At current, I am scouring Jonathan Wilson’s veritable magnum opus, Inverting the Pyramid. As I stumble through this dense and frequently daunting HIST2034/FTBL101 compendium, that has truly proved a jarring amalgamation of the bane academia of history with a pastime, that at its root, enjoys a gloriously perfunctory accessibility, it seemed apt to contrast the globalisation of the world’s most unencumbered commodity with the stagnant progress of Australia’s national competition.
This is a country that treats football, more pertinently domestic football, with indifference at best. Australian culture is steeped with a sporting identity, but for the floundering A-League, that competes with the more traditional national sporting codes, the forthcoming version 8.0 could a tipping point for the future, whether positively or otherwise. While the rites of passage journeys of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton have ignited a flickering spark on the sporting landscape, attempts by the Football Federation of Australia have been thwarted by an ineluctable fact: Australian domestic sides compete in the best leagues in the world for their respective sports, be it AFL, NRL, Super 15 or the Sheffield Shield. With the proliferation of international coverage of football abroad, accompanied by Australia’s naturally refined and expensive sporting palette, the A-League has stagnated as a purveyor of mediocrity. Australia’s footballing populace is characterised, most discerningly, by their lack of sleep and late night habits in watching the English brand.
If Inverting the Pyramid spun the wonderful tales of football enigmas who spread the crimson thread of British supremacy and its past times to far-reaching corners of the world, then Australia’s clear absence must be noted. For a land that is drastically embossed with the English watermark, the lack of football is striking. While football spread to the imaginative, but poverty-stricken, villages of South America and Africa, gained a foothold in the Eastern European life of degradation and has seemingly conquered the remote Asian landscape, Australia, with New Zealand in tow, have remained untouched. Some have suggested that the uncouth convict origins drew the population to a more physical endeavour, but this seems a difficult leap to make, as Wilson’s description of early-period football seems a more close breed of rugby than the modern-day round ball version.
It seems more likely, however, that while Australia may have been served by their very own Alexander Hutton in Frank Lowy, of which I could only provide an injustice through description, and who has almost single handedly overseen the development of football as we know it in Australia through the 1970s to current, the sport is yet to meet its next visionary. If Alexander Hutton is credited with introducing the game to South America, then it is Charlie Miller who enjoys the accolades of its expansion. As philosophers describe, a movement may begin with an individual and then be propelled by a follower, but it still remains in infancy before it gains “followers of followers”. Only at this third removal from the initial starting point will the trend gain any momentum. This phenomenon is axiomatic throughout society, with marketers and businesspersons developing strategies over social media campaigns and celebrity endorsement. This is shown most succinctly by Derek Sivers and his TED company relies on this notion to gain interest and attention: Watch it Here
For football in Australia, Lowy marks stage 2 of this extended trend. To move forward, the Australian audience needs their next persuasive character, whether it be player, manager or administrator to imbue the local game with its own identity. Surely, 2006 marked a serious window of opportunity, with only a thinly velied Fabio Grosso dive, who has bewilderingly been heavily linked with a move to the A League, and an errant Luis Cantejelo shrill of his whistle barring the Socceroos from an unlikely quarter final appearance in Germany. For the English, tournament heartbreak has become a part of the national identity, but for Australia the disappointing African adventure of 2010 has had more a more sinister fallout, with Pim’s lack of ambition driving fans away, rather than towards, the round ball.
If the Australian sporting public demands the best, then it seems the World Cup and national team success would be the most self-evident mechanism to shift the national paradigm. The FFA must cast aside their inhibitions and provide a platform for an earnest campaign in 2018. Rather than financing the now defunct North Queensland Fury or the Gold Coast United, the game’s governing body should be distilling the talent pool with the foremost training ideologies, techniques and scientific developments; 3 areas Australia traditionally excels at in other codes. Following the lead of the burgeoning Japanese footballing community, that has achieved domestic league growth following national improvement, if not overwhelming success, would be a start.
But surely the most promising avenue towards such an outcome must be Australia’s spectacularly fruitless 2018/2022 World Cup bid. To go back on the small, but nonetheless valuable, progress that has been made would be a retrograde step. While critics have bemoaned the financial waste of the Lowy-led recent World Cup bids, the FFA must rally to ensure future support does not wane. The Australian footballing community must demand a further bid when the time comes, for this would provide the impetus to embrace the one truly international sport as the preeminent Australian game.