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Possibilities rich in return leg
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,"
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:
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,
But such are the cultural disputes and misunderstandings that crop up when one plays the world game.
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,
Dancers from Sydney's Brazilian community led former Australia captain Johnny Warren's funeral cortege on 15 November. (AP)
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 culture 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.
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.