brisbane consciously set themselves out to play possession based football. Nickname of 'Roarcelona'. dont laugh, Mariners just beat Celtic down under, and the Roar beat the Mariners.

In terms of how he'll adapt to life at Ibrox... absolutely no trouble off the field, family man. He is 28 after all, hardly the age to make sex tapes and such. For the national team, he has a defensive shield of two tough tacklers in front of the defence, so he's more or less free to create. But he is also very much aware of his defensive responsibilities, which was how our first choice left back had such a great Asian Cup campaign, as he was allowed to bomb down the flank when Matty covered. The weather could be an issue - its apparently bloody cold in Scotland. Then again every footballer these days wear skins and thermals. Loyalty wise, well he is 28, so he's got next to no re-sale value, which is part of the reason his moving to Europe was questioned. We all figured at best a big money move to Korea, Japan or even a loan spell in China during our gaping hole of an off-season. And he's been a one club man all his life. He's been at Brisbane since his teen years, and now the captain of his hometown club. It's safe to say he won't be fluttering eyelashes and lifting his skirt/kilt to Celtic.

The thing to love about Matty is this. He's the quintessential underdog. He's been doubted - and been proving those doubters wrong his entire life. No one thought he could make it in the A-league; too small and it was too physical. he responds by becoming captain, talisman and lynchpin of the greatest club side to ever be assembled in Australia. There was little thought he could even make the bench for the national team. He displaced one of our longest-serving, most loyal and most talented servants, in Brett Emerton. No one thought he could make a meaningful contribution on the field for Australia. Five assists in the Asian Cup, one against Japan and another dazzling performance against an admittedly under-par German side, with an assist and he proved 'em all wrong.

If I had to give odds I'd say 1/5 he does to Ibrox and absolutely flops. Can't adapt to the demands, to the weather, to his team mates, to not being captain and centre of attention, to the peculiar Scottish accent etc etc. 2/5 he becomes a handy squad player with odd flashes of brilliance and is quickly forgotten. BUT... 2/5 he goes to Ibrox, proves himself central to Rangers, becomes a leader in the dressing room after winning over players who sneered at this tiny s**t from the Antipodes and gets a hat-trick of assists in the Old Firm derby. Bet on it.
PPS. For the love of god, get a fan campaign started now to prohibit McKay from taking corners and free kicks. Strange for a player whos greatest strenghth is passing ability, he is absolutely useless at dead ball situations. You'd be better off getting a training dummy to take corner kicks. Holger let him take two corners kicks during the Asian cup, horrible shanked both, was promptly yanked off set-piece duty.

PPPS. Use him to defend the posts at corners. He has a handy knack for making goal line clearances, even in open play.

Good luck at Rangers mate. We'll miss ya. Keep an eye on the boys in orange. And some time down the track... well, we'll have you back any time.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


The other week I listed ten reasons why it is brilliant to be a Brisbane Roar fan right now. Here's another one: the media about our team is endless, and pretty much all flattering. Here's just a few of the headlines from the last few days:

Possession statistics compare A-League's Brisbane Roar to La Liga and European champions Barcelona

Brisbane, That Was Football Porn

Who Can Stop Brisbane Roar

The Roar Effect

Brisbane Roar are a Gift for the A-League

That really is only a few, and they're not by Roar partisans. I admit I chose them for their sexy headlines.

You can only imagine, with Brisbane's team causing the waves that it is, undefeated now for 32 games, breaking records every week, and most recently stunning the League by trouncing one of the favourite teams 7:1... You can only imagine how Brisbane's own flagship newspaper The Courier Mail, not known for its lack of sport coverage, or jingoism for that matter, must have gone bonkers with this story. With the Rugby and AFL seasons over, here is NEWS! Great news, of Brisbane showing up all the bigwig southern teams and looking like clear favourites for the comp. You can only imagine!

Well, three stories came out of the Courier Mail actually. One of course was about the game. Apparently it was on page 6 of the sport pages. I don't even know what came in front of it as I haven't managed to get a hard copy.

The second story came out yesterday. In the Courier Mail's soccer feed the headline is, "Japanese Giants Want Roar Boss", but upon going to the page it is more carefully titled, Japanese heavyweights Urawa Red Diamonds rumoured to have sights set on Brisbane Roar coach Ange Postecoglou. It was written by Marco Monteverde and Val Migliaccio. I'm going to analyse it a bit, and then tell the story of how it continued and grew as the rest of the media got hold of it, so I'll quote it in full here first so it's easy to reference:

STRUGGLING Japanese heavyweights Urawa Red Diamonds want an Australian coach next season, with Brisbane Roar master mentor Ange Postecoglou rumoured to be at the top of their wish list.
Despite being contracted to the Roar until 2013, Postecoglou is one of two A-League coaches tipped to be chased by J-League outfit Urawa, the other being Central Coast Mariners boss Graham Arnold.
Urawa, the home of Australian defender Matthew Spiranovic and formerly coached by current Socceroos mentor Holger Osieck, are hovering just about the relegation zone and fired manager Zeljko Petrovic on October 20,
Petrovic was replaced by former player Takafumi Hori, but Japanese sources close to the Asian Football Confederation's most popular club have told The Courier-Mail Urawa are chasing an Australian coach next year.
Reigning A-League coach of the year Postecoglou yesterday said he had not heard from Urawa officials, but confirmed previous interest from Asian clubs.
"If they did make me an offer, I'd think about it then," Postecoglou said.
"I've never made plans too far in the future with coaching because things are always changing.
"All I'm focused on is being successful as I can with Brisbane, and keep building what we've started."
Under Postecoglou, the Roar lost just once in 33 matches last season to clinch the A-League premiership-championship double.
Currently on a 32-game record A-League unbeaten streak, Brisbane continued their perfect start to the defence of their title with a 7-1 thrashing of Adelaide United at Suncorp Stadium last Friday night.
But Postecoglou, a former Australian under-17 and under-20 coach, isn't only chasing further domestic success.
He is also aiming for glory with the Roar in the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Champions League.
"Our goal is to match it with the best teams in Asia," Postecoglou said.
"Our players have already been recognised, and if that (Champions League success) happens, I'm sure our coaches will as well."
Arnold's Mariners side are the A-League's other representatives in next year's AFC Champions League courtesy of their effort to reach last season's grand final.
It's the second time within days Arnold has been linked with a move abroad.
Currently negotiating a contract extension with the Mariners, Arnold last week denied claims he was on the verge of taking over at Scottish Premier League club St Johnstone.
But sources close to Arnold - who played in the J-League with Hiroshima Sanfrecce - said he would consider offers from Japan.

Now this was a scoop! It was all over the Australian mediascape within half an hour. So all those stories we may have read, on The World Game, The ABC, the Fairfax papers, Fox, the other Murdoch papers and any number of amateur sites and blogs - came from Marco Monteverde and Val Migliaccio of the Courier Mail.

The first point of interest here is that the journalists - crucial to the story - are completely left out. Not one media outlet reported, "Marco Monteverde and Val Migliaccio of the Courier Mail allege that they have sources close to the Urawa Reds..." Instead it is just repeated endlessly, "Ange linked to Urawa Reds." One might think, given the reputation News Limited, and the Courier Mail, has for antagonism and ignorance toward soccer, that someone might have thought to include this reference to the source. It would just be good journalism in any case.

Now via a Facebook friend who is Japanese and happens to be a Reds fan, I have confirmed that Ange Postecoglou is indeed on a list of coaches that the Reds have compiled. No Japanese media have taken it up though apparently. It's a list. As for being "rumoured to be at the top of their wish list", it's a fair question where such information comes from.

Wading through the fill of factoids gleaned from Wikipedia, we find that the source is, "Japanese sources close to (The Urawa Reds)". Interesting they didn't tell the Japanese media, or any other of Australia's dedicated football media. The Urawa Reds are well known to many of them through the Asian Champions League (which the CM has virtually ignored so far). The Courier Mail? Anyway, moving on...

It's hard to disect. We assume that this source is the one mentioning Ange's name, and I do independently know of a list with his name on it, but apparently the source told the Courier Mail that "Urawa are chasing an Australian coach next year." An Australian coach.

Now, Ange has proved himself perhaps, or he is in the process of doing so, but there is a reason the past few Socceroos coaches have been from overseas and a reason most A-League coaches are foreigners. Right or wrong, it's because Australian coaches are considered crap. They do not have any reputation at all overseas. Urawa Reds are one of Asia's biggest clubs and they're in trouble. And we are asked to believe that this unknown source says that they are after an Australian coach. Ange, maybe. But an Australian - I don't believe it.

The other coach on the list, apparently (and I haven't had confirmed from Japan either way), is Graham Arnold. I don't believe this, at all. I think the Urawa Reds have ambition, and Arnold hasn't won anything or proved himself especially. Reaching the finals in the A-League is not that great on the international stage.

Before I get to the interview with Ange - a real source at least - in passing I'll note that the Courier Mail confirmed, not that there had been any communication whatsoever with Arnold, but that "sources close to Arnold" said he would "consider offers from Japan." According to the journalists though, "It's the second time within days Arnold has been linked with a move abroad." It is these journalists who made the link that they are now reporting on. At this point, with Arnold, they have completely fabricated a link and then 'reported on it'.

Then there is the call to Ange of course, getting his response. That's only fair after all.

What's not recorded are the questions. Did the journalist ask, after Ange told them that, No, the Reds had not been in touch and this is the first he'd heard of it, "Well, if they did ask you tomorrow, would you consider it?" or "Would you ever coach in Asia do you think?"?

It makes an enormous difference to what Ange was getting at when he said, "I've never made plans too far in the future with coaching because things are always changing. All I'm focused on is being successful as I can with Brisbane, and keep building what we've started." The latter part - the commitment to the Roar and seeing out the vision that he has articulated - remains unambiguous.

Since then other media outlets have also clearly talked to Ange, and he has said nothing different.

Anyway, my suspicion was, and still is, that the Courier Mail made this story up in order to cash in on the Roar's success. They succeeded.

By Twitter I asked the two journalists, "Did you guys make up the story about Urawa seeking Ange as coach? No reports in Japan. You scooped that? Ha!"

Val Migliaccio tweeted back, with what I can only interpret as contempt, "here. Jリーグ1部(J1)の浦和は来季の新監督候補にAリーグのブリスベン・ロアーを率いるアンジェ・ポステコグルー監督を挙げているようだ。浦和に近い日本人関係者の話として、ポステコグルー"


I tweeted back, "That quote is a vague as yours and is not a source. Are you being funny now?", but only after using Google Translate to come up with, "The J-League 1 (J1) Urawa coach seems to raise the groupco-led by Poste Angeles Lower Brisbane A-League next seasonProposed new coach. Japanese officials as saying that close toUrawa, Posutekoguru".

For all I know it could be from a report some Japanese press discovered through their Australian connections.

Today, I note The Herald Sun has added the word, "heavily", presumably because so many news outlets have repeated the story. So now Ange is "heavily linked" with the Uwara Reds. Even though he's never heard of such a link and he has clearly restated his commitment to The Roar and finishing what he has several times outlined as his mission.

Sorry that one took so long to go through. As I said, there is a third story that came out in the Courier Mail yesterday. But it is in the Rugby League pages (far more prominent even though the off season has just got going). It is titled, "NRL scheduling blunder leaves Brisbane Broncos without home for opening round of 2012", and included the following curious passage:
There should be 50,000 league fans packing the stadium on Friday night, March 2, to celebrate the new rugby league season.
But the NRL's late decision to push their season forward a week means there will instead be 10,000 Roar diehards watching their side taking on Melbourne Heart.
(Same game last year got 20,000 incidentally, and last game (fourth of the season) got 11,500.)

It's a non-story by the way, with a happy ending. It seems the NRL made a boo boo and didn't tell Suncorp about a change in plans, so the opening NRL game will not be in Brisbane but in Sydney instead. By the end we know that the NRL is happy, seeing the positives in fact, Suncorp is happy. Everyone is happy. The complaint, clearly antagonistic to the Roar, comes from the Courier Mail alone. This is on the very day when the entire sporting world is ogling over Brisbane's own champion team.

Now, there are no doubt many reasons that the Roar struggles with crowd numbers. One reason is probably that Brisbane folk are slack, or stupid, or broke. But the local media is not helping us out.

Nb. Of course News Limited would never be so sloppy when it came to news about politics or the economy. From those matters their commercial interests are properly and professionally divorced. :)

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Saturday, October 29, 2011


7:1 win vs Adelaide last night. Oh yes oh yes oh yes. Ra ra ra. We actually are the best in the World and everyone else is, slowly but surely, learning to live with it.

The question being repeated everywhere is, how come only eleven and a half thousand people saw one of the greatest football spectacles we might expect to see in club football?

First a brief recap. Suncorp was always an ambitious stadium for the Roar, and even at the height in the first and second season crowds above 20,000 were rare. With the 'Suncorp curse' (remember that?) which seemed to mean that it was impossible for the Roar to score at home even when they were winning away, along with pretty average and/or inconsistent form, crowds trended downward over the first few seasons.

Then, a couple of years ago some accountant demonstrated to a highly astute Roar Board (now all replaced thankfully) that the budget would all add up if they would just radically increase ticket prices, so they did. A few months later they reversed this decision and made the prices cheaper than ever, but it was too late. The crowds had truly plummeted and they never recovered.

In my mind the problem wasn't merely ticket prices. Soccer is a world game and a local game and there is an enormous amount of it available for spectators to enjoy either on TV or live. Most of the live stuff is free or about $5, and these are the leagues that thousands in Brisbane actually play in every week. The very best stuff (European Champion's League) is on free to air TV. The A-League was, and still largely is, a mediocre product. Trying to charge top dollar for it was simply ignoring all of this market environment.

But the price is about right now at Suncorp, and it's especially cheap for under 16s which is also very smart. And the other thing that has changed is that there is now a top-shelf product on show. I'm not going to do any justice here to Roar's extraordinary football. Every football commentator in the country is writing about that anyway. The point is that even connoisseurs would pay good money to see this football, and indeed fans of other teams, if comments here and there are to be believed, are prepared to travel to see Brisbane play.

So now we have an extremely good product at a very reasonable price. The product can speak for itself if the marketers can get people's bottoms there in the first place.

Now I have been a vicious critic of this club in the past and no doubt will be again in the future, so I think I'm obliged to also contribute a constructive thought from time to time, and here it is. It's simple, and I think it would work over time. The Roar have not been idle in promotion and their efforts should be congratulated so far in my view. The issue might be focus.

Target local clubs, as you have been in a way, but one at a time. Start with clubs based close to Suncorp Stadium and work outwards. When you target the Club - say, Annerley Football Club where Jacob used to play - do the afternoon with the club thing, with a bit of a clinic for the kids (members and players of the club only! Must make them feel special), signings and giving away some merchandise - the usual stuff. But maybe even do two events with the one club between home games.

Give the club 100 tickets, half of which are 15 and unders only. Give them an option for more tickets if they have enough demand for them. The seats are in a block, and the more you give away the better. If the Club gets into an opportunistic frenzy and invites friends, relatives, neighbours, milkmen and wandering vagrants and hence want 1000 tickets, where they would all sit in a block, good. If you've got the budget for it, provide them with busses as well. You want to make sure they come.

It sounds generous, but it's just one football club at a time, with home games (approximately 2 weeks) as the framework period. The objective is to introduce the game not to an individual but to a community. Communities of support sustain themselves.

All of this might only work if the premise is true that the football speaks for itself. At this juncture of the Roar's history, I am supremely confident that it does.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How good can it get?

I might have to be writing a bit this season. Things are exciting at the Roar and I am full of material. If anything I've been suffering the writer's block of someone with far too much to say. So fuck it, I'll start with a rave. Anything to get the gripes with FIFA (which I still have) from the top of the page and some news of this brilliant team filling the space.

How good can it get for a Brisbane Roar fan? I'll briefly outline how good it is.

1. We have the best coach in Australia. I read around and come across this sentiment often, along with frequent speculations that he will be Australia's next coach. Behind The Roar is a good short documentary on 'the Ange Revolution'. I'll elaborate on why, in my view, Ange is a rare coach, in further blogs.
2. Our team has been undefeated for longer than Manchester United's longest undefeated run (29). Meanwhile the general chatter is that Brisbane is virtually unbeatable and the earnest conversation is "How do you beat them?" I guess I'll give my views on that by and by as well.
3. Our team is enthralling to watch, and this can be confirmed by the dozens of comments I've read from people from other teams, as well as the praise of every commentator in the country, but of course I mostly confirm it for myself when I see for myself. I read a Melbourne man say that he didn't follow the Victory because he thinks the A-League is pretty crap (it has been), but he is going to fly to Brisbane for their games. People travelling a long way to see very high quality soccer is not new. I can see why keen soccer fans in Australia would.
4. Our team is good because of Ange's plan and training, not because we are wealthy. This strikes at one of the great myths, or at least distortions, in World football, that the reason great teams are great is because they have great players. The Roar have no expensive marque player at this time and have won most of the games with a team well under the salary cap. It is a team.
5. We have hit the new season in a form looking like where we left off last season. Ange post-match only ever speaks of how the team can improve. He's serious. They can improve and with sustained determination and training, they will. It actually still looks uphill, if that is possible.
6. With Point 5. in mind, we will compete in the Asian Champions League at the end of the season. One of the stupid things about the ACL qualifying is that the A-League winners from the season before qualify. Too often Australian teams have gone into the ACL having lost their players and their form from one year earlier. Brisbane has the opportunity, and it appears the capacity, to head into the ACL very strongly. Playing in it is exciting enough in itself, and that will happen even if for some unforseen reason Brisbane bombs out mid-season.
7. Brisbane players are not stars, but they are cool. Ange himself is clearly an intellectual, but Broich has a very cool doco made about him (can't wait) where he is revealed as a maverick philosopher (Part 1 is linked, but you'll find part four of the trailer, which has the Roar bits, including a bit of interview with Ange), and Issey is an Artist. But in general, there's not a lot of machismo in the team, even less without Matty. Our star of game one, Mitch Nichols (who was only tentatively a footballer when Ange got hold of him, incidentally), looks like some kind of sweet choir boy. They're all lovable.
8. In the soccer blogosphere, with its sites and blogs and hundreds of amateur commenters, something that is historic has, I think, occurred. Nobody, not even the most crusty, hard-core, trollish fans of the other teams, say that Brisbane plays badly or that Ange should be sacked. Anyone familiar with football fan sites will know how ludicrous a claim that this is. It's true.
9. We just got a billionaire owner. God knows I'll probably be writing a bit about Aga Bakrie, but meanwhile the financial woes of the club are over and, well, we can dream! The guy, who owns an Indonesian Club and one in Belgium or something, wants the Roar to go to the top of Asia, and why wouldn't he? I don't know what his source is but Michael Flynn over at 442 quoted the new chairman as saying, "I think that if we could have our own stadium in ten years time that would be fantastic." What? And Ange mentioned a clubhouse, and training facilites. A youth academy?

Good people, that is not all. All of that is merely context for the thing that has happened to the Roar which really is, for this fan, deeply satisfying:
10. The kit, for the first time in The Roar's history, looks cool. It really does.

Go Lads. And for fuck's sake Brisbane, this sort of moment in a sporting team only comes once. Let's fill that fucking stadium.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Blatter Must Go

This blog is at heart about my love affair with soccer, an affair that is unwavering after five or six years. From very early on I became aware of the corruption that has been in our game and that is in our game at a high level. I was more properly informed about it after reading Andrew Jennings' book, Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals. I wrote a review of the book in late 2006.

Now I have a political background of sorts and things like democracy and accountability are important to me as I am convinced that they are important to civilisation on Earth. So the corruption has always bothered me. At the same time I could see the reality that football people, whilst made up of people who may or may not be politically inclined, are often being football people precisely to escape from realities like politics.

The narrative that got thrown around about the corruption, which was and is pretty much universally acknowledged, was that this was part of the meaning of "football is life." The half-joke that I've heard on many occasions is that society is corrupt, and soccer merely reflects as it reflects everything else.

Well it's not true. There is corruption in society but in decent societies people do at least get busted down when it becomes patently obvious to every single observer.

If you are lost and don't know about current goings on in FIFA, David Hills at the Observer gives a good summary.

In India, apparently (ok, Twitter told me) the lead up to the FIFA congress where Sepp Blatter was (cough) re-elected was compared with the recent Arab uprisings. If so we only got up to the point where the leader, under siege from people screaming "Go!", takes the podium and announces that he is going to reform the system, like he's announced a squillion times before.

We have much less connect, us soccer fans, with our government than the Egyptian people had with Muburak. They could refuse to move and say, "No, we mean it. Go!" We can't.

Before I go on, there are reasons beyond mere morality that corruption - meaning graft and nepotism mostly- is bad. It leads to inefficient decision making. It has been well demonstrated that fighting corruption improves governance and economic growth, and doing so remains a major concern in many parts of the world.

I don't want to sound naive here. Corruption happens wherever there is power and money and we should never forget it - it's a basic insight behind all civic vigilance. But in developed economies people get busted, there are laws in place, accountability standards and penalties that people realistically fear. And in the end, overall, there is lower levels of corruption, which means better decisions are made.

So apart from common decency, the reason corruption in soccer is bad is that it will lead to less development and improvement of football. It's easy to miss because FIFA is very rich, but it's no less true. And we're talking about the world. There's a lot to do.

Damn it I'm rambling, but I just referred to something about Sepp Blatter that I have always liked, and even believed in: his rhetoric about football being used as a force for good in the world. He has hidden his contempt and rottenness behind this rhetoric for a long time. For me the thought of cleaning up FIFA and making it a modern, fully accountable institution of professionals rather than a "family" (Blatter's constant term), induces hope in the truth of the rhetoric. It seems to me that the rhetoric (and maybe Blatter is absolutely sincere in it as such) could not work so well as a screen to being a brazen crook if it did not have some truth in it, or at least be credible enough to be seen to have some truth in it by a very many of people.

Anyway here we are. The President is re-elected. The world media, many politicians and every football fan in the world knows, and is saying openly, that the man has no clothes on. But, as the greatest American poet wrote, "Now's not the time for your tears."

When almost every delegate voted against the English FA's motion that the farcical election be postponed, including Australia's Ben Buckley, and then all mindlessly voted for Blatter, after listening to a series of old tin-pot crooks denounce England's (uncontroversially principled given that there was evidence pending against half the delegates) stance as based on lies and self-interest, and then applauding Blatter's speech, that is when we should weep. For it demonstrates that the rot in FIFA after all these years permeates (almost) every federation. Yes, we must face the bleeding obvious fact that Ben Buckley and Frank Lowy, who each spend a good portion of every public statement congratulating the wonderful work of the other even while the A-League veers toward hell, are of the same culture, at least complicit and at worst up to their ears in it.

There are good reasons why FIFA has always insisted upon a separation of a nation's government and its football federation, and there are cynical reasons as well.

And let's go back to that bid Australia made for the 2022 World Cup. I can only speak for myself but I can also be honest, and provocatively I'm going to use the pluralised first person.

We were excited all right. We were into it! And even though we're a long way away from the World, are in a difficult time zone, and are a fair to middling soccer country, we thought we had a chance. Why did we think we had a chance? Because we had Frank Lowy, multi-billionaire, up front for us. Did we have confidence in Frank because of the vast experience and people skills that he undoubtedly has? No. If the position was about technical ability to do the task, or charisma, or both, there would be many better. Was it because he was rich? Partly, but we know all the countries have money, and we also knew he wouldn't be using his money. I'll tell you why we believed in Frank Lowy, and it's the same reason he can't breathe a word about any of it now.

We believed in Frank Lowy because we had no doubt whatsoever that the process was a corrupt one of bribes and favour swapping and that Lowy could play that game. We thought we had a chance at getting a World Cup because we thought we had a player who could be as corrupt as the best of them.

And we were wrong. We were wrong morally, mostly, but it was very poor judgement as well. We should not have bid for it knowing that it was a corrupt game. We should have saved our 46 million dollars.

That's my mea culpa as a fan of the game. I was an enthusiastic Like-er of the Support Australia's World Cup bid's Facebook page, and I shouldn't have been there. I was wrong, because I did know that FIFA in general, and specifically the World Cup decision, was utterly corrupt, and that graft and favour was the only way we could win.

Mind you, even in retrospect it remains unbelievable that Qatar would get it.*

Anyway, what in hell is a concerned fan to do? We have no vote in any practical way, obviously.

The voice demanding change is very loud. High profile media are well and truly on to it (this Economist article is a good example). There is a lot of noise on the networks. '@changeFIFA' is good, on Twitter ('Change FIFA on Facebook - this will link you with many good sources). There are politicians speaking out in England and Europe, Maradona has called FIFA corrupt dinosaurs, the Swiss Parliament is trying to figure out how to impose some law upon their FIFA inhabitants. It's actually a kind of marvel that Blatter and FIFA can stay among the thickets of the law while the whole planet clamours 'Foul!'

For the fans there is not much we can do, and that is enormously frustrating. There are some small things we can do though, which will be powerful if numbers come forth, and might indeed be decisive. Much easier than camping out on the streets of Cairo.

Several of FIFA's sponsors have already made disapproving noises about FIFA and there is a move ('@FIFA_Boycott' on Twitter, 'Demand Change: Boycott FIFA's Sponsors' on Facebook) to boycott FIFA's major sponsors. My own take (tweet, bumper sticker, whatever) on this idea is to rather than the cry "Boycott McDonalds, Adidas and Coke"...

Don't even mention the four letter 'C' word. Drink Pepsi until Blatter is out.
The burgers are better at Hungry Jacks until Blatter is out.
Take control with Nike until Blatter is out.

I just think that would hurt more.

But furthermore, whilst we cannot boycott games (sorry, the personal cost is too great), we can boycott merchandise. Going to an official game, in full knowledge that our game's government is utterly illegitimate, is in part a sombre thing to do after all. So from now on I am wearing only black to games until Blatter is out. It is a small statement, but I'm making it.

* Not that that's the point, and although I think Australia would do a great job, by a fair judgement of the selection criteria, the USA should have gotten the 2022 World Cup. My money is on them getting it still, though I can't foresee why. It's just so far away, there are so many random factors and difficulties, and the current actors will be dead or nearly so. It will be in the USA. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong there.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Brisbane finally gets the Final

The last time I wrote about the A-League or the Brisbane Roar was April last year. The short of what I had to say then was, "the Brisbane Roar cannot repeat its original seduction of this consumer. This time they're going to have to realise a product that is worth it for me to seek out."

They have done it. Not only has the A-League improved in that short space of time, but the improvement has been led by my own home team, Brisbane Roar. I'm not exagerating and it's far from my observation alone. This season the Roar are playing a quality of soccer that is worth paying concert prices for, and that is not easy to do. In response several other teams started getting serious about high quality play, namely Central Coast, Gold Coast and Adelaide.

It takes time and patience to build to this level. You actually have to be prepared to lose a bit as you learn a system, and Ange did that last season (stating his intent clearly, but we had to wait and see to believe he was serious). And now we can say not only that The Roar are 27 games undefeated, but that they have an opposition in the Central Coast for the Grand Final who have shown that they can match it.

The Grand Final is anyone's game.

I've been to five or six games this season, including the last two, and I can say that the atmosphere has improved markedly too. The fans' singing is getting brilliant, and Suncorp even with 21,000 (v Gold Coast) or 25,000 (Central Coast semi-final) produces full elation when the home side scores. I've paid $28 to go to these games and it has easily been worth it.

Times are tough though and with the exciting prospect of a really full house for the Grand Final, I was frankly pissed off with the FFA for doubling the price. They didn't in a way, because it's only $3 more than the Grand Final in Melbourne last year, and as others point out it is cheaper than the finals of other codes.

But for the Brisbane fan the price had doubled. To me that was a big mistake because it would dampen demand just when we had a shot of filling the 53,000 seat house. "Why not go for the full house?" I screamed on Facebook. It's tough times in Brisbane. A number of friends backed the impression up saying they would not go or were considering not going due to the price.

I may have been right or wrong about my take on the commercial judgement, and nobody can be blamed for not having a spare recreational $56 in these times. But now I ask a seperate question. Is it worth it? Is the football being offered for the A-League Grand Final, in itself, worth $56 a ticket (that's the cheap seats)?

Yes it is. No worries. I truly hope that the price does not keep the people away because anyone who goes will witness a true contest of really good teams. The two best teams to have ever graced the League, I would say, and I know many 'experts' agree with me.

In my anger at the price, and feeling the pain in my pocketbook, I considered not going. I really did. But how absurd.

I've followed this team for five seasons. I've sometimes despise the Board and the FFA but I love the team, know their names and they've been through near misses and tough times. They deserve this. Ange deserves this for taking the time and effort (and study) to be a proper coach. Matty McKay, Brisbane boy and Captain, deserves this after sticking with the team for six years, from the very beginning. Brisbane deserves this because it is the finest city in the world and keeps producing good soccer players (Fozzie asks if there is something in the water).

Last I heard 30,000 tickets have been pre-sold. It looks like I may have been wrong. If Suncorp comes close to selling out, I was totally wrong and the FFA made a wise business decision.

Sunday 13th March, 4pm. Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners. My advice is be there.

Go the Roar. Go Brisbane. Go Soccer.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mandela's Legacy

I've spent the last several days mostly at home vigorously failing to write down any of my many thoughts. South Africa is unfinished business for me. I know that much. My blogging was not up to my intentions of course, but stands as a sort of series of photographs, incomplete and some blurry, but nevertheless captured memories. But I don't think I've finished.

I think a lot about South Africa, and what it has done. There is rightly an impression that South Africa must be a bit backward politically, that finally in 1994 it shrugged off institutional racism. But as a microcosm of the World it seems to me that it is the first not the last.

Because South Africa is a microcosm of the world, and a world which is globalising faster than everyone is comfortable with. South Africa contains both the First World and the Developing World, but in 1994 the borders were removed. Maybe we should keep a careful eye on it. Maybe we should study Mandela's politics carefully. It might be the best model we have to pull down the global apartheid which is holding back millions of human opportunities in every direction.

Australia may feel blessed to be an island, and to be able to pretend that we can seal ourselves off from the problems of the world around us with our own version of barbed wire, but this world is becoming one very rapidly, and ultimately I fear the barbed wire is going to hold us back.

Don't talk to South Africa, which shares a very permeable border with Zimbabwe, about refugees. Actually, if you're Australian you better keep your mouth shut about that topic pretty much wherever you go.

This current Australian election reveals to us more starkly than ever the inadequacy of federal government when it comes to the real issues of our day - population, poverty, climate change, terrorism, sustainability. These problems, for both major parties, are things that can be kept out by border security and xenophobia. But they can't. Addressing these things - and Australia still isn't even big enough to spend the recommended 0.09% of GDP on foreign aid - is addressing Australia's biggest problems. Educating and developing the World is the highest priority for Australia's interests. Meanwhile any interplanetary visitor would be reporting back to its people that Earth practices apartheid and that the current Australian election is the western elite once again voting for it.

I refer to the fact that Pauline Hanson's then-controversial views on refugees have now permeated both sides of parliament. For anyone who still feels strongly about this issue, the only political refuge, unfortunately, is the Greens.

"Build the fences higher," is not going to work. At some stage in the medium future, the World is going to have to pull the fences down and let the people of the World live where it is good for them to live and get jobs where they can get jobs. If facing that sort of music horrifies us, we should think of the white South Africans, and not feel so self-righteous when we do so.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding Africa

This is as close as I got to the Grand Final. The photo was taken by Jacob actually, and we had split up a minibus ride ago, but Jacob had a ticket. I was wandering the periphery, a shag on a seething rock, practically illegal, knowing there was no fan zone anywhere.

The reason I was there at all is because I was trying to keep up with Keith and Kate, Total Sports Employees, who also weren't going to the game. They didn't really know where the fan zones were, oddly enough for travel people, but were planning on finding one. But we were shepharded onto different minibusses at the park and ride point, which of course dropped us at different random points closer to Soccer City. I found out about their story later, but I'm not going to relate it because mine is more interesting.
One thing I have learned travelling is that you can get anywhere by asking the right questions. "Where's the nearest fan zone?" I ask a cop.
"Ah... Newtown."

"Where do you catch a bus or cab to Newtown?" I ask another cop after wandering for a while looking for such a thing. The apparently thousands of mini-busses and busses were all coming in and becoming permanently stuck in place. There really wasn't an easy answer to the question and when one police officer directed me to "the other side of the stadium" (which looked like it might be about 30 miles) I strongly suspected she wanted me to become someone else's problem.

Finally I flagged a mini-bus that had extracted itself from the jam and was going back to Gold Reef, the park and ride zone, for more passengers. He showed me where to get a mini-bus toward Newtown.
It was the first time I've used Johanessburg's real public transport system. Generally the tourists are warned against using it, and they are never really advised about it. The owners of the B&B in Durban mentioned it, but explicitly said that it was dangerous, but then again, they are not exactly ANC voters, and one can't help supect that the main problem with the mini-bus system is that the mini-busses are full of local black people. Call me a cynic.
There are hundreds of them, all the time. They regularly beep their horns just to sort of say, "Here I am!" Each of them have established routes, but they can be hailed at any point. They are absurdly cheap to catch.
I was told how to catch them in detail on the first day of arrival from Mark. "Put out your hand like that eh? Five fingers eh? Randburg. Seven Rand 50 eh?" That particular trip was alternately a 10 minute walk so I never used it. But whenever I've needed a cab I've used metered taxis, Jay (a white local who has moved in on the people-moving business for lack of adequate service otherwise, and who also asks, "Eh?" at the end of every statement), or the provided busses.
The minibusses go all over Joburgh, and anyway now I was in one, in Soweto, heading for some place called Newtown. It was full of black, local people. About 4.00pm. I was on my own, out of the blanket-policed zone of control, without the immediate responsibility of my son, and the evening had started.
Of course I still had no idea where I was going. "Will you get me to Newtown?" I asked the driver. He nods. "How much?"

"Six Rand."

Almost embarassed, I hand forward three small silver coins. As people were dropped off and picked up along the route, the bus remained, miraculously, precisely full, without disappointing anyone. When people got on they passed their money from person to person through to the front, the driver would count it and then wordlessly pass any necessary change back over his shoulder to be passed back to the appropriate person.

Helpfully, a bloke behind me says, "I'm going to Newtown." I wonder if he's going to the fan zone, but think at least I'll know where to get off the bus.
It's about a twenty minute drive, and when we get off it turns out he is heading for the fan zone, and I am pleased for the company and the guide. We walked for about four or five blocks and there wasn't much indication of anything except light industrial urbia, but as promised there was eventually more people and we came to the security check and passed. Back into the foreigner-protected zone. But still at least 95% of these people were not foreigners. This was mostly a closing night party for the locals, and I was where I wanted to be, finally.

As pictured before heading out, I was wearing colours. Ben, a compatriot who was going to the game supporting the Netherlands in full kit (pictured next to Jacob below), had found the kangaroo and given it to me. Later in the bus I ripped the joey off and gave it to Ben, who still has it.

The kangaroo was a good prop, but the flag was essential, as I had earlier determined that for this last, celebratory night I must wear my own team. Jacob, on the other hand, is as Spanish as he could possibly get.

The flag was the main prize, and now, back at home in Brisbane with my beautiful fiance, it remains my most valuable momento.

Jacob and I walked to Randburg for the last time early that morning. Jacob was buying a jacket for Ben, who as well as being fairly promiscuous with the teams he supports is an extreme merchandise junkie, and wanted some more Spanish regalia for himself as well. I just wanted something destinctively Australian, as I'd given my scarf and hat away in Durban and my Socceroos jersey wasn't much good under the necessary layers against the cold. It had occurred to me tht a flag would be perfect, but knew that there would be no Australian flags for sale. It was all Spain and the Netherlands, with a few French and Japanese leftovers, and no flags.

But in the Randburg Mall there is hanging by the elevators a series of World Cup Nations flags. In broad daylight, Jacob casually informing me of how many people were watching, I managed to reach one of the pieces of fishing line holding up the Australian flag from the balcony of the second level. I carefully hauled it up, worrying that the rod the flag was hanging from might slip from the line with the vertical weight, until I could grab the rod and bring it over the balcony. With my teeth I cut the line on one side so I could slip the flag from the rod. I placed the rod, still attached to a fishing line to the ceiling at one end, on the ground, and we walked as casually as possible, myself refusing to even acknowledge that anyone might be looking, back through the mall and, after looking once more in a merchandise store for the Spanish shoelaced volleys Jacob was after (he settled for South African ones), outside and back to the Football Gulag.

There is much security and police, but little enforcement.

If the best the internationals can do is call us convicts, then we must oblige. Stealing the Australian flag, which I proudly wore, was my greatest yob act in South Africa. But to continue the story of the day...

I wasn't ready for a permanent companion so I lost my guide from the bus pretty quickly, despite him trying to establish a night-long relationship. What I needed was a toilet and a beer. And food. Oh, and cigarettes.

What I didn't need was for someone to paint a really terrible rendition of an Australian flag on my face and take 30 rand from me, but the guy did direct me to the toilets.

Generally you don't include the toilet stop in a diary-like account but I have a reason in this case. But even before I get to the message on the back of the toilet door I need to backtrack yet again.

Mark at the Gulag has brought up a concerning narrative several times in the past couple of weeks. He is absolutely certain that when the World Cup is over - now, but this weekend is when Mark thinks it's likely - there will be an outbreak of xenophobic violence against foreigners. "It's not IF it will happen ey? It will happen eh? If there's even a rumour violence might happen here then it happens. But this time everyone's saying it will happen eh? It will happen eh?" Etcetera. In Mark's opinion the 'bloodletting' will even be 'right' in some way. I tried to probe the point with argument, but didn't persist beyond the point of discomfort. I still want to think he's wrong, that he's just a freak, but for the record, watch the South African media this weekend.

And I had no other confirmation of Mark's viewpoint until I read the back of the toilet door at the Newtown fan zone, which said, "Any foreigners still in [an unremembered placename] after the 2010 World Cup will be burned with petrol to the ground." After that someone else had scrawled, "Racism will kill us all," and there was to-and-from dialogue after that from various contributors, but the headline was large-writ and dominated the door.

Food was easier to find than the toilet, and beyond that having my cigarette supply in order became a higher priority than beer. So I wandered from the fan zone to see what I could find.

A couple of blocks away I found a restaurant which looked lively, and beyond that a bar. The bar was black, with people playing music, smoking and looking very relaxed. It was still only about 5.00pm or so.

I shouldn't paint too much of an off-the-beaten-track picture of this place. It wasn't that far off the track. By the time of the game I guess it was 10% full of foreigners, and security guys were still about, but there were none of either there by 4.00am.

I still really just wanted some cigarettes. Rolling tobacco, which is cheaper and far less bad for you, is really hard to get in South Africa, so I often had to resort to cigarettes, which I don't really like. The guy at the door of the bar - overstaffed as everywhere - asked for 30 rand and went to get my cigarettes, rather than just directing me to the machine, so I bought a beer from the bar as he did so, naturally.

There wasn't any seats left but there was only two girls in one booth so I sat and asked if it was ok that I did. Their names are Amanda and Nelly, and I was with them for the rest of the evening. My apologies for no photographs - Jacob has the camera at this point and, incidentally, is doing brilliantly with it.

The girls are educated and intelligent, with Zulu accents. The Africaans accent is frankly disturbing. Like the German accent if you hear too much of it it kind of drives you mad, but it is a shame that we have come to call that the South African accent. The Zulu accent, like the Zulu people, is very cool.

Actually I find the white Africaaner people to be uptight, uncomfortable and slightly irritating in general. With rare exceptions, like Kevin, the guy next to me on the second flight to Durban, it's like they don't want to be here but insist on every excuse for not leaving except the underlying definitive one that they can't. The people at the bar - mostly Zulus I suspect - were not like the immigrant workers - mostly Zimbabweans - directed around by Mark back at the Gulag. The Zulus seemed a cool, proud people, who moved and resonated with grace and purpose.

The people I met that night were very pleased with my opinion of the Afrikaaners' accent. I think they were also pleased that I was there, blatantly an Australian yobo, by myself, at all.

"Are you scared?" Nelly asked soon after introductions.


"You're lying. You are scared."

I didn't feel that scared. "Maybe I am a bit, but it's a fear I want. I want to actually be here, for just one night before I go back to Australia."

I shouted the girls to dinner at the restaurant next door, where we bantered with a table full of Spanish revelers whilst eating meats and drinking coctails. One of the girls organised a few joints outside (I found out weeks ago that the standard price is five rand each) and we smoked one as we walked to the fan zone for the game. There was part of one left, which I pocketed for later.

The truth is that although there were thousands of people, the night was very cold. It was so cold that all my compatriots who actually went to the game didn't party at all afterward but went straight back to the Gulag on the first bus. It's hard to get beer, and another guy who had latched on to us had been extremely sleezy toward Amanda, so although we watched the first half with interest, and although I felt like a very smug yobo with my stolen flag and a pretty girl under each arm, it was not the best environment, so at half time we headed back to the bar. The bar, now, was quite packed.

And the whole place moved. Everyone, foreigners from all corners, locals black and white, were friends, as we somehow colonised a space and I did that sideways slither through the bouncing, writhing crowd to the bar for drinks.

There was attention of sorts for the game, but it wasn't easy to see the screen, and I missed bits. But when the whistle blew for full time, before extra time, the DJ within seconds had changed the sound to music and the place danced. Apart from the restraint of the game itself, the place wanted to dance, and dance it did.

When Spain scored the place went completely insane, and I lit the half-joint. I'd already met a few people, but a stranger, who turned out to be a player in Brazil's second division, smelled it and I passed it naturally without expecting it back from the crowd. The place was generally going off at this time.

Mbizo, the football player, grabbed me as I once more braved the journey to the bar. "Got any more weed?"

"I thought I did but my friend can't find it," I replied honestly. "Have you?"

"Sure man, I'll sort it," Mbizo said with enormous enthusiasm, "I'll smoke you up man. Fuck it I am going to so smoke you up." I liked him a lot. He had charisma and cool, and clearly was the dominant male in the small crew of blokes he was with. He grabbed me a short while later and, taking me outside, introduced me to his friends, the only name of which I can remember is Happy.

From that time on there were many, many joints, and although I was buying drinks and cigarettes at a fairly rapid rate by this time for quite a few people, they resolutely refused money for the dope. Once again, once I lit up inside they did too. I couldn't help feeling that if the foreigner could do it that they could to, but there was no holding anyone back once it had started. If there was still police and security around outside, I doubt they would have cared or noticed.

I can't hide that I was extremely happy with how the whole thing had worked out. However fleetingly, however superficially, I felt a great need to actually be with the locals. A number of times in the past month I have gone a bit off the beaten track, but I needed to really do it and that night I felt I got the closest. The guys clearly enjoyed my company, and I thoroughly enjoyed theirs, as we bantered about football, South Africa, life and peace between all people.

Most of all, until 4am when the place stopped selling drinks and finally closed, we just danced. Then the girls and a boy friend of Nelly's walked a couple of blocks with me to find an ATM, and I farewelled the girls with some money for a cab. The guy whose name I have forgotten (by this time I am, I admit, staggering) then walked me many blocks to some transit place with 24 hour taxis. I slept most of the taxi ride back to the Gulag and, checking that Jacob is safely in bed, retired.

Congratulations Spain. Ben was absolutely devastated, but Jacob had had an excellent night. Deserved winners.