As John Aloisi struck the ball into the top right corner of the net (perhaps the only useful thing he’s ever done in his career, if not his life), an almighty roar rose out of the now named ANZ stadium in Sydney, Australia. The joyful cheers of the commentators in the background filled the speakers of those watching on TV at home, as Aloisi sprinted down the sidelines, exposing an unnatural amount of body hair that a footballer this day and age should have, to both 75,000 fans and the Uruguayan team. The “Socceroos” had qualified for their first world cup since 1974, and had big plans for Germany. After scoring their first goal, their first win and their first points ever in a world cup, the Aussie boys returned back down under in a blaze of glory. However, the publics attention quickly turned to a different kind of sport. Never mind that the biggest sporting event in the world had just taken place, it was finals time for the rugby league. 80,000 different fans poured into ANZ Stadium on October 1 2006, and after 80 minutes of men jumping on top of eachother in ridiculously short shorts, another almighty roar rose the roof of the stadium, as the Brisbane Broncos toppled the Melbourne Storm. People had forgotton that just the previous weekend, the first game of the inaugral Hyundai A-league had taken place just a few miles away at the Sydney Football Stadium.
After the failure of the NSL back in 2001, Sydneys vibrant football community finally had something to be passionate about, and 30000 fans came to the first game between Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners. After riding a year long tidal wave of marquee players (most of whom were old superstars just a few months from retirement or brazilians that no one had heard of in the first place) and expensive ad campaigns, the two same teams met in the same stadium for the Grand final, which Sydney emerged from victorious 1-0. However, in the blazing glory of the marquee players and the concept of Australia’s very own football league, the public failed to realise that what they were witnessing was actually very poor football.
3 years have passed since then, the situation hasn’t improved and the novelty has well and truly worn off. A week or so ago, I watched a game from the Irish eircom league between Cork City and Drogheda Utd. (two teams I had only previously heard of through playing with them on FIFA), and I can honestly say the quality of football is much better. What makes the situation worse is that the general public are beginning to realise, and attendacne figures are plummeting. In the 2008/2009 season, the A-League recorded a lower total attendance (thats every game for all 8 teams) over the entire year than what Manchester United did in half their games. Pretty much sums it up doesnt it?
The one shining beacon of hope that Australia does have in the footballing world is the national team. After qualifying for the aforementioned world cup, they have shot up the world rankings to the low 30’s, an alltime high. As well as this, Australia was the second country to qualify for South Africa 2010 behind its Asian rivals Japan, who they recently defeated in Melbourne. However, this is a team fuelled entirely by internationally based players, and i’ve yet to see an A-League bred player make a large impact on the international stage. The manager, Pim Verbeek will sometimes send out a squad of mainly A-League players, but these tend to fail miserably, usually just managing to muster up a draw against what is usually a small arabian country.
In spite of this, Australian prime minister Kevin “the milky bar kid” Rudd officially launched Australia’s bid to host both the 2018 and 2022 world cups. As much as I would love to see Australia actually get it, i dont think that we even remotely deserve it. This is a country with a 3 year old league, a national team thats only been half decent for around 5 years, and little to no footballing heritage. Compare this to the footballing culture of some of the other countrys competing and think of Australia hosting the world cup. Sound slightly ridiculous doesnt it? Not only this, but at present I can think of 5 stadiums that would be remotely suitable for an event such as the world cup, and 2 of those are cricket grounds. This would mean a significant economic injection would be required for a country that is alread on the brink of recession.
Then again, if South Africa can do it, maybe, just maybe.. we can too.
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