Almanac Soccer – The ABC debacle and a messy aftermath

Since its unusual coverage of Liverpool’s post-season friendly against Sydney FC, the ABC has been the subject of a tirade delivered by, it seems, the majority of Wednesday night’s television audience.


The ABC chose comedians Jules Schiller, Tegan Higginbotham and Steen Raskopolous, as well as sideline reporter Aaron Chen, to host pre-game, half-time and post-game shows.


What they delivered quickly became laughable.


The three hosts tried in vain to offer some kind of alternative analysis of the friendly, going through a range of skits which included showing the starting teams on whiteboards and messaging Harry Kewell. The icing on the cake was the half-time cross to Chen, who conducted a bizarre interview with a group of supporters that was akin to a parody poking fun at football terminology.


The backlash was swift. Former Socceroo Robbie Slater, who has been a fixture of Fox Sports’ A-League coverage since its inception, posted several tweets expressing his disgust at the “unforgivable” coverage. Via the A-League’s Twitter account, the FFA stressed that it had taken up the issue with ABC management, stating that it “wasn’t to standard”.


Federal Parliament’s most prolific tweeter, senator Sam Dastyari, caught wind of the social media storm during a senate hearing that coincided with the match. Incredibly, the ABC CEO was present at the hearing, testifying to defend the network’s editorial independence. Dastyari was soon assuring followers that they would soon have answers.


Sam Dastyari's tweets assuring followers that the ABC will address its coverage of the Sydney v Liverpool friendly on May 24


The answer given by the ABC was fairly disappointing, with a spokesman acknowledging public disapproval but stopping short of criticising the coverage or even admitting that the network made serious errors, let alone the fact that it badly hurt the sport’s integrity.


But there must be some kind of explanation for such an inadequate television presentation. The ABC had thrown its hat in the ring for the next round of A-League free-to-air rights, so you would think that directors would go to great lengths to show that they have the credentials to produce worthy coverage. Wednesday’s calamity must put them miles behind the other contenders, which just adds to the confusion. Why would they waste such a great opportunity?


Liverpool’s visit to Australia was only announced six weeks ago, a hastily arranged visit relative to the usual meticulously planned schedules these European clubs have. This points to more evidence of the thirst Australian clubs have for attracting big clubs to our shores for ‘blockbuster’ exhibition games.


While the fans certainly get a huge kick out of seeing their side play, it is a short-lived high. The desperate clamour baffles me.


The fact that Sydney feels the need to organise a high-profile post-season friendly after winning the A-League in such dominant fashion suggests to me that the domestic game has an alarmingly long way to go before it can be self-sufficient and comfortable in its own skin.


And this mentality is what was reflected in the ABC’s coverage. Of course nobody wanted such disastrous ineptitude on national television, but the FFA must soon work out its priorities and settle upon a sense of direction for the game. Everything I hear from the FFA about expanding the A-League and aligning the various state leagues has a vague timeline on it, or is said without the conviction that a major sporting body should have.


If it is true that football in Australia is not as respected as those involved may think, then the FFA is only proving to be part of the problem. And there are no signs of a solution any time soon.


About Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Swinburne University. He loves all sports, and plays for Brunswick Cricket Club. He supports the Western Bulldogs and can be found on weekends among half a dozen others in Q38 on the top level of the MCC.


  1. Dave Brown says

    I was baffled by everything, Tom: why people are sufficiently invested in a fake match cynically designed to grab cash that they would be legitimately upset by the coverage; why the ABC would choose to outlay a presumably not insubstantial amount to cover it when it has been divesting itself of actual competitive sport for quite some while; why having made that decision it chose to run with a bunch of comedians who appear to have been chosen based upon their already being on the payroll rather than knowing anything about soccer.

    I switched it off early in the second half when a Liverpool player deliberately fluffed a chance on goal that most park players would have gratefully accepted. They’d clearly been told not to hurt the Sydney Generals too hard (at all) in the second half. But as you say, if this was supposed to be the ABC showing what they would bring to the A-League then eyes wide open emoji!

  2. Guido Tresoldi says

    Agree with the sentiment of this article. However I think the match was organised by a promoter and the FFA didn’t have much to do with it. These exhibition matches will always occur and it’s the flipside of one of the main advantages of Association Football, its international dimension.
    There are a substantial number of soccer fans in Australia (which we A-League fans sometime call ‘Eurosnobs’) That eschew the local competition because they think its inferior and follow the EPL. These fans are prepared to pay to watch their team (even without some of its stars). As long this happens it will be too tempting for promoters to follow the dollars.

  3. Guido, I’ve no problems with “Eorosnobs” correctly calling the A-League inferior – undeniably it is “3rd Div”. That’s OK. The coverage on FOX is terrific (Peacock is a star) and the comp valid. The gripe is these “tourist trips/traps” of expensive tkts and half-baked efforts. Buyer beware…including the broadcaster.
    Didn’t watch. Wouldn’t go.

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