Soccer: Demetriou overreacts to World Cup talk

By Martin Reeves

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa is just around the corner, but it’s Australia’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids that are dominating the headlines as the culture wars are reignited on the Australian sporting landscape.

At the centre of the latest war is an Australian of Greek descent, representing the Indigenous code of Australian football; on the other side of the fence, a former AFL footballer of Anglo-Irish heritage, representing the interests of the FFA and soccer in Australia.

AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou came out swinging on Monday, claiming that a World Cup in Australia during an AFL season would mean the death of some AFL clubs, Melbourne, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

I’m at first struck by Demetriou’s newfound concern for the survival of the current AFL clubs; it wasn’t that long ago he tried to send North Melbourne to the Gold Coast, without success.

The demise of one (or more) Melbourne clubs would add strength to Demetriou’s nationally expanded AFL – which is arguably unsustainable with 18 clubs.

Demetriou declared that FIFA could potentially claim exclusive access to the MCG for four months (a claim rejected by his opposite number at FFA, Ben Buckley), and that the worse-case scenario could see the AFL cancel the 2018 or 2022 season.

“You can’t move the season to January. It’s out of ratings period, you’ve got cricket, it’s hot. It just doesn’t work”, the AFL boss told the Herald Sun, not entirely convincingly.

Demetriou went on to add that the AFL supported the federal bid for the World Cup.  In recent years the AFL has accommodated the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but the World Cup is a different beast altogether.

The AFL is fighting for a foothold in non-AFL territory on the Gold Coast and soon to be in Western Sydney. The A-League has already established a team on the Gold Coast and has plans to expand into Western Sydney in two years. The fight for the hearts and minds of the locals has already begun.  Kevin Sheedy has been dispatched to Sydney as the AFL messenger, with millions of dollars to be invested into these expansion clubs by the AFL over the next decade. By 2018 or 2022 they will be reluctant to relinquish any ground made to the FFA.

I read the comments on the Demetriou story on the Herald Sun website, gaining a glimpse into the cultural war being raged in the suburbs, in a throwback to the Keating and Howard days.

The anti-asylum seeker sentiment encouraged (I believe) by the former Howard Government is simmering just below the surface of several comments posted, illustrated by reader, Drive a Harder Bargain, who described soccer as ‘a left wing game promoted by the non-English speaking immigrants who are determined to change Australian culture’.

He went on to add, ‘the soccer activists use SBS (the left-wing public broadcaster paid by taxpayers) and Federal and State Labor Parties to champion their soccer cause. If I were the AFL Commission, I would get the Liberal Party … to fight the ALP’s promotion of soccer in Australia … there is a great opportunity here for the Liberal Party to stand up for Australian culture over the alien, introduced soccer culture.’

Barry of Frankston shared similar views: ‘Soccer is for ethnic minorities hell bent on violence’, while Tommyd of Melbourne took offence at the ‘people of ethnic backgrounds who have come to this country to live, and bag our national sport’.

Leigh Harris of Colac shared these sentiments: ‘boring and overacting players hold no interest to most non-ethnic Aussies’. A poster known simply as Mick labelled soccer ‘un-Australian’, and called for ‘real Australians to stand up against this crap’.

The mud-slinging was well under way as Andrew of Sydney fired this riposte: ‘Victoria and your bogan sport, go and jump’.

Ad added: ‘imagine a year without bogan football, papers full of halfwit brain-dead footballers… it would be bliss’.

Rico Mactas of Melbourne: ‘nobody around the world cares about the AFL except for the bogans here.’

Cynics might say this story is nothing more than a diversion created by the AFL to draw attention away from the group draw held in South Africa last week where Australia learned its opponents for 2010.  Rather than celebrating the match-ups against the clinical efficiency of Germany, the cultured Serbians, or the challenge of facing Ghana on African soil, the masses are incensed over the improbable likelihood of the AFL closing down for a whole season.

Demetriou is indulging in political grandstanding to position the AFL for maximum compensation if the World Cup comes to Australia in 2018 or 2022.  Talk of cancelling AFL seasons and clubs folding are moot points.

When push comes to shove, the FFA has the backing of the Federal Government and a Prime Minister who craves the spotlight on the world stage (though I see Peter Garrett leading the Government by 2018 – and also leading Midnight Oil in a one-off reunion, performing ‘Beds are Burning’, garbed in black tracksuits proclaiming ‘Still Sorry’, before the opening match of the tournament between Australia and England at the MCG).

This sporting/cultural war will rage on in the media and the suburbs until a resolution or agreement is reached between the FFA and other sporting codes in Australia. Media outlets such as the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph will continue to give print space to articles like the Demetriou story – the AFL and NRL are the lifeblood of these newspapers after all.

The FFA are faced with a monumental challenge to bring the World Cup to Australia in 2018 or 2022, while mitigating the impacts on rival winter codes. England in contrast – rival bidder for the 2018 World Cup – has the luxury of a united nation (and media) behind the bid, and is favourite to host the tournament.

On Fleet Street, attention is centred on the 2010 World Cup and England’s draw, labelled by some as the ‘group of life’. Drawn against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia, it was tabloid newspaper The Sun that best described the good fortune: “The best English group since the Beatles.”


  1. Peter Flynn says

    Demetriou plays the ‘huff and puff’ card as he embarks on massive compo.
    My reply to Demetriou is ‘big fizz’.

  2. Deep down I hope Demetrious realises what an opportunity this is. With the World Cup will come a focus on Australian culture and nothing says Victoria like AFL football. The FFA are lobbying to have the AFL exempt from FIFA’s ban on other sporting competitions during the event. Should they succeed they have the opportunity to reach a global audience.

    On the suggestion that this occurs, so the MCG is unavailable, how unfortunate – Use Geelong instead or even take it as an excuse to build the boutique stadium in Melbourne. Take our game to country areas where footy is the life blood of a community. Consider Ballarat, for example with the potential to add temporary seats. Darwin calls, AAMI Stadium would get a lick of paint, the Gabba would be vacant. Subiaco is another option as is Western Sydney.

    Consider this draw:

    Brisbane vs Richmond (Gabba)
    Geelong vs Collingwood (Skilled)
    Hawthorn vs Essendon (Launceston)
    North Melbourne vs Carlton(Ballarat)
    Gold Coast vs St Kilda (Gold Coast)
    Western Sydney vs Sydney (Blacktown)
    Adelaide vs Port Adelaide (AAMI)
    West Coast vs Fremantle (Subiaco)
    Western Bulldogs vs Melbourne (Darwin)

    I haven’t mentioned the SCG, Cairns or Canberra but these would be possible venues too.

    Sabrerattling and fearmongering will help maintain the status quo, but it will be to the loss of the Australian public. This is an opportunity to strengthen relationships with the community outside of Melbourne. You cannot tell me an Essendon fan in Tasmania would not be beside themselves with joy at seeing their team play down the road.

    Then again, I think Demetriou knows this. I hope he just wants his pound of flesh.

  3. I hope he just wants his pound of flesh?.
    Ahhhhh nice touch on the Merchant Of Venice there!
    While we are on the topic can someone tell Gary Ablett
    That ‘All that glistens is not Gold’ or should I say ‘Gold Coast’

  4. I like your draw Tim, but dont forget that Tasmania will most likely be apart of the AFL by 2022, Skilled Stadium will have lights and Visy Park will be in use, as well as Adelaide Oval.

  5. Damian Watson says

    I like those possible venues Tim.

    The Adelaide Oval would probably be ready by that stage and there is the possibility of alternating between soccer and AFL matches.

    Casey Fields is another option the AFL can expand on and host games in the south East of Melbourne.

  6. Its scary but I actually agree with Demetriou. As the boss of the AFL he HAS to stand up for the game. I also believe that he is right in saying that it is not up to the AFL to get solutions for soccer, its up to the soccer people to figure out their own solutions. The AFL needs to lay the ground rules now or it will be trampled.

    Let’s keep this in perspective. Having the World Cup in Australia won’t bring about world peace or solve poverty – its only a game. I believe that if soccer can’t deliver the World Cup with (mostly) its own arenas, then bad luck.

  7. I see your perspective Dips but think of the astronomical costs involved of building the stadiums which would be required under your proposal. Also consider the bigger picture, the impact on tourism, the economy, the fact that it will stimulate growth. These are all measurable financial impacts for Australia and impacts that will not occur from AFL and NRL alone.

    Yes the AFL needs to protect itself, but realistically the competition and it’s fan base is so strong that it will survive and quite possibly thrive from the World Cup as it leads to further internationalisation of the game. Nic Natanui and Majak Daw, they may be regarded as pioneers following the World Cup.

    My 2 cents.

  8. Tim – I hear what you’re saying and would love to see the World Cup here, but I also think that the AFL should not be seen as the bad boy. It has every right to defend its position. I angers me somewhat that any failure in the Australian bid will be put down to the fact that the AFL didn’t cooperate, and not down to the fact that soccer in Australia probably doesn’t have the infrastructure to hold the event. It can’t rely on other sports to carry its burden.

  9. True, true but sadly if the bid does fail that will be the likely outcome. Unless the AFL’s PR machine can work a miracle!

    As an aside this issue is starting to gain traction overseas, it was on the frontpage of this morning.

  10. John Butler says

    Intriguing debate folks,

    But I have to think we’re a long way ahead of ourselves here.

    The FIFA process is a minefield, we only seem to be a shot at 2022 anyway, and there are certain to be other places in the world that may not consider our wishes a fait accompli.

    Andy D’s putting in an ambit claim just in case…

  11. Martin Reeves says

    The complexities of this story are immense.

    I agree, our only shot is at 2022, but we won’t be able to assemble a viable bid unless we get over this impasse with the AFL and other codes.

    The lack of suitable stadiums in Australia is going to hurt Australia’s bid, and it’s a valid point that other codes shouldn’t be expected to just roll over for the round ball code.

    While I originally thought Demetriou was indulging in a bit of grandstanding, maneuvering the AFL into a strong position for compensation, I now think the gloves are off and the AFL are out to block bid.

    Will be interesting to see how the Demetriou/Buckley friendship holds up at the end of all this.

  12. pauldaffey says

    I just don’t like soccer being played on oval fields, and I can’t see why FIFA would agree to it either.

    Shouldn’t every Australian city have a rectangular stadium to host 40,000? I know it would cost a lot, but it would also be a vote-winner in each state, and it would be infrastructure that would be well used (if built in the centre of each city, at the heart of the community it serves, not in some boondocks area on the fringe).

    In the case of Melbourne, the city’s own new rectangular stadium is undercutting the World Cup bid. Why did they build it to a capacity of less than 40,000? It seems ludicrous.

    I agree with Dips. It’s not up to the AFL to sort out soccer’s problems.

  13. It’s amazing how the AFL always pulls this card out whenever soccer is mentioned. As if soccer is the evil sport that will somehow hypnotise footy fans so that they never attend a game of footy again. Utter nonsense.

    Firstly, and this is something you’ll almost certainly never hear from an AFL official, Australian Rules Football and Soccer can co-exist quite easily. Being a footy fan doesn’t mean you must automatically hate soccer; on the contrary, plenty of quite avid footy fans I know are equally keen soccer enthusiasts. For myself, one of the biggest sporting thrills I’ve ever had was seeing Real Madrid and Barcelona play twice each in Spain a few years ago. Doesn’t make me any less a Geelong supporter.

    (I realise a flashing “independent thought” alarm just went off in an office in Jolimont, but I’ll take my chances.)

    Has anyone even noticed for instance, that the A-League is actually played in Summer now? It’s not even in direct competition. But the AFL mustn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

    Secondly, and far more importantly, how much realistic chance does Australia have of hosting the World’s biggest sporting tournament? I’d say roughly …..none. We’re competing with (at the very least) nations from Europe, South America, even Central America (Mexico for instance has hosted two World Cups since 1970). Those countries have purpose-built football stadia, fanatical support and massive populations guaranteed to attend the matches. I really can’t see how Australia can compete with that. I’d love it; but I just can’t see it.

    And if Australia were to somehow host it, what would be the disruption? They’d have to move the season forward or backward a month or so? They didn’t mind doing that for the Olympics, and the World Cup is even bigger.

  14. Dave Nadel says

    I hate defending the AFL Commission but..the Herald-Sun are not the only people indulging in beat-ups on this question.

    Mark S – Andrew Demetriou and his minions have said repeatedly that Soccer and Aussie Rules can co-exist and that they support the World Cup Bid. They have also said that they don’t mind moving the season forward one month and that they can tolerate a month’s break during the actual Cup. What Andy D is complaining about is that his mate Ben B and FFA won’t make a definite statement of how long they want control of the MCG and Ettihad and under what conditions. The problem is not the proposed presence of international soccer, it is the proposed absence of local Aussie Rules.

    Martin Reeves…quoting racist Liberal supporters from the Herald-Sun is just indulging in smear tactics. There are a lot of things that you can bag Demetriou for, but racism or being a stooge for the Liberals are not two of them. Andy bangs on about multiculturalism at the drop of a hat (and why shouldn’t he, given his background?) He also got off-side with the former Howard government partly because of his stand on refugees and related issues. The main fight was over drug policies but the word around the traps was that the Liberals would not have gone in as hard on the issue if they hadn’t already regarded the AFL as leaning to the ALP.

    I would suggest most of this fight is simply down to the incompetence of the FFA. Demetriou’s first complaint (supported by Stephen Gough) was that the FFA wanted control of the MCG for 16 weeks (the AFL and the MCC had agreed to eight) When Demetiou’s complaint hit the papers Buckley claimed that 16 weeks was an earlier idea which had subsequently been rejected. So why did Buckley leave it in the documentation?

    Demetriou’s second complaint is that the FFA has now included Docklands stadium in their bid after telling the AFL that they would not. Why have they done this? Because the new stadium that is being built with taxpayers’ money can only hold 30,000 and FIFA demands that all World Cup venues have at least a 40,000 capacity. It turns out that the fancy roof on the new stadium prevents adding 10,000 temporary seats for the World Cup! I understand why Soccer and the two Rugby codes want a stadium that only holds 30,000, Aussie Rules is the only code that can regularly attract crowds of over 40,000 in Melbourne, but why didn’t either the FFA or the State Government demand a design that allowed for temporary extra seating. They already had plans to bid for the World Cup when they commissioned the new stadium!

    I think a World Cup in 2022 would be great for Australia and all Australian sports fans, but I don’t see why AFL fans or AFL clubs should be denied their own sport just because of the incompetence and parsimony of Ben Buckley and the FFA.

  15. Pamela Sherpa says

    I agree with your comments Dips. It’s Demetriou’s job to defend, run and expand the AFL. Why on earth would he want to co-operate and give soccer a free kick?

    Tim, other regions would benefit from AFL games but consider the standstill Melbourne as a whole would come to. More than sports stadiums would be affected.

    The money is what bothers me the most. Who really benefits and who ends up paying?

    As for it being good for all Australians?. I’m already sick of being told I should be interested; because I’m not.

    Go Aussie Rules!

  16. Martin Reeves says

    Dave Nadel

    Smear tactics? I was merely making some observations.

    Demetriou is going in to fight for his corner and the gloves are off. Having watched him throw his weight around for a long time, I find the whole ‘AFL is the victim’ a bit hard to swallow. Demetriou and the AFL do not want the World Cup in Australia. They have found their political wedge on this issue and are driving it home.

    Another observation of mine was the racist reaction in the media (Herald-Sun) to this issue. I quoted three or four comments, but could have quoted 100. I made no link to Demetriou intentionally stirring up this section of the community.

  17. Then what was the point of mentioning the racist reaction in the H-S if it wasn’t either to take a cheap shot at Demetriou or to imply that those of us who do not want to see the local game cancelled for a half a season are somehow all racists?

  18. Martin Reeves says

    If you read the first paragraph of the story, I make mention of the cultural arguments which were erupting in the comments section following this story on the Herald Sun website. This was an observation I made, along with comments made by anti-AFL posters, generalising all Aussie rules fans as ‘bogans’. I attempted to balance the story by including the diatribe coming from both sides. I find the reaction by the public to this story very interesting, which is why I wrote the piece.

    I don’t understand why you seem to have taken offence by this?

  19. I have just reread your original post and while you did report offensive posts on both sides of the argument it was still in the context of Demetriou and the AFL exaggerating the problems in some sort of conspiracy to block the World Cup and also to rob the Soccer fraternity of their justified publicity from the 2010 draw – which had the effect of painting all opponents of the 16 week blocking of football as racist supporters of the conspiracy,

    I guess I am getting a little sick of people on this and other websites, not to mention Age correspondents like Michael Lynch, portraying anyone who has less than 100% support for a World Cup Uber Alles as parochial, narrowminded or racist.

    I like soccer (in small doses) I would like the World Cup in Australia. However,in common with a majority of Australians, I like Aussie Rules more and I don’t see why I should be accused of parochialism because I do not want the World Cup to be at the expense of the football season in my chosen code.

  20. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I’m sure that as reasonable sports fans, we can see the benefit of having an event that would happen ‘once in a lifetime’. I wonder if the real issue is about us AFL fans taken out of our cultural comfort zone. Is it a fear that AFL will be overcome by soccer? Is it a fear of a different type of masculine expression? I reckon these issues are part of our psyche as AFL fans. The game is a minority on world scale and we seek to unconsciously protect in the way we would a weak child.

    The AFL are well placed to make some serious cash out of this. I reckon they would play the GF on Xmas Day if the price was right. Demetriou knows exactly what he is doing and good luck to him. The next 12 years will see some passionate, myopic and mostly political debate on the merits of this bid. It will be interesting to see how everyone’s true colors emerge out of this. Maybe the Aussie Rules will become better as a result of realising that it does not have a monopoly on football in Victoria.

    Personally, I prefer AFL to soccer as it is in Australia now, but if the best players in the world are given a chance to show their skills I would pay good money to watch and I wouldn’t care if I had to watch AFL in November. As I said, it is a once in a lifetime event. Celebrate and embrace people!

  21. Pamela Sherpa says

    I’m not interested in the Soccer World Cup, but if the AFL has to cancel a season there must be something positive to come out of it!


    COLLINGWOOD -can spend the entire season analysing why altitude training doesn’t help them kick straight.

    GEELONG -fans won’t be tortured watching Gazza play for another team (Stop crying ,it’s only a game)

    RICHMOND -fans won’t have to endure being disappointed with another disappointing season.

    The CROWS AND PORT- can just stay home and hate each other for a change.

    BRISBANE- Fev will have extra time to grow up.

    WEST COAST -can ponder why they let Judd go.

    ESSENDON- can spend more time deciding who,what,when,where and how they will appoint their next captain.

    FOOTSCRAY- Bazza can do a long anger management course.

    NORTH MELBOURNE -can use the time to fundraise and think about how to survive another year.

    The SAINTS won’t have to despair at not winning another flag.

    CARLTON- can spend the year searching for another forward.

    MELBOURNE -fans can finally enjoy a gulit free snow season.

    FREO fans – can just have a holiday.

    SWANS – will hopefully all fly south and avoid any influence the soccer might have on their playing style.

    Cheers !

  22. Pamela Sherpa says

    OOPS !I forgot HAWTHORN- they can go up and down the Kokoda trail a few more times and be really fit for the following season.

  23. As a soccerista who likes footy (in small doses) I’m not too fussed about whether we get the WC or not. I’m not sure how it would benefit soccer and the culture more broadly. It would make some rich arseholes richer I guess. Though if it happened I’d try to scrounge tickets.

    The plus side to the AFL stymying the bid would be that we could once and forever ban that stupid ‘Melbourne: the sports capital of Australia (or the world or the universe)’ epithet from our discussions.

    Dave and Daffs are right: this is about soccer using its own grounds for the world cup and not using footy grounds. Cue: a brief discussion of why it is that soccer has never had its own enclosed grounds in metro Melbourne. . .

    Dave and Daffs are also wrong: it’s a bit hypocritical of an organisation (VFA/VFL/AFL) with a more than century-old history of active suppression of soccer and denial of its access to grounds to then justify further exclusion on the basis that “we’ve f**ked em over before; let’s do it again.”

    I guess they could always “play their game in the gutter” to quote the Collingwood official c. 1956.

  24. Damian Watson says

    Dave and Daff- I agree that the new Rectangular Stadium should have extra seating, however it was not possible as the State Government has an agreement with Etihad Stadium that no stadium could be built in Melbourne with a capacity over 30 000 until at least the end of the decade.

    That is why the original plans for the stadium was a capacity of 25 000, until the melbourne Victory complained and eventually struck a deal with Docklands that the capacity be 31 500 as long as they signed as a co-tenant.

  25. Damian: That’s how I remember it as well. I’m surprised that in the discussion thus far (on all fronts) this is being forgotten.

    The capacity was pushed to 31K as the result of a fairly strong supporter campaign.

    But I thought 40K was a no-brainer given WC desires. I think the Storm objected to any increase on the grounds that they see their ceiling at around 15K when travelling well and 8K when not.

  26. Ian

    It may be true that the AFL has played hard ball with soccer over the years (which it is arguably entitled to do, to protect its own market), but you also have to admit that historically soccer in this country has done a pretty good job at f***ing itself over through very poor administrations, through actively promoting ethnic rivalries with club affiliations to specific groups, through brawls at games, through poor marketing, and through the massive chip on the shoulder the game’s supporters seem to have.

  27. Dips. True enough. All those things have contributed — though I’m not sure I’d put it the way you have. The biggest historical mistake soccer made however was when its players enlisted en masse during the first world war thereby leaving the playing fields free for both footy and RL to entrench themselves. Soccer and RU never quite recovered the strides they had been making in the pre war period.

  28. Ian – huge statement re: soccer enlistments during 1st World War. Not sure of its historical accuracy. Perhaps we need a Knacker resident historian to have some input here. But what I do know is that Aussie Rules had been up and about for some decades by the time WW1 came around. And I also know that many a game of footy was played in the battlefields during respites in fighting, so they weren’t all soccer players!!

    On the issue of whether or not Australia should have got involved in WW1 and thereby sent all our soccer players to the Somme, that is a discussion for another day.

  29. Not saying that all our soldiers were soccer players — far from it. But most of our soccer players were soldiers. I’ve read one report that says 90 per cent of those who played soccer in Melbourne prior to the war joined up.

    With respect, no Knacker resident historian would know much about this because it’s virtually unexplored territory.

    I’ve done a bit of trawling through the archives and it certainly is the case that the Australian War Memorial records shows that a great number of the names associated with pre-war soccer (I’ve investigated Vic, Tas, SA and WA) end up over there.

    An interesting case is the Irymple FC British Association team, just about all of whom join up and of whom 5 were killed in action or from wounds.

  30. Ian – interesting line of inquiry. I can see a Phd in there somewhere.

    The first game against the Huns in South Africa will now have extra spice !!

  31. If anyone thinks that I was being paranoid or parochial in my last response (post 19)on this thread they should read Richard Hinds article in today’s Age (Sport p.8) entitled “Soccer fans are World Cup’s worst enemy” which says was I was trying to say much better than I did. If anyone doubts Richard’s point, have a look at the moronic letter by Chris Sutton also in today’s Age (Insight p.6)

  32. Martin Reeves says

    David, that article you refer to is one of the more biased and patronising pieces I’ve read on this issue. You might level the same claims at my original piece (which was clearly pro-World Cup), but I referred to the morons on both side of the fence without denigrating or belittling an entire code.

  33. Martin Reeves says

    Oh, and I have always enjoyed reading Richard Hinds’ articles for what it’s worth.

  34. Just read an interesting stat in the comments of

    “It seems that a study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Monash University estimated that hosting the World Cup would generate $5.3 billion into the Australian economy, bring 1 million overseas tourists to Australia and create 74,000 jobs.”

    I’d love to see the full report, it would make fascinating reading

  35. Martin, yes you did refer to morons on both sides of the fence although you made it clear who you thought were the greater morons. I can see why you might have found Hinds’ piece biased although you can can probably see why I thought it was pretty fair.

    Considering the stupid patronising comments that have been made by soccer supporters about Australian Rules I can’t actually see what you found patronising about the article. The argument that anything international is somehow superior to anything local (and to disagree is small minded) is best answered by reference to Macdonalds which has become the most truly international dish and is inferior on culinary and nutritional grounds to almost every local cuisine in the world!

    His comment about soccer’s global domination being due to its simplicity is probably correct. Unlike both Rugby codes and American Football which require soft surfaces on which to tackle or Australian Rules which requires reasonably large playing fields,not to mention games like cricket, baseball and tennis which require expensive equipment, soccer, shares with basketball the ability to be played by very poor people in concrete jungles. While it is a beautiful complex game when played by skilled players, it is also much easier to play soccer badly than it is to play any of the other codes badly.(This last comment comes from my childhood -I spent years of kick to kick football failing to take marks or direct drop kicks remotely near other players – but I could always kick a soccer ball even if it was totally without finesse and I was just one of a group of boys chasing the ball around!)

    Apart from the British Isles, soccer has taken a long time to establish itself in most of the English speaking nations. This is perhaps because other games of British origin arrived first. American football is descended from Rugby. Many scholars believe Australian Rules is descended from a combination of English School games although a strong case can be made for indigenous influence.

    Soccer’s growth was strongest in countries where it was not in competition with other local codes. This doesn’t make it “the quickest, cheapest, and most convenient way of filling a hole” which Hinds offers as an alternative explanation, but it doesn’t make it the key to international sophistication, either, as some culturally cringing round ball fans seem to believe.

    Again I am not arguing with people like Ian Syson (or Roy Hay) who have always been soccer fans and also recognise the role of Australian Rules, but I am too old to be patronised by Australians who think that they are living in Manchester and don’t actually recognised that Australian Rules is one of the few cultural artefacts produced by non-indigenous Australia of which we can be proud. (And actually if they did live in Manchester they would realise that their Man U T-shirts marked them as foriegners because local Mancunians mostly support Manchester City. Or so I’m told)

  36. Martin Reeves says


    I found several passages of Hinds’ article extremely patronising. Below are some examples:

    ‘…local soccer’s “small crowd syndrome”.

    ‘…wearing an Arsenal shirt to the supermarket gives them a worldly air’.

    ‘A round ball, goals at either end – a couple of shirts in the local park – and away you go’.

    `…because, like McDonald’s, it is the quickest, most convenient way to fill a hole’.

    ‘There is, of course, no answer to such matters of taste’.

    ‘…FIFA to build it’s World Cup drive thru windows’.

    Once again, my original post set out to highlight the cultural backlash that has emanated out of this story on both sides. The majority of opinions heard in the media and on talkback this week have been moronic, to say the least.

    And I accept your point that there has been an element of disrespect given to the Indigenous game by those in soccer circles, which I acknowledge must be offensive for some.

    I also agree, there are people such as Roy Hay (a former lecturer of mine (by correspondence)) who have a sound understanding of the place soccer holds on Australia’s sporting landscape amongst other codes, and much can be learned from people like him.

    But what struck me when first reading this story on the Herald-Sun was the high volume of racism directed against soccer supporters in this country.

    Hinds did not mention these extreme responses to this story from within AFL circles, instead commenting on just one side of the story.

    Hinds refers to soccer people only as zealots, and makes no distinction between the moronic few, and those that want the World Cup in Australia, along with an equitable result for Australian Rules and other codes.

    I have followed soccer (and played and supported Australian Rules) all of my life. I am constantly disappointed at some of the xenophobic responses to soccer stories, usually inflamed by the Murdoch press or the 9 network on television.

    No, the racist comments of a minority of AFL supporters does not brand all Aussie Rules fans opposed to the World Cup as racist. At no point have I thought this, nor intimated as such.

    I did, however, observe a clearly racist backlash to the original Demetriou story by a cross section of society. This led me to voice my disappointment and was the crux of my original post.

  37. I don’t have a problem with most of what you have written in the above post, Martin, but I think somewhere in Hinds’ article he indicates that the “soccer zealots” are a minority just as you indicate that the “soccer = wogball” types are a minority. I think that puts a different cast on Hinds’ article, however I don’t really wish to waste any more almanac space defending Hinds or why I liked his article. I think your final post gets to a position that is not too different to mine anyway.

  38. Martin Reeves says

    Dave, it’s been good to hear some measured opinions on this subject – the reason why I originally posted on this website.

    And as a good friend of mine pointed out to me: “All parties need to take a cold shower (no longer than 3 minutes mind you)”.

  39. Great to hear Dave arguing against internationalism!!

    I understand your McDonald’s analogy but implicit in the argument is an assumption that the local food quality is superior to Maccas. I accept that Maccas is shit but the reason I support the competitor (the local deep fried greaseball shop) is mainly because of its locality and economic relationship to my community. The food there is pretty shitty as well.

    But I prefer Coke to local soft drink . . .

    Once you get into the which is the better game argument there’s no point continuing to discuss this issue. It’s already decided.

    My problem with Hinds article is that he was criticising Michael Lynch but refused to name him. He augmented that specific criticism by adding the odd loony soccerista voice from the web to make it sound like there was some gaggle of irrationality on the loose. Surely there are extremists on either side and enough crap journalists and code administrators who will dog-whistle to them?

    Hinds’ piece simply lacked balance and it obtained far less balance than Martin’s original piece.

  40. I had hoped we had laid this argument to rest but I feel I have to answer Ian on a couple of points.

    I am opposed to Nationalism but I have never been an uncritical supporter of Internationalism, either in economics or sport. When I left the International Socialists (now Socialist Alternative) thirty years ago, one of the issues that I disagreed with the majority on, was protectionism (that wasn’t why I left, but it was and remains an area of disagreement). The problem with “internationalism” on economic issues is that Capitalism is international (multinational, globalised etc) but the working class and the trade union movement are not.

    This means the “internationalist” support of Free Trade, favoured by dogmatic Marxists and Liberal and NeoConservative economists only helps the world’s ruling classes. Which is why manufacturing has steadily migrated from high-waged Unionised countries to low waged, non Unionised Countries (often dictatorships that enforce low wages via military repression) If we had powerful international Trade Unions that could act in solidarity to ensure that third world workers were paid identical wages to Australian workers then I would support Internationalism and Free Trade. But not at the moment!!

    Similarly in the case of culture and sport I want access to international culture and sport but not at the expense of the local alternatives. It should be possible to listen to both Bruce Springsteen and Paul Kelly, read both Ian McEwan and Tim Winton, watch Looking for Eric and Samson and Delilah, watch Soccer and Aussie Rules. However, as I am sure Ian knows as a publisher, had Alan Fels and his mates got the legislative changes that they had wanted, new Australian writers would have found it much harder to get published. Mark Seymour claimed this year that the changes in record copyright has made it difficult for new local musical acts, and everyone knows about the fragility of the local film industry.

    Aussie Rules is much more secure because it has a much larger supporter base than literature or local film but even so, I have been advocating in academic conferences and anywhere else people will listen to me that Australian Rules should emphasise its community links rather than copy American Sporting models, e.g I have always opposed total ground rationalisation and I still think the game would be better off with a modified form of zoning rather than an uncompromised draft.

    Given the power of Globalism Australians will always have the benefit of world sport such as soccer, world (mostly American and British) music, literature, and film but I also want to read and watch Australian stories, listen to Australian songs and watch and play Australian games.

  41. Dave, soccer *is* an Australian game.

  42. No, it is an international game which is widely played in Australia. There are two possible definitions of Australian games. One is games that are either invented in Australia (Australian Rules, Trugo, Electric Light Cricket) or substantially modified in Australia (Rugby League, possibly handicap horse and bicycle racing)

    A looser definition might be games in which the best Australian players regularly play in Australia. Which would include Australian Football, both codes of Rugby, Cricket, Netball, Hockey etc. I like soccer, I think baseball is a terrific game and I recognise why other people like basketball. However it seems to me that any game in which we only see the country’s best players when they are on “National” duty is not a major local sport.

    Aussie Rules may only be a one country sport, but at least when I watched Geelong playing St Kilda I knew I was seeing the best Australian Rules footballers of 2009. Those who watched the A-League Grand Final were not only not seeing the best soccer players of 2009, they were not even seeing the best Australian soccer players of 2009.

    That is part of the problem with this discussion. If socceristas are going to claim the prestige of the World Game, they can’t pretend that it is also the national game.

  43. Dave, you’re falling close to inventing straw men. I’m not sure who has claimed soccer is THE national game. That would be silly. Cricket is the national game. And surely Australian rules falls into the ‘substantially [albeit very substantially] modified in Australia’ category, given that its earliest forms were derived from Britain.

  44. Actually, after I wrote my previous post I recognised that there was a problem with it. The trouble was I had already turned off the computer and was preparing to take my family out to dinner (one of my kids has a birthday) and couldn’t really get back to ammend the post till now.

    I wrote “However it seems to me that any game in which we only see the country’s best players when they are on “National” duty is not a major local sport.” The trouble with that definition is that it would mean soccer is not a major local sport in Brazil, which is patently ridiculous.

    I think what I meant to say is this. I used the example of the need to protect Australian films, music and literature because if Australian culture is not produced, recorded and published then there is no-one to tell our stories – American or British artists are not going to do it for us. If Australian Rules falters (and I don’t think it is in immediate danger and certainly not from the World Cup) but if it were to lose Stadium rights and TV transmission in Australia it would disappear because no-one else plays Australian Rules. If soccer were to fail in Australia it would be very sad for Australian soccer fans but it wouldn’t matter to the future of soccer because soccer is a world game.

    It is in this context that I queried your statement that soccer is an Australian game rather than an international game widely played in Australia.

  45. Dips, just found an interesting stat in the Argus 1941:


    Mothers and wives who have menfolk in the Middle East will be interested to read extracts from a list of articles distributed there by the ACF in one month. Among them are 58,045 packets of cigarettes, 7600 tinned delicacies 7024 tins vegetables, among many other foods. Much sporting material was issued, including 22 soccer balls, 8 Australian rules footballs, 14 cricket bats, 42 cricket balls, batting pads, wicket-keeping pads table tennis sets boxing gloves, and punching gloves.

Leave a Comment