Sunday, 4 March 2012

Flooding and faux hooliganism

Summer in Australia is definitely over. The rain has been crashing down for the best part of a week in our region and huge areas have been hit by flooding. In the last seven days, Albury has had 256mm of rain and we're grateful for a decent drainage system to keep the town moving. Elsewhere, they've not been so lucky. Some kids got trapped on Mount Buffalo (two hours south of us), which has had an incredible 525mm, while the papers have been full of nightmare stories and photos from waterlogged homes, roads and bush land elsewhere. The photo above, which appeared in the Border Mail on Friday, was taken in South Albury, two kilometres from our house.

The big story has been in Wangaratta, an hour's drive south-west of Albury. Two of the big AFL clubs from Melbourne were due to play a pre-season game there on Saturday and 10,000 tickets had been sold. St Kilda travelled up by bus on Friday night but Essendon waited until Saturday and flew. Their plane couldn't land at Wangaratta or Albury Airports, so they had to turn round and go home. Real shame for the local Aussie Rules fans and generally a big mess.

We spent the weekend in Melbourne with Rob and Jan Bell. You may remember them from our first Australian blog post. Despite the drizzly weather we ventured out to a spot called Arthurs Seat (above), south of the city at the lower end of Port Phillip Bay. We had lunch, bought some pic-n-mix sweets and marvelled at the intricate topiary of the Enchanted Maze Garden.

Down a steep, twisty mountain road to the beach. We couldn't believe these lifeguards had really put the flags out to mark the safe swimming area on such a grim day.

Back at the Bells' I booked tickets for the A-League game between Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park. This was to be our first taste of Australian 'soccer'. We caught the train into the city, both wearing green rain jackets borrowed from our hosts.

Victory are by far the best-supported club in the league, averaging gates of 21,000. This was a must-win game if they were to have any chance of dragging themselves into the top-six and reaching the end-of-season finals. Managed by former Ipswich boss Jim Magilton, they have under-achieved big time this season and I was intrigued to see them for myself.

We sat with the noisier element of the home support behind one of the goals. The away fans were segregated into the far corner of the ground, but there even appeared to be factions and cliques within the Victory supporters. A group behind us held banners and chanted 'back row hooligans' while those you can see in the picture above waved banners, flags and scarves and were whipped into a semi-frenzy by an abominable character yelling into a megaphone. Around us, the range of accents - and even languages - was extensive. The British expats brought a touch of gallows humour to proceedings, eastern Europeans broke into sporadic song, an Irishman hurled abuse at the referee and the young Australians towards the front of the stand flitted between chants from all nations. In their search for footballing identity, Victory have aimed somewhere between the Premier League, Serie A and the more hostile outposts of the Champions League atlas, falling painfully short of them all. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the biggest football club in Australia could do worse than concentrate on being simply 'more Australian'. It was easy to see why the A-League will never rival the AFL. Three bottles, thrown in the general direction of their own goalkeeper, was a low point on an afternoon when Melbourne Victory did themselves no favours on or off the field.

A 3-1 defeat effectively ended Victory's season, with Newcastle - who occupy sixth spot - putting further distance between the pair. Harry Kewell boshed home this penalty to make it 1-1 but the Jets had scored twice more before he missed from the spot on the stroke of half-time. A former colleague of mine covered the League Two clash between Oxford United and Swindon Town later that day and I would suggest we both watched a similar standard of football. There were 12,457 inside AAMI Park and 11,825 at the Kassam Stadium, for a game in the fourth tier of English football. Nowhere else in the world does the love for any sport run so deep.


  1. Hi Steve. As promised here are my thoughts about your post. It is always interesting to see what people who come from 'football countries' thinks about our little league.
    I can gather from the tweets that you may have had a brief rundown of the History of the A-League. Of course the tortured history of football in Australia is longer than that. If you ever are interested in this the best book ever written is by the great late Johnny Warren called 'Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters' ( You can discern from the title alone how football has been perceived (and in some way it is still) in Australia. Despite its progress over the last seven years or so, it is still maligned and derided (As examples read what AFL players have written about the sport:
    and So I guess your statement "It was easy to see why the A-League will never rival the AFL." while innocuous in itself it presents like a red rag to a bull for some supporters. There is no argument that what you said is right. Throwing objects onto the pitch is stupid. However, unfortunately such episodes have been blown up by section of the media which are quick in portraying 'soccer' as inherently violent while similar episodes ( tend to be somewhat ignored.
    The other issue is that football (especially in Victoria) is seen as as 'un-Australian' as a 'foreign import' even as a threat (you can read this interesting article written by one of the most important Australian historians: This tends to marginalise the sport . Wogball is a term sometime assigned to football here. And you are right that fans imitate chants from overseas and that they are "falling painfully short of them all". However the A-League is 7 years old. Before that we had a disaster called the National Soccer League where teams where often created by distinct ethnic groups such as South Melbourne Hellas (Greek) Melbourne Knights (Croatia) and Brunswick Juventus (Italian) and going to those matches you would have basically Greek, Croatian and Italian chants. Very true blue aussies to be seen. So we have to give it time.
    Also Steve if that 'abominable character yelling into a megaphone' was bald that is Adam, known as 'Tunna' ( and he's a lovely bloke...really! :)
    Regarding the standard of football of course it is not at a top European/South American level. But then worldwide not many leagues are. What we hope is that the technical level of the League (which most football supporters here agree needs to be raised) will allow more players to play in the top leagues and then in the National Team.
    Finally I hope that you will come again Steve to a Melbourne Victory match. You saw the team in a bit of a low state (which is inevitable in all teams) Earlier this season with the promise of Kewell etc. we got 40,000 at Etihad stadium. Hopefully we will raise ourselves for season 2012/13. But I would also suggest that you may seat somewhere more quiet. I like the atmosphere that the 'north end' (where you were, which tries to be a more continental tifo) and the 'South end (the other end behind the goal, which is more of a unstructured British style of support)but I sit with my son quietly on the sides. Plenty of wogs like me, but they eat chips and drink coffee! Cheers.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to put all that together. Loads of good points and story links. The 'AFL v soccer' piece in The Age was particularly insightful.

      England may be viewed as a 'football country' but that certainly hasn't helped us on the international stage in recent history. There has been some horrible mismanagement by the FA and much depends on how they go about filling the vacant England manager's position.

      If the media shine a stronger magnifying glass on crowd trouble in soccer than other sports, then that's unfair. All incidents should be highlighted because there is no place in sport for violence. Those characters should be made an example of, whether in rugby, AFL, soccer or whatever.

      Interesting to note the role of ethnice groups in Australian soccer. As I've said elsewhere, diversity is brilliant as long as the crowd's energy is directed towards the team. I wonder whether a typical Aussie, walking into AAMI Park for the first time on Saturday, would have felt at home in that atmosphere. I don't know the answer. I suppose it depends on the individual. The key to soccer's success Down Under is making newcomers feel welcome.

      I'll definitely be back, don't worry about that. My love for football is unconditional and most of the games I've ever watched have been uninspiring, frustrating, or full of false dawns. The nine defeats in a row are always worth it when your team wins at the 10th attempt, though. The noise on the Northern Terrace was great. At home, when I watch Tottenham, I always try to get tickets in the equivalent area of the ground. It was the style of the atmosphere, not the velocity, which surprised me.

      If the blog was the proverbial 'red rag' then I'm not disappointed. Writing which gets people talking is all good in my book.