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Possibilities rich in return leg

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, 13 November 2005 | 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 (www.adelaideunited.com.au)
Central Coast Mariners (www.ccmariners.com.au)
Melbourne Victory (www.melbournevictory.com.au)
New Zealand Knights (www.nzknights.com)
Newcastle Jets (www.newcastlejets.com.au)
Perth Glory (www.perthglory.com.au)
Queensland Roar (www.qldroar.com.au)
Sydney FC (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?

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,"

The self-styled "accidental Australian, " Guido, author of the intelligent Web log "Rank and Vile."
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.

Policy wonks see the new affiliation as one of political importance. Anthony Bubalo of the Lowy Institute for International PolicyFrank 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,

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."
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. (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).

Switching sexes, switching sides

Hobart, Australia, 1 July 2005 | Accelerated consultations between Soccer Tasmania and Football Federation Australia have cleared Martine (née Martin) Delaney to play in the top flight of a Tasmanian women's league. Delaney had gender-reassignment surgery two years ago and—as a former player for a Tasmania men's side,

Delaney said "it would have been quite a blow to my sense of self" if she had been denied the right to play. (Peter Mathew | AP)
Metro Claremont—decided this season to join Clarence United of Rosny Park as a defender. "Most of the people who are in administration and on committees in the clubs are men that I played soccer with and against 20 or 25 years ago," said Delaney, 47. "I thought many of them might recognise me—and they did" ("Sex Change Decision Sets Precedent," Australian Associated Press, 23 June). Three clubs in the first division queried Soccer Tasmania about Delaney's right to play. To the authorities' credit, they consulted relevant law, especially the Tasmania Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998, before addressing Delaney's special case. "It clarifies to the whole range of sporting organisations that you cannot bar someone from competition on the basis of their gender identification," said Soccer Tasmania chief executive Martin Shaw (Matthew Denholm, "Transexual Allowed into Women's League," The Australian, 23 June). Delaney said that, due to her age and to having taken estrogen, she had no advantage over other players : "Some of the girls who've taken out chunks of my legs with their boots . . . have much bigger frames than me."

download printable PDF
Wogball Is Dead. Long Live Wogball.
A new year, and soccer has a new name. Football Federation Australia (née Australian Soccer Association) continues the ongoing transformation of the sport, "striking symbolic new ground, rebranding the game as The new logo . . . nice, eh?family-friendly, global, inclusive, progressive and professional" (Michael Lynch, "Soccer's Name Change Is Necessary," The Age, 18 December). True, the term "rebranding" sounds suspicious, but knowns and unknowns have endured much within the island continent's unique sport culture to make a place for association football. One challenge is the sheer quantity of football games with which soccer must compete: Australian Rules football and rugby football (union and league). As soccer association chief executive John O'Neill said earlier this year, "Right at the moment we're in a country of 20 million people, we're the only country with four dynamic football codes. Soccer's at the back end. Soccer is the largest participation sport, but it has no mass-entertainment presence" ("Talkin 'Bout a Soccer Revolution," Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July).

Dancers from Sydney's Brazilian community led former Australia captain Johnny Warren's funeral cortege on 15 November. (AP)
What is a 'wog'?
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the word as "a dark-skinned foreigner," especially "one from the Middle East or Far East." Clearly, though, the term is more freighted on the Aussie landscape. The Oxford English Dictionary characterizes the primary use of the term as "vulgarly offensive" and cites first use of a negative "wog" form in James Joyce's Ulysses: "She may have noticed her wogger people were always going away." According to Chris Zissiadis, editor of Woglife, "Many people believe that the word wog is an acronym, that it stands for 'western oriental gentleman' or 'worker on government service'. These versions of the word are popular but it is highly unlikely that they are the word's true source." Zissiadis continues that the last 20 years have seen "wogs"—viewed now as "migrants and their children who come from non-English-speaking backgrounds"—embrace the term for themselves. There is a sense of "wog pride."

One of the most popular Australian movies of recent years was Wog Boy (2000). And the proprietor of Wog Blog proves the word's adaptability by penning alternate lyrics to Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall": "Oh, what did you see, ya red-headed wog? / What did you see, and did you post on your blog? / . . . I saw a long bendy road with no petrol station," and so on.

The sport has its pioneers and heroes, who remain largely anonymous within the world game. We did not want the old year to pass, first of all, without paying tribute to Johnny Warren, who died in November of cancer at age 61. Honored with a state funeral by the government of New South Wales, Warren appeared in Australia's first World Cup finals in 1974 and over the years became the face of the game through his commentary. In recognition of Warren's embrace of the sport's global culture, a Brazilian steel band escorted his casket (D. D. McNicoll, "Footballer Passes from Beautiful Game of Life," The Australian, 16 November).

Fascinating in Warren's biography is his ability to confront negative stereotypes about the sport within Aussie Johnny Warren, 1943–2004culture and to transcend them. For long periods, those who gravitated toward soccer were "wogs," "sheilas" or "poofters," words that Warren playfully employed in the title of his autobiography. Rugby and "footy," the term for Australian Rules, were the games more reflective of the masculine, frontier ethos, and they squeezed out the more "beautiful game," somewhat like American or gridiron football squeezed out soccer in the United States. Warren objected strongly to this marginalization of the sport and to its association with nonnatives, which he saw as insulting both to soccer and to the Italians, Hungarians, Croats and Greeks responsible for the game's early development. The game's separation from mainstream life earned it the name "wogball." One chronicler of the sport's travails in Perth, Anthony Ferguson, gives a clear sense of his own isolation resulting from his interest in soccer ("Anyone for a Game of Wogball?" OzFootball, 26 January 1998):

Footy . . . was a real man's game. This was obvious from the sleeveless guernseys designed to show off the biceps, the tightness of the shorts to emphasise the muscular, masculine buttock (and also to induce testicular cancer in later years), and by the aggressive and sometimes dangerous tackling allowed within the rules of the game. You didn't see footy players hugging and kissing after scoring a goal either—hardly necessary considering both teams often boot a dozen goals a game—nor did you see footy players rolling around on the floor whinging after a heavy tackle. They got straight up and on with the game, because they were real red-blooded heterosexual testosterone-fuelled Aussie men who never cried or ate quiche. Ever.

Such was Warren's commitment to changing such perceptions that he appeared five days before his death at a luncheon to launch the A-League, Australia's new first-division club competition. Warren's football career began at 5, as a goal-scorer for Botany Methodist's under-12 side; Botany is a Sydney suburb. He made his club and international career as a midfielder. According to friend John Singleton, who spoke at Warren's funeral, Warren had long felt connected to multicultural Australia through soccer. In fact, Warren disliked the word "soccer" and preferred the world's name for it. Another friend, Andy Harper, described in The Australian Warren's "razor-sharp sense of social justice and egalitarianism" ("In Johnny Lay the Embodiment of Soccer's Struggle," 9 November).

He shunned ignorant isolationism and rejoiced in the richness of international culture. He was never afraid of the differences between people, always seeing the potential for growth by mixing and exchanging. But in Australia, Johnny saw a society at odds with its foundations. His life's mission became to offer perspective and an alternative way. The discrimination against migrants and against "their" game, was in his eyes, completely unacceptable. He could never accept why people would be so scared of football, so suspicious of the people who played it and so determined to keep it down. Even more profoundly, this "Aussie, living in this world of wogs", as he put it, suffered the same deeply hurtful indignations.

The timing of the national soccer federation's name change, therefore, seems appropriate. But let's hope that the image makeover—the tampering with "an image inextricably linked with the ethnic divisions of Australian society" (from Lynch's article, cited above)—does not overlook the "wogs" who gave the game life.

  • Honiara, Solomon Islands, and Sydney | 20 January 2004 . . . A depressing 1–0 loss to Samoa, Solomon Islands flag at restwhich FIFA ranks 177th in the world, has eliminated the Solomon Islands in qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Games (Michael Cockerill, "Islanders Wounded and Playing for Pride," Sydney Morning Herald), dampening some optimism about the sport's development on Guadalcanal Island and on other islands in the archipelago. "It's really bad at home," says Solomons striker Henry Fa'Arado. "I think the result [against Samoa] definitely showed we haven't moved forward, we've gone stale. At the moment, we don't have the proper direction. They can't even finish the league because they've run out of money. There is so much talent in the Solomons but it's going to waste." In somewhat more positive fashion, the Solomons lost just 5–0 to Australia (the Olyroos) in a subsequent qualifying match. The FIFA website in the past has spoken in upbeat tones about football's ability to quell strife among islanders and painted pleasant tableaus of Honiara residents caressing the turf of a freshly laid field and sitting in the new Lawson Tama stadium to watch the sprinklers ("A Garden of Eden Deep in the Pacific," 19 November 2002). A survey of football's development on the Islands is available from the Solomon Islands Football Federation (click on "SIFF History").
  • Sydney, Rome and New York | 6 December 2003 . . . Frank Farina, coach of Australia's "Socceroos," seems resigned to the Aussies' fate after FIFA confirmed that an Oceania team could only earn a 2006 World Cup finals slot in a playoff with a South American side—the same setup as in 2002, when Australia lost the slot in a playoff against The cover of "Tutte le barzellette su Totti raccolte da me"Uruguay (Michael Cockerill, "Draw Completes the Shafting of Oceania," Sydney Morning Herald). Farina says he will push Oceania officials to lobby FIFA for the home advantage in the eventual playoff's second leg. "We're talking crumbs," Farina said, "but that's what we've got left." . . . We had no idea that AS Roma's Francesco Totti has earned a clown's reputation for his malapropisms; so writes the Washington Post in an article that focuses on Totti's latest project, his best-selling book, Tutte le barzellette su Totti raccolte da me (All the jokes about Totti collected by me). Rome-based correspondent Daniel Williams writes:

    Legend has it that Totti began kicking a ball in his crib at nine months. He began playing organized soccer at age 5. He moved through four youth teams before hooking up with Roma at 17. Lazio, Roma's arch rival, wanted to sign him, but that would be like Caesar playing for the Gauls. Totti once scored a goal against Lazio and unveiled a T-shirt inscribed with the words, "Lazio, I've given you a laxative again." . . .

    The Financial Times's Simon Kuper lounges with National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, who jokes about football's lack of profitability as compared to basketball. Seemingly lacking in Stern's analysis, however, is that he contrasts a single professional organization with a social movement, as football encompasses multifarious forms that will always find cultural expression outside any business model. No doubt that basketball has grassroots appeal—in our view, the game takes its highest form at the amateur and university levels (men's and women's)—but Stern, at least in Kuper's article, views basketball solely within a corporate context.

  • Adelaide, Australia | 1 November 2003 . . . Adelaide United FC is sitting mid-table in the 13-team National Soccer League after beginning its inaugural campaign with two wins and a draw. The team's mission, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, is to unite Australians and non-natives in the state of South Australia. "Our objective was pretty simple—to create a team that every South Australian could relate to," says club chairman Basil Scarsella. Adelaide's emergence comes amid a makeover for Australian football; the national association has re-formed under chairman Frank Lowy, and marketing figures now indicate that football has overtaken cricket as the nation's most widely played team sport. Of the game's new leadership, the Herald's Michael Cockerill writes: "[N]one are Anglo-Saxon and all are pro-reform. Significantly, they also see the game's multiculturalism as a strength, not a weakness." | back to top