Ed#475: Home Grounds, Home Crowds, One Goal

11 January 2015 Alan Attwood

Ed#475: Home Grounds, Home Crowds, One Goal

In May 2006 I joined some friends for an evening at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We were there not for cricket or even football (although the Aussie Rules season was well underway). We had come for soccer, which, of course, the rest of the world calls ‘football’. Australia’s Socceroos were playing an exhibition game against Greece; it was their last game before the World Cup – and Australia’s previous Cup adventure had been all the way back in 1974. Hence the palpable buzz at this so-called ‘friendly’. The Greek team, meanwhile, didn’t have a lot to play for. They weren’t off to the Cup (to be contested in Germany). But Melbourne’s sizeable Greek population meant the visitors were among friends, and all those supporters with blue-and-white scarves helped swell the crowd to just over 95,000 people. Astonishing. A similar number of spectators packed the ’G more recently, in July 2013, when another exhibition game was played between the Melbourne Victory club and Liverpool, a storied club from the English Premier League. What these two games demonstrated is that football – the round-ball version, not one of this country’s many oval-ball varieties – can bring Australians together. But it tends to happen only when there’s a big stage (and they don’t come much bigger or better than the MCG) or a big event in the offing.

This month the Socceroos will be in action again, in the Asian Cup. Four years ago, the last time the Cup was contested, Australia’s team made the final: the result was a 1–0 victory to Japan. The national coach back then was Holger Osieck. Having guided the Socceroos through a sometimes nerve-wracking qualifying process for the World Cup, Osieck never made it to Brazil for the Cup itself. A pair of 0–6 defeats in successive exhibition games late in 2013 saw him dismissed, which is the usual fate for coaches in most types of sport. His replacement was the man who will be in charge of the Socceroos’ Asian Cup campaign this month – Ange Postecoglou. Having impressed most observers with his achievements in the A-League, at the helm of Brisbane, Postecoglou received mostly positive (and charitable) reviews for his team’s performances in Brazil. Comments along the lines of “he hasn’t even been in charge for a year” or “the team is in a rebuilding phase” or “he hasn’t actually got much to work with” distracted attention from a dismal results sheet: three games played; three games lost; bottom place in their group. Yes, there were highlights – especially an impressive game against the highly fancied Netherlands side, capped with a stunning goal scored by team veteran Tim Cahill. But this month, playing at home, having had more time to shape his squad, Postecoglou will have no excuses if the Socceroos fail to improve on the result achieved by the Asian Cup team of January 2011.

This month is set to be a big one for football in Australia; Cup matches will be played at venues around the country. In our cover story, Big Issue football correspondent Fiona Crawford emphasises that, for Postecoglou, success is now expected. Crawford quotes former Socceroo turned commentator Mark Bosnich as saying: “We understand what Ange is trying to do but as a coach you need proof, and the proof is victories… You can have an eye on the future, but it’s the present that matters.” Not to mention a desire to match, or improve upon, recent achievements by the Australian women’s football team, the Matildas. Presently ranked 10th in the world (the men hover around 100), the Matildas were runners-up in the women’s Asian Cup last year, and won it in 2010. For Postecoglou, Cahill and all Socceroos, it is indeed time to stand and deliver.

Alan Attwood, Editor