Johnny Warren had a “love affair with all things Brazilian” and harnessed a “fierce enthusiasm to drag football out from the shadows into the light,” writes the Sydney Morning Herald. (Robert Pearce | The Age)
Sydney | Australia has marked a year since the death on 6 November 2004 of football advocate and reformer Johnny Warren (see 31 December 2004). Soccer has been rebranded to Warren’s preferred “football”—more representative of the world game, Warren thought—with the successful beginning of the eight-team, relegation-free A-League. Australia’s World Cup prospects always tenuous in Oceania, the island continent will join the Asia Football Confederation in future competitions. Finally, in their last opportunity to represent Oceania in a World Cup finals, the Socceroos minimized damage in a 1–0 loss to Uruguay in a qualifying playoff first leg on Saturday. (The return leg is Wednesday, 16 November). Warren is interred at East Sydney cemetery, which looks out onto Botany Bay. “You can imagine him up there in the great grandstand in the sky,” writes Michael Cockerill for the Sydney Morning Herald, “legs crossed, glass of wine in hand, casting an eye over the A-League. Geeezzuss he would be saying, as a mistimed pass ended up over the sideline. To Warren, football was more than just jogo bonito—the beautiful game. It was life” (“Warren Legacy Deserves to Be Thing of Beauty,” 4 November).
We cannot comment on the quality of the A-League, although the most thorough review we have found is “Confessions of an A-League Junkie” (http://penaltyspot.blogspot.com/), a Web log authored by James Brown in Melbourne. The teams in the league are:
Adelaide United (http://www.adelaideunited.com.au/)
Central Coast Mariners (http://www.ccmariners.com.au/)
Melbourne Victory (http://www.melbournevictory.com.au/)
New Zealand Knights (http://www.nzknights.com/)
Newcastle Jets (http://www.newcastlejets.com.au/)
Perth Glory (http://www.perthglory.com.au/)
Queensland Roar (http://www.qldroar.com.au/)
Sydney FC (http://www.sydneyfc.com/)
Reading about the modest expectations for crowd support, the salary cap, the nondescript team names (“Roar,” “Glory,” et al.) and the need to market to families we are reminded of Major League Soccer in the United States (Mike Ticher, “Letter from … Australia,” When Saturday Comes, November 2005, 40). The similarities in sporting cultures also resonate with Brown, who trots out the arguments for Australia producing relatively weak field players, but quality goalkeepers: “[P]otential shot stoppers thrive in an Australian culture congested with hand-oriented sports. Perhaps the proliferation of ‘handball’ codes in this country has contributed to the accelerated development of hand-eye coordination among our sporting elite” (“Our Goalkeepers,” 2 November). Wisely, though, Brown does not seem to give the argument much credence. As in the United States, the concept of “sport space” exists in Australia—that is, can soccer find a spot in public consciousness with strong competition from more “native” games?
The self-styled “accidental Australian, ” Guido, author of the intelligent Web log “Rank and Vile.”
Football in its previous Australian manifestation, in the National Soccer League, was at least partly a province for teams with strong ethnic associations. The A-League may have lost some of this flavor, but, to some observers, soccer is now less compartmentalized and more likely to be regarded seriously by potential sponsors. One could do worse than reading the “Rank and Vile: Musings of an Accidental Australian” Web log (http://rankandvile.dailyflute.com/) on such questions. In a full 16 single-spaced pages, including conversation-starter essay (“Soccer and the Australian Psyche,” 5 August 2005) and moderated responses, one learns how soccer creates fear in backers of Australian Rules football that the local football code might lose its primacy. ” ‘If Australia should ever reach the semifinals or final of the World Cup, that day will be costly for Australian [Rules] football,” writes historian Geoffrey Blainey, who, like advocates of the “sport space” concept in the USA, sees a sport’s popularity as a zero-sum equation: soccer is up, therefore Australian football is down (“Whither Our Beloved Game?” The Age, 29 August 2003). Johnny Warren, according to the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Cockerill, felt that a “white bread” soccer establishment were wary of the sport’s flavor, its association with migrants and the “foreign.” The author of “Rank and Vile,” Guido, who identifies himself as a 1974 migrant from Italy, develops these ideas:
The fear of “invasion” has been with European Australians since the first fleet. Here they were, a small white population as far away from their homes as they could get, settling on the edge of a huge and unknown continent with an indigenous population they didn’t know anything about and with Asian populations to the north which were perceived to be huge. Out of this came the creation of the “White Australia Policy” and the “Yellow Peril.” The fear to be taken over by something bigger and stronger.
Some respondents to Guido’s post say that they consider themselves “bi-codal” and follow both sports. Some see soccer, as Warren did, as a means to leading Australia out of cultural isolation (Les Murray, “Marrakesh Express to a New Dawn,” The World Game, 1 October). Those of this opinion applauded the actions at September’s extraordinary congress of the Asian Football Confederation, meeting before the 55th Ordinary FIFA Congress in Morocco. At this gathering Australia became part of Asia, at least in football. In Murray’s article on the soccer website affiliated with Special Broadcasting Service, a public Australia channel offering multicultural and multilingual programs, he joins the ceremonial mood:
That afternoon the AFC had … a full gathering of its numerous members, a rainbow of copious cultures and races, spanning the Red Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its main event was the formal and ceremonial acceptance of Australia, its first member with a predominantly European culture, as one of its own. The AFC president, Mohamed Bin Hammam, made Australia’s northward migration the focal point of his introductory speech, welcoming Australia to the Asian football family. It was football as a force in uniting cultures violently at work.
The site of Saturday’s Uruguay–Australia playoff, and that of the first World Cup final in 1930. “The stadium was called Centenario,” writes Eduardo Galeano, “to celebrate the constitution which a century before had denied civil rights to women, the illiterate and the poor.”
Policy wonks see the new affiliation as one of political importance. Anthony Bubalo of the Lowy Institute for International Policy—Frank Lowy, shopping-center magnate and chairman of Football Federation Australia, lent his name to the Sydney think tank—says that it has the potential to shift the Australian perspective on Asia. Previously, Bubalo writes, Australians had been led to see Asia as a market or as a tourist destination, lacking a “common language and frame of reference” that soccer offers (“Comrades on and off the Pitch,” The Australian, 30 September). On a more results-oriented note, the Australians with the move have jiggered the qualifying formula that saw them lose qualification playoffs to Israel (1969), New Zealand (1981), Scotland (1985), Argentina (1993), Iran (1997) and their current opponent, Uruguay (2001). The two sides traded jibes before Saturday’s first leg. Australia made a point of mentioning the atmosphere in 2001, when they were “spat at” and “jostled” on arrival in Montevideo; this time, they bunked across the Rio de la Plata in Argentina. Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati responded that “Uruguayans are one of the most educated and peaceful people in the world.”
But such are the cultural disputes and misunderstandings that crop up when one plays the world game.
The Sydney Morning Herald shouted the news on the front page of its website. (http://www.smh.com.au/)
Update: As was evident from the lusty singing of “Waltzing Matilda” drifting in the bedroom window at 7:30 a.m. (or earlier) on 16 November, Australia has earned a spot in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1974. A review of Warren’s book Sheilas, Wogs, and Poofters: An Incomplete Biography of Johnny Warren and Soccer in Australia (Random House Australia, 2002), quotes Warren as noting “with approval the comments of a Brazilian ambassador who wondered whether Australians had a linguistic or an anatomical problem, since they seemed to reserve the term ‘football’ for games in which the players predominantly use their hands” (Roy Jones, Journal of Australian Studies Review of Books, June 2002).