Monday, 24 June 2019

Matildas, Heroic Failure, and Progress

So, Australia is out of the World Cup after losing on penalties to Norway in the second round. This has been an interesting tournament to watch for Matildas supporters, with some stunning highs, and now agonisingly deep lows.

I've been pretty critical of Australian football for how we seem to approach international tournaments, and particularly how naive we often seem to be. Thankfully, I think this tournament proves it isn't entirely true.

After losing the first game to Italy with the last kick of the game, Australia got better and showed some proper fighting spirit - I haven't seen an Australian national team this hungry for success and to prove themselves. The 3-2 comeback against Brazil isn't just the highlight of this World Cup for Australia, it's in my opinion the biggest highlight in Australian international football.

From 2-0 down, I was pretty certain it was done for. There wasn't much clicking, but thankfully they showed the heart and gameplan to get back into it - and win. I haven't seen this from the Socceroos at a World Cup in the last three failed tournaments.

Australia has a "football nation" lacks a lot of worldliness and perspective. We love excuses to use when our national teams don't win. I still hear people whinging about 2006 against Italy far too often (it was over a decade ago, it was a pen, and even if you disagree it's time to get over it). We've often been lucky that there's been "bright lights" in a lot of these failures - such as Tim Cahill's wonderstrike against the Netherlands, or Brett Holman's form at 2010.

2019's World Cup showed us an Australian side which we can accurately feel a lot of disappointment and frustration at being knocked out in early. That's a huge sign of progress in my view. I've seen less talk of this being a "heroic failure" and more of it being just a fail which is refreshing. We're slowly becoming less accepting of losing with our calibre of players and our high expectations could've been matched this tournament. The squad and game is stronger with us expecting and believing there's more to this team.

I'm very proud of the squad this year. For an incredibly difficult 6 month run in to the World Cup, they've done pretty damn well. We had mixed luck (like every nation) this World Cup with officiating but somehow made it work most of the time thanks to a good fighting spirit and using the famous Matildas "never say die" attitude.

I think Alanna Kennedy was extremely unlucky to be sent off, as I don't see it as being a "denying a clear and obvious" goal scoring opportunity, and there were still several defenders nearby to prevent the "opportunity". But that's football. Australia rode their luck for a lot of extra time, and Lydia Williams' performance will be unfortunate to not go down in folklore. World class saves one after the other, and the only reason Australia made it to the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Internet trolls and dickheads have been fairly open with their misogyny since the Matildas took the limelight in Australian sport, and the players have copped significant amounts of abuse - particularly personal attacks against their sexuality. I think Sam Kerr's "so suck on that one" line after the win against Brazil should go down well in history. Having the national team captain as open as she is with who she is, and defending herself and her teammates with incoming abuse is exactly what I like to see. I think while she still has some ways to grow to become "the" captain, she's started well and has a bit of fire which works pretty well for me.

Looking forward, this team has a big Olympics campaign to come in Tokyo next year, and I think they've learnt a lot from this World Cup.

In the meantime, support your local W-League team, buy season memberships, show up to games, and give your support to the players. This is potentially an incoming "Golden Generation" the likes of which Australia has never seen. A proper attacking side who score goals and often for fun, and genuinely inspire young kids.

- - - -

Thank you for reading another "Jamie rambles helplessly over something" editorial. I've had a lot of thoughts about this World Cup and it's hard to express everything well in text.

As an Australian, I'm still gutted they've been knocked out, but this isn't the end of the journey.

Thanks again to everyone who has donated to me and ASOTH via my ko-fi page. It's very much appreciated.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, or ASOTH at @asothdotcom.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Accessibility & Supporter Culture

I've recently come back from a week long trip back to my ancestral homeland England, and managed to sneak in two Fulham games in that period. Already relegated, but wasn't ever going to stop me from going to see my familial club.

My Dad's been a Fulham supporter pretty much lifelong, having inherited it from his mother who went in the 50s - the era of club legend Johnny Haynes. I inherited it from my Dad, and if you follow Mundial on twitter or Optus Sport, you may have seen the video of the two of us chatting about Fulham back in August.

While the season hasn't panned out as hoped for us, it was still brilliant to watch the lads live and in the flesh.

We arrived in England on the matchday of the Bournemouth away fixture, and drove straight there from Heathrow on Easter weekend. Absolute nightmare. What is usually an hour and a half trip from London to the sunny south coast town of Bournemouth ended up being a 4 hour drive.

With the sat-nav plugged in we slowly saw our estimated arrival time nudge up and up, as we got stuck just 6km away. We eventually arrived, I got into the beautiful Vitality Stadium just 5 minutes or so after kick-off for what was dubbed the Relegation Party by Fulham supporters. Hawaiian shirts, inflatables, beach balls, laius and other funny things brought into the stadium by the travelling support.

Honestly, it was absolutely rocking. 1100 of us in a 12000 capacity stadium just absolutely singing our arses off. From ironic chants of "we are staying up", to "1-0 to the Championship" after Fulham scored the sole goal of the game.

Despite Fulham serving up some of the worst defending and least inspiring football you'll see all season, the supporters forgot about it and really urged the players on to a strong performance. There's an undying loyalty that you can feel. The variety of people in the away end too was telling of Fulham as a club. Pensioners, middle aged, young lads, and very small kids all there to follow the club despite relegation being confirmed.

It made me think about how English football culture differs from the culture I know - Australian football culture. Yes, it does exist.

1) Access 

Without a doubt, one of the best things Australian football has going for it is the access to the players. They spend a lot of time post game with supporters taking photos and chatting, and seem more than happy to communicate on twitter and Instagram - being able to send a shitpost to a footballer and have them respond is amazing. Australian footballers are well known for bringing their sense of humour with them wherever they go, and pretty candid. We're incredibly lucky to have this in Australia. 

However, good bloody luck trying to have any of that that in the Premier League. Players do go to the away end after the game to clap the supporters before disappearing down the tunnel. Eden Hazard does not know any Chelsea supporters, and the fans connection to him is weak, whereas Alex Brosque knows a lot of Sydney supporters well. That's a powerful connection.

On social media, European players are so managed and media trained and just don't really interact with the public apart from rare examples like my favourite England player Raheem Sterling or in Fulham's case left-back Joe Bryan. I think this is a pretty vital part of being a supporter in the modern era, being able to see your clubs players have a laugh and interact with them.

Similar to the access to players in Australia is access to club higher ups and staff - with Sydney FC I can tweet at the club's CEO Danny Townsend and most likely get a response. At the 2019 A-League Grand Final he even went to the travelling Cove's pub to have a chat with supporters. This is valuable and doesn't happen much outside of our country's league.

2) Humour

This is where things go beyond being just sporting culture but national culture. Australia likes to see itself as very laid back (which I have mixed feeling abouts) with an optimistic approach to life, whereas there's a lot more cynicism in England. Football supporters in England can be annoyingly depressing and scathing about their football club - listening to TalkSport Radio over there can make you think that supporting Man United at the moment is paramount to torture.

The scathing cynicism of English supporters does however produce some of the best comedy and chants. The spur of the moment songs from the stands are witty and often add another layer to the match. You're not just singing a setlist, you're actively creating new songs and adding to a mythology.

On that away day at Bournemouth, we had chants being sung for players who had been basically bagged all season for not being completely shite on that day. Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa, Fulham's €30m defensive midfield signing (voted flop of the season by FourFourTwo) had a rousing chorus of his name throughout the 90. That just wouldn't happen in Australian active support I feel.

I don't sit in the Cove for home games due to hope of being able to better watch the match, but during away games I do and I've always been a bit disappointed by how few new chants are spawned in the stands. Things can be a bit too serious for me in the chants from The Cove, despite them all being tunes I hum or sing subconsciously day-to-day.

However, then there's an interesting split in the two...

3) The Split 

Australian football fans seem to actively embrace the incredibly dumb and funny stuff that happens in our league, far far more than any other league I know. There's a sense of pride amongst the hardcore of the A-League that our league's big trophy is a toilet seat, that we have giant sauce bottles and palm trees... or basically anything done or to do with Mariners in honesty.

English football and European football often seems so insecure about the dumb and funny things that happen. It's so homogenised that the players often seem humourless. I feel there's too much of an obsession with making yourself look serious and advertiser friendly. Personally I find the top top leagues of the world to be dull, full of overpaid players and too much money. I've lost a lot of love for European football, and part of it is how serious everyone takes it.

The A-League's marketing I think now shouldn't focus on highlighting "amazing football" and the "super amazing goals" but rather the absurd. Football is an inherently funny game and I think we'd be smart to capitalise on that. The original A-League tag line of "football, but not as you know it" is pure genius and still sums up the league fairly well.


I fear Australian football is complacent with how great and accessible our players are. People bemoan the loss of "active support", but I believe the biggest loss our leagues could see is if we stop our players from the interaction with fans. That is our biggest strength. A-League and W-League should hone in on this in the future. Police and security issues mean active support will remain a mess until a lot changes, but the players and their connection to those in the stands is powerful.

I hope you've enjoyed this read, another one of the "Jamie rambles about something" type posts but something I've been trying to put to words for a long time.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to ASOTH via my ko-fi page. It's greatly appreciated and I'm very happy to say it's been a year since my first post on here. The support has been so amazing. I'm working on more things to put out throughout the long off-season - keep an eye out.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin, and ASOTH at @asothdotcom