Cultural Comment Politics Sport

Six Places – Learning to Walk Away from Proselytising

This week I have had six different experiences, sat in six different places and I have felt as though they sum up where I am in life but also have taught me about the exhaustion of being a proselytiser.

When I started writing this blog and was developing my political twitter direction, I had the zeal of the proselytiser.  That person very keen to encourage others to consider another point of view in so many directions.   Part of me was even hoping to convert people to a different way of thinking.  Right now, however, I am exhausted by that effort.  Right now, I am wondering whether the work of the proselytiser is pointless because it’s very hard to change the paradigms of other people – and really, who am I to tell people that there’s a “better” way to do things?  Those six places told me all.

Place One – The City Recital Hall – Stephen Hough Piano Recital

I was listening to the first half of the piano recital being entirely bored – not because of the performance, it was beautiful.  It was about me – what kind of life experiences I had been having, the politics in which I had been involved, work.  And here I was, listening to Chopin Ballades that were really making me itch in my seat, wanting to be OUT.  I even rang my wife at half time, ranting about Chopin. I didn’t leave, however – it was Stephen Hough, who is my favourite pianist.

Then, after interval, a transformation occurred. The music had changed, but it was me that had changed the most.  I enjoyed the other Chopin Ballades, the Children’s Corner suite was beguiling (though I did reflect on what people on Twitter would think of the “Golliwog’s Cake Walk” that ends the suite), The Joyous Isle was glittering with the inner voices that Hough was bringing out of the music.  Suddenly, I remembered what it was that I loved about classical music recitals.  And then Hough did something remarkable (in my eyes, at least) – the last encore was a Grieg Nocturne that I used to play A LOT as a teenager.  I thought it was a great piece to both express teenage romantic yearnings and impress people (i.e. women)

It was a night that sang to me beneath all the layers I had built around me.  All the blogs, the tweeting, the engagement on social media platforms, all rendered irrelevant and without access to that part of me that will always love things that not all that many my age and younger are “into”.  It also occurred to me that I have spent a chunk of my time trying to proselytise classical music to people around me and through Twitter. It’s time for me to stop that. I love the world of “classical” music and it means something special to me. But it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to push that view towards others.  There’s worlds of music that mean all sorts of things to other people.

The twain doesn’t have to meet and we can go into our different music silos – or mix them up – whatever makes people happy.  It’s taken too long for me to realise that, and a lot of wasted emotional energy.

Place Two – Education Forum, Penrith

I attended a forum run by the AEU, NTEU and NSW Teachers’ Federation about the education cuts being made by the Federal Government and the NSW State Government. It covered the potential future of education, with deregulation in the university education potentially giving students a lifetime of debt. It also covered state governments wanting to make money that used to go to TAFE colleges into being “contestable” funding that could go to private companies running colleges.  It was a stark, worrying future laid out by the presenters, showing how conservative governments seem to want to make high education something for children of wealthy parents, rather than for all.

It struck me, however, that the room was filled with public sector teachers and politicians – after all, the aim of the evening was to empower fighters for the cause. To help those who wish to proselytise to the people in the middle in Australian politics just what will happen to education.  That’s a worthy cause but I can also sense the exhaustion that could occur with people trying to make their case yet again in the same ways of the past.  It occurred to me also that the room was missing a group – teachers in independent schools, many of whom (me included) are also wary of university deregulation and the degrading of TAFE colleges.   However, the false dichotomy built between public and “private” school teachers continues to exist in the realm of education.  I hope that the campaign to create awareness will work – but I have my doubts.

Place Three – Year 12 Farewell Celebrations

Away from Twitter and blogging, away from being accused of being “broken”, “butthurt” and the rest of the macho braggadocio shown by people pretending to be something they really aren’t, I am a teacher who tries my best at teaching students at being the best students they can be – as well as help them realise their potential as people.  One of the best guides for a teacher as to their impact is the Year 12 Farewell week.  Hearing from students as to where their lives are heading.  For teachers who have had a Year 12 class, it is usually an emotional week. Some of the nicest things a teacher can ever hear are said in this week. It’s also a fun week, with the formal coming around and getting a chance for a dance and a laugh or two.  Weeks like this make me realise that there’s life, the real stuff, the things one does in their every day has the real impact.

It made me reflect on my life away from this, taking on the role of proselytising for the western suburbs of Sydney.  This may have been presumptuous and I’m sure people are sick of me highlighting examples of poor pigeonholing and stereotyping of people from the west. I get sick me doing it, mostly because the coverage and representations hasn’t changed.  Journalists still rely on lazy stereotypes, stories in the metropolitan dailies focus their attention on Sydney.  So, really, the exhaustion factor has reached its zenith. Trying to change the way western Sydney is perceived is a waste of energy and time.  The attitudes towards the “racist housos of the west” remain and as does the reality, which varies from those attitudes and representations in so many ways.  I and others know what the area consists of and that should be enough for us. To try to change those attitudes is to make a useless effort.  In the process, though, I have made great friends.   But  Twitter and blogging is, for the most part, a curious hobby and an endless Beckett play that you need to walk out on from time to time.

Place Four – Colleague’s Place over a cup of tea

Sometimes one’s involvement with politics needs to be discussed with a deeply respected colleague who is outside that world but understands it completely. One should always get such opportunities.

Place Five – The AFL Preliminary Final at ANZ Stadium

I have been trying to proselytise the cause of AFL football in the western suburbs for some years now, encouraging people to just watch it, give the code a go.  I have heard these phrases often:

“I just don’t understand the game”, “I don’t understand the rules”, “I’m not interested – I just like rugby league”, “It doesn’t look good on TV”, “It’s not tough”, “I don’t know anyone else who watches it” – etc, etc.

I tried to proselytise in the beginning because I wanted people to go with me to games back in the days when the Swans were the only team in town and it was a slog to go to Moore Park.  That changed with the creation of the Giants, so the proselytising goal changed. I had become a fully charged proselytising machine in my workplace and out and about in the community.

What has happened, however, is that I have made great friends who are Swans supporters (despite me coming up with a few sledges about their team as a part of the emerging banter between the clubs).  I sat with them for the first time at the preliminary final and it was wonderful to see their passion for their club and their excitement in regards going to the Grand Final next week.   I will always have a big soft spot for the Swans – they were my club, even if I couldn’t get to too many games.  But I have also made good friends in the Giants’ cheer squad and around the club – it’s a group of hardy souls from other states who want the Giants to work, to connect with the community.  They are far from the description I have heard of cheer squads that they are filled with “broken people”.  No, they are people who enjoy being part of something bigger than themselves.   There was also a mysterious, overwhelming feeling of pride and being at home when I first pulled on my first Giants guernsey.  As much as I still like the Swans, that feeling will never leave.

It is past the time, however, for me to proselytise the AFL, to try to convert people to liking it, going to it.  As far as I can see, people will like it if it’s good, if there’s something in it for them.  And it’s all good if people want to stick to what they know.  As I see the pride emerging in Penrith in the rise of the underestimated Panthers, league is the game of choice in the western suburbs for many and they get a sense of something being bigger than themselves in that code.  The atmosphere at Penrith Park during a home game is intense and positive and that will remain for the years to come.  Over the next decade, however, there will be a shift in the balance of the codes, especially with the work being done by the AFL and Giants to show the kids of the west how AFL works – though that will never “kill” league and that should never be the goal.   What the AFL is doing in the west is the real proselytising, not me with a keyboard, a blog and a Twitter account.  Knowing that, I can sit back and enjoy the football.

Place Six – 1st Wedding Anniversary Lunch

Today is the 1st anniversary of the best day of my life – our wedding.  The marriage of minds and hearts, the wedding to the only person I know who truly understand me. I don’t need to proselytise anything to her (which I did feel I have to in my first marriage – never a good idea).  So, my priority today is not proselytising, trying to convert people.  Mine is to be happy, to be in a happy marriage – really, just be. And with that, off I go.

(Our wedding waltz song – but it wasn’t this Barry and Pav version)

Cultural Comment Sport

The UnStrayan Australian Olympic Hero / AntiHero – Dale Begg Smith

It’s always interesting to see how sport journalists in Australia cover the Winter Olympics – we can expect plenty of patronising comments about Australian athletes “punching above their weight” as well as faintly clueless comments about overseas athletes who are champions of their various disciplines. And let’s not forget reports on “plucky little Tonga” and the like.  One of the more recent repeating themes is the Un – Strayan Dale Begg Smith, internet millionaire and mogul skier.  An example of this has come to us from the head sport writer for the Herald, Andrew Webster – a journalist best known for his rugby league pieces. Here it is.

Dale Begg-Smith, our international man of mystery?

Should Dale Begg-Smith win gold in the men’s moguls, will the nation back home stand in its slippers on Tuesday morning, with a lump in its throat as the national anthem plays and the Australian flag is raised?
Begg-Smith is Canadian-born. He lives in the Cayman Islands. He has visited Sydney twice in the last two years. He’s an international man of mystery, although he’s more Ocean’s Eleven than Austin Powers.
The article starts as it finishes – as a piece about “us” as Australian sport fans, desiring a “typical Aussie hero” story to be part of our athletes’ background. So, this isn’t going to be about sport, it’s about defining what is “Australian” and what is not.  He then moves to a weird reference to Ocean’s Eleven – a film about a group of criminals robbing from a casino. What exactly is Webster saying here about Begg – Smith?

But he’s our international man of mystery. Or is he?


Intelligent. Outrageously talented. Private. Enigmatic. Mysterious. Aloof. These are some of the many words attached to Australia’s most successful Winter Olympian, and they still don’t come close to solving the riddle of Dale Begg-Smith.


It is why there’s every chance you won’t have a lump in your throat should he add gold in Sochi to the gold he won in Turin in 2006 and silver claimed in Vancouver in 2010.

He’s apparently a riddle to all of “us” – more specifically, to journalists. To be solved, clearly, by our journalistic sleuths like Webster. Personally, Begg Smith isn’t a riddle to me. He’s an independently wealthy sportsman who likes to compete, not engage with the media.

After initially giving the media the slip at Sochi airport last week (although this was later explained as the fault of officials, not the man himself) the 29-year-old was specifically asked if he considered himself Australian.


“I view myself as Australian but I live in different areas and move around without trying to get locked down to one place,” he said.


But no matter how far, or how wide, Dale Begg-Smith roams, he still calls Grand Cayman Island in the Carribean home.


I imagine this fact is here to build the case that living overseas makes you less Strayan and therefore you get a less lump in your throatiness quotient.   Not mentioned is the fact many Australian sportspeople live overseas – Adam Scott, Greg Norman, Mark Webber to start with. Torah Bright is another. In terms of the Mormon who has lived overseas since the age of 15, Webster didn’t mention the fact she lives overseas in this touching and supportive piece about her.  Clearly in Webster’s world, you are a good overseas Australian, or a bad one. It is probably because Bright doesn’t mind a chat with journos.  Begg Smith also has another black mark against his name – how he makes his money.

Begg-Smith and his brother Jason came to Australia in 2000 when he was 16, not because of an abiding passion for the great southern land, but because the smaller ski program allowed them to concentrate on their lucrative internet business.


Not only has it made them rich, it has attracted unwanted publicity.


On the eve of Begg-Smith’s gold medal-winning performance at the 2006 games, Fairfax Media revealed his two main companies, called AdsCPM and CPM Media, were associated with spam, pop-up/under ads, spyware and adware.


We can see how the Strayan quotient needs to be built. You need to be born here and not own businesses that don’t do things like annoy us.  And in Webster’s logic, it’s better to be a Mormon, with their various questionable beliefs and activities, rather than make money on the internet.

How Begg-Smith makes his money then and makes it now is his business.


But when he’s representing the mogul-loving people of Australia, they have a right to question whether he is one of us.


Our Dale, so to speak. Aussie Dale. Given how much grief we’ve given England over selecting South African-born Kevin Pietersen in its cricket team, we have to make sure he’s the real deal.


Who is “us” and “we”?  Because a subsection of the population made inane references to Kevin Pietersen not being from England during the Ashes, then that justifies not being behind Begg Smith for coming from Canada. I wonder if Webster feels the same about Fawad Ahmed, for example.  As for the “mogul loving people” of Australia – it is probably pretty certain that journalists like Webster had not even heard of moguls before Begg Smith started being successful at it.  Indeed, Begg-Smith has made moguls more popular and well known around Australia due to his success.  That’s not important to Webster, because Begg-Smith is not fulfilling his criteria of being one of “us”. But let’s go on, with Webster showing himself to be a journalist with a healthy sense of entitlement.

Those at the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia are said to be overly conscious about shielding the intensely private Begg-Smith from the spotlight.


His decision to come out of a three-year hiatus to compete in Sochi wasn’t shouted to the heavens, but included in the last paragraph of a press release on the institute’s website.


OWIA boss Geoff Lipshut did not want to talk to Fairfax Media about Begg-Smith. Requests to speak to Begg-Smith and his long-serving coach, Steve Desovich, also led to a dead end.


It’s clear here that in Webster’s view that every sportsperson must give access to journalists, even if they are intensely private and need space in order to prepare for an Olympic Games.  In other words, the story is more important than the sport.  It is from here where Webster’s full level of snark is employed.

It was left to chef de mission Ian Chesterman to answer some questions about our greatest winter athlete that few outside of the Australian team barely know.


“Superior intellect, superior sporting ability, and great business acumen,” is how Chesterman describes him.


Sounds like he ticks every box.

“Few outside the Australian team barely know” is now one of the UnStrayan crimes according to Webster – and then we see the last comment, dripping with sarcasm.

“But he doesn’t tick the box of playing the media game,” Chesterman said. “Is that a crime?”


Well, no, but if he’s part of a taxpayer-funded system, a few words here and there would not hurt.


Chesterman’s comment is spot on here – and Webster’s response speaks volumes for the journo cry “but we pay for all this – we demand to have access!”.  It sounds a bit like Chris Kenny and his #theirabc mutterers thinking that taxpayer money gives them the right to say whatever they like about the ABC.  We have seen the mutual benefit of what access to our sporting system has provided Begg – Smith and Australia – the type of success that much of our sport funding does not bring. One could hardly claim that taxpayer funding has not brought the desired results – but that’s not enough for a journo demanding access because taxpayer. Chesterman goes onto make his sensible point:

“I accept him for what he is,” Chesterman continues. “Sometimes people have forgotten that he’s been in the Australian system since he was 15 years of age. Why does Australia take great pride out of his performances? He’s been in our system since he was 15. Dale was always an exceptional talent, but he’s been developed and nurtured through our systems. We’ve got every right to be proud of him. Even the most talented 15-year-old doesn’t become an Olympic gold and silver medallist without the support around him.”


But because he doesn’t want to talk to Andrew Webster or other journalists, then he’s a bad unStrayan, according to the Webster thesis.  We do see some positive comments then about Begg – Smith –

According to those within the Australian team, Begg-Smith is a ripper.


Dry-witted, engaging company, pleasant to be around. He is quick to dispense advice to emerging mogul skiers, and other young athletes in the team.


He might be worth millions, but he’s always downplayed his wealth and flies economy class, not business.


You will also hear more than one person describe him as a “pure” athlete.


In other words, he’s competing for no other reason than the joy of competing, because he’s so abundantly wealthy from his business interests that nothing else drives him.


“He’s the purest athlete I’ve ever seen,” oozes Chesterman. “All he wants to do is produce the perfect run for himself. That’s his sole motivation. He doesn’t seek media attention. He doesn’t seek sponsorship support. All he wants to do is be a pure athlete, in the purest form of sport, and put down a clean run. That’s what makes him an enigma to everyone else, because they don’t know how to deal with this person. He doesn’t seek fame, which are so often the cues for so many athletes.”


A sportsperson who competes just for the sake of success in that field. A friendly person to be around for his teammates. Helpful to other teammates. Sounds like a good athlete to me. I’d rather see someone like Begg – Smith competing for Australia than a self – aggrandiser like Shane Watson – but that is not a convenient answer for Webster, who shows his disdain for Chesterman with the verb “oozes”, again, dripping with sarcasm.  It also didn’t change his conclusion.

Dale Begg-Smith competes for himself. We may never know if he’s competing for us, too.

If I was Begg – Smith, I wouldn’t care if Andrew Webster had lumps developing in his throat about me.  Nor would I care about the opinions of folksy populists like Peter FitzSimons wrote – like in this piece from 2010, where he said that Begg – Smith didn’t show enough emotion when he won silver, as well as committing the crime of offering monosyllabic answers to journalists.

No, it is probably because his whole schtick all seems so ruthlessly joyless. He is infamous for offering monosyllabic answers to journalists. And even in victory, or near victory, he offers nothing. To see him on the podium, between a wildly celebrating American and Canadian, while he looked like he had just sucked on a lemon, was to cringe. All of it might be forgivable if there was the slightest sense he has more than a walnut’s worth of feeling for his adopted country.


I am, you are, he says he is, Australian. And of course he has had an Australian passport for six years, since earlier falling out with his native Canadian team – though he still lives in Vancouver. But in all those monosyllabic grunts, it has been hard to ignore gaining the feeling that he couldn’t give a flying fig for Australia, and is simply flying a flag of convenience. If he doesn’t care for us, why should we care for him? I don’t.


I’ve always been a fan of Begg – Smith, the quiet, unassuming, skilled mogul skier who doesn’t want to help journalists fill their columns with meaningless air. The man who competes because he likes the discipline. I’m also looking forward to accessing journalism about the Winter Olympics from journalists who want to write about the sports, not parade repetitive flag waving jingoism.



Cultural Comment Sport

Wow! Much Ethnic! Very Un-Straya! Wow! News Limited Targets Football

News Limited are well know for “being for families” and for their official sponsorships for NRL and AFL.  However, they aren’t all that well known for their coverage of football – or soccer.  They are good at whipping up a moral panic about certain targets, and this time it’s a sport that their half owned station, Foxtel, covers.  It seems that they are concerned about the reputation of the code, so they are using their muscle to get it into line. Leading this charge on Saturday was the notorious columnist, Rebecca Wilson, known better for rugby league than other sports.  As ever, the article is in italics.

Don’t believe the PR hype. Western Sydney must weed out criminal element, writes Rebecca Wilson

The headline leads the reader in no doubt as to the intent – to say that criminals are supporting the Wanderers, followed by… *gasp* dodgy looking men with tattoos with the flare going off at the Victory v Wanderers game.

Isolated incidents have led to both the Wanderers and Victory being punished.

THE Western Sydney Wanderers have enjoyed a rapid rise to the top of Australian sport with a team that can outperform just about any other in the A-League. The side’s support base boasts numbers that are so phenomenal they are the envy of all professional footy clubs.

Yes, after just two years, the Wanderers are a fairytale, the darling of the FFA and certain elements of the Sydney media.

Testament to the fact that this is a very, very valuable brand is that the FFA plans to sell the club for nearly $15 million to a private consortium.

“Certain elements” – obviously not the Daily Telegraph.  Such success, though, must have a dark side, though, surely…

So what is it about this that makes my skin crawl? Why do I feel extremely uncomfortable when I see the so-called RBB (Red and Black Bloc) in full voice at an A-League game, replete with a lot more than happy ditties and bonhomie?

Certain fans who boast that they are RBB members hide their faces behind masks, rip hundreds of seats out of the stands so they can stand where they choose and smuggle flares into grounds despite a security presence that far outweighs most football games in Australia.

Authorities desperately grappling with the increasing menace of a core group of fans have no answer to the trouble.

I will agree with Wilson on one point – that flares being fired off at stadiums is a very poor thing.  It’s something about which every football administrator and commentator agrees. What Wilson is doing, however, is making the actions of those few fools speak for the whole club – so much so that the success of the club “makes her skin crawl”.  It makes me pause and wonder if Wilson believes the same of Canterbury rugby league club and the actions of a minority of their fans over the years.  Does their continuing success as a club “make her skin crawl”?

Cue the cherry picked photo of a silly fan covering his face.

Let’s continue with Wilson, using England as an outstanding example.

They are generally dumbfounded when it comes to sourcing the culprits, reluctant to ban anyone who dares to drag a row of nailed-down seats out of the concrete.

In England, police have adopted a zero tolerance approach, insisting everyone sits in their own numbered seats.

This is where it gets weird. The first version was like this:


In that version, we see a terrible connection between the Hillsborough disaster and fan behaviour. It’s little wonder that disappeared (that picture sourced from the @LFCMelbourne Twitter account).  It’s an edit not credited anywhere, however.  Let’s see where Wilson goes with this.

That way, the culprits are far more easily identified and thrown out. There has been very little hint of trouble at any EPL game for years because the fans know they will cop a life ban if they behave badly.

Last weekend in Melbourne, the RBB and Victory fans engaged in a brawl away from the ground, in the middle of the city, that was menacing, ugly and violent. The Wanderers claim the Victory mob had revenge on their minds after a similar riot in Sydney when the two teams last clashed.

Two men, from the RBB, have been charged, one with causing serious injury and another with using a missile during the affray. They have been issued with bans of five years from any A-League games, instead of being handed life.

LIFE!  Ban them all for LIFE. Sounds like lynch mob talk. 5 years of being disallowed to see the game you love sounds like a pretty heavy ban to most people – but Wilson is choosing to see that penalty as a sign of weakness.  Again, we don’t hear any mention of equivalent penalties for infractions during rugby league or cricket games, where similar behaviour has occurred.  Not can stop Wilson from conflating these events:

Both clubs have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute and threatened with the loss of competition points. But authorities are still no closer to guaranteeing a majority of the crowd who come to watch the game will be safe.

Five flares, firecrackers and a surging mass of ugliness from within the RBB caused mayhem at Melbourne’s AAMI Stadium last Saturday night.

I was at that game with my family. Yes, it was bad. Yes, I would have preferred it didn’t happen – I wrote about the game here. But we were under no risk from the flares or crowd. We were in an excellent crowd focused on the game, with the dishonourable exception of the flare blokes – which of course, we see here.

Wanderers fans let off flares during the round 12 A-League match against Melbourne Victory.

It might only be a “small minority”, as I’m so sick of hearing, but they manage to create a violent atmosphere and continue to ride roughshod over police and security.

Sick of hearing the truth, clearly.  It is a small minority.  But Wilson insists on conflating their activities to the activities of the entire code, who are “hell bent”:

This is a natural outcome for a code hell bent on protecting its reputation, on pumping up the tyres of the RBB and their “wonderful” fan group that the bad element was allowed to thrive without boundaries.

This is states, even though, as Wilson states, there has been the suspended loss of competition points as well as strong statements by both clubs in terms of the lighting of flares and violence.  But Wilson goes on, cherry picking certain events.

At the club’s derby against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium in October, the SCG Trust was so deeply disturbed by a string of incidents that they received briefings from the highest echelons of the NSW Police force.

Hundreds of chairs were ripped out, flares and missiles were smuggled in and let off and the innocents caught in the middle of it were shocked that this could happen in Australia.

“Highest echelons”.  Aren’t all major sporting events monitored by a “higher echelon” of police? Isn’t that part of their job?  Interesting that it has not happened again. There wasn’t chair ripping going on at AAMI Park, for example.

The defence puts out the statistic dozens are evicted from a Test cricket match or a big AFL game. They are generally charged with drunken behaviour and spend the night in the lockup. This, Wanderers fans say, is akin to their own bad element. But they forget that those arrested are rarely violent, and, if they try anything on, they are kicked out rapidly.

Every piece of AFL and cricket related violence are different? Really?  There have been many examples of violence related to cricket, AFL and rugby league – the sport Wilson leaves out here. I personally feel better taking my kids to an A League game than to parts of the MCG or SCG outer during tests, with the drunken, loutish behaviour we have seen in the current series.  But there’s a difference with football.

These fans are not part of a gang culture. They do not attend post-match “celebrations” with the intent of accosting rival fans, and they do not go for a quiet drink with missiles in their pockets.

This is where the dog whistling begins – these groups are being characterised as gangs with missiles, like the hooligans we see in Europe.  That’s how these supporters are different. European.  They don’t act like Australian drunk sport supporters. Note that in the photos of the supporters printed so far are mostly of people of continental European background. So, then comes the kicker suggestion from Wilson:

The private consortium set to purchase the Wanderers has a golden opportunity to shrug off the criminal element in their club.

It can issue life bans, make every single fan sit in a numbered seat and bolster gate checks to ensure the weapons are not smuggled into the grounds.

The RBB might be the mascot for the A-League in the minds of those who have bought the public relations hype but until very bad people are meted out of the core group, the Wanderers have no right to call themselves a role model for anyone.

Aside from the LIFE BAN scream, Wilson wants every single fan go through inconvenience for the sake of the few ratbags. In the entire club. I wonder if Wilson has suggested that for a rugby league club.

It hasn’t stopped there, however.  Sunday’s Daily Telegraph had this as their original Front Page Screamer:


Police in Australia have heightened fears that the A-League is experiencing its first hooligan groups

Wanderers fans let off flares during the round 12 A-League match between Melbourne Victory and the Western Sydney Wanderers a...

Guess what? Same group that we saw on Wilson’s piece. Useful “thuggish” types, that group.

THEY are feared in Europe and – until now – did not exist in Australia.

But The Sunday Telegraph can today reveal that police have heightened fears A-League football is experiencing its first hooligan football “firms” after identifying groups of organised troublemakers across the game.

Senior police say they are involved in extensive, cross-border intelligence-gathering operations to pinpoint and root out troublemakers acting as muscle for the clubs.

EUROPEAN STYLE Football FIRMS.  MUSCLE.  Let’s see what evidence there is for this scary talk:

One group that has caught their attention is known as the Northgate Hooligans, which was formed about a year ago and is loyal to the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Police last week filmed RBB and Northgate members as they conducted their pre-game march towards Parramatta Stadium.

Oooh, filming. The “Northgate Hooligans”. Sounds scary. Nothing at all like a group of blokes who enter from a particular gate at their home ground.  The fact the police film behaviour is proof of nothing but they are filming things.  Sounds a lot like the way all members of bikie “gangs” are dangerous because the police are watching them.

Cue the out of context photo of the flares from the Victory – Wanderers game in Melbourne.

Trouble brews at a match b etween Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC

Northgate members were confirmed as being involved in a violent confrontation with Melbourne Victory supporters late last month that left several people in hospital.

Another splinter group, AMOK, is comprised of younger members aged between 15 and 20 years.

Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, Commander of the Major Events and Incidents Group, said police were watching the issue closely and had a “comprehensive intelligence strategy” to keep the matter under control.

“We’re not on the scale of the UK but we do recognise we have a problem,” Mr Clarke said.

“We certainly recognise there are splinter groups that represent a high risk.

“We particularly target these groups and individuals within them.

“We’re talking about a small group of people who have the potential to ruin the game for a large group.”

Sounds like, from the quotes, that the police are monitoring the situation with a “small group of people” and it’s not on the scale of the “firms” situation in the UK.  But that doesn’t stop the next line conflating the issue :

English football firms are notoriously violent and routinely clash with members of opposing firms that support rival teams.

Cue a picture of a group of football fans from a different team setting off flares.

 Victory fans are lit by the orange colour of a flare the was set off after a goal.

Victory fans are lit by the orange colour of a flare the was set off after a goal. Source: News Limited

And it goes on with the European connections…

NSW police have travelled to the UK and worked with its football policing unit to develop a way to control the emergence of hooliganism in Australian Football.

Senior police have also briefed the SCG Trust, which was worried following a spate of recent violent incidents.

Trips to the UK by the police is important news in the context of this, even if the scale is nowhere near the British. But the inference is obvious.  The SCG Trust report is interesting – no mention of the people in charge of Parramatta Stadium. One can possibly read here a comment about westies coming to damage the furniture of the inner city.  But onwards with the surveillance –

On Wednesday, The Sunday Telegraph watched as diehard RBB supporters marched to Parramatta Stadium for their team’s match against Wellington Phoenix.

Police were filming specific individuals during the march as part of an intelligence-gathering exercise.

Social media sites are also being closely examined by police, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.

Some in the crowd wore T-shirts stating: “Northgate Hooligans” and a man with a loudspeaker, known to supporters as a “capo”, instructed all those present not to speak with the media.

Also of concern to police were a group known as “casuals”, who are more willing to be involved in violence. Authorities are working to pinpoint who these ”casuals” are and which supporter base they are from.

Reporters from the Sunday Telegraph watching supporters, looking for deviant behaviour. Doesn’t sound creepy in the slightest. And considering the track record of News Limited and its reportage of football violence, I’m not surprised no supporters would talk to their reporters.  As for the “capo” (more dog whistling against “ethnics” running these groups) – is a man leading the cheers a bad thing?  Does that mean we need to stop everyone from calling out cheers to the crowd?   Maybe they start watching this bloke from the Barmy Army:


But I digress. The Sunday Tele might have visited the Wanderers at their home ground, but they didn’t get the photos they wanted of hooliganism. So they took more continental European, hooligan looking people with hooligan looking tattoos from the Victory game in Melbourne:

Wanderers fans at AAMI Stadium in Melbourne

Here’s more about the “Northgate Hooligans” :

The Northgate Hooligans group has its own crest and several members have been photographed with it tattooed on their body.

One online posting made by a loyal Wanderers fan summarised the role of both groups, saying: “Northgate is our firm and guys who like to get into a bit of a scrap with whoever is willing, and AMOK is our youth group with the same mentality.”

ONE ONLINE POSTING. Then the Northgate Hooligans MUST be a FIRM. To use one online posting as proof of anything is sloppy, lazy journalism. It’s like those political journalists who use random tweets as proof of wider phenomenons.

As is often the case with anything like this, there’s a logical explanation. And the Tele prints it, but only after it is acted as judge and jury on the Wanderers and their “Firms”.

An RBB spokesman insisted the issue was a misunderstanding, saying the term “Northgate” referred to the stadium entry point that its fans use when they attend club games.

The “Hooligans” moniker was a “joke”, they said, and both the Northgate and the AMOK subgroups were simply “groups of friends”.

“Nearly every (football) supporter group in the country had subgroups well before the Western Sydney Wanderers was formed,” the spokesman said.

The RBB spokesman yesterday strongly denied claims the subgroups were formed for violence.

That explains the tattoos and the names.  While is may be the case that members of these groups may be testosterone driven boys grouping together to act like Big Men, that doesn’t make them a “firm” of hooligans out for violence at every turn worthy of constant surveillance and sophisticated UK style intelligence operations.  In any case, what kind of numbers are involved?  Hundreds?  The article seems to infer that it’s a widespread problem.

Over the past year, about 25 Wanderers supporters have been banned from attending matches, including two who were involved in the violent altercation in Melbourne on December 28.

A further seven fans from Melbourne Victory have been banned, along with nine from Sydney FC.

25. IN A YEAR.  There’s been almost that many given fines for running across football groups naked in the past year. Maybe there should be a task force for them too. 25.

This all proves little but that the fans who are out to be fools are being weeded out of the Wanderers and that a group of boys like to be a part of a group and have that tattooed on themselves.  But let’s put up a banner that is used to speak for all of the Wanderers, that tars them all with the same violent, aggressive brush:

 Fans sign, We are not Caged Animals at AAMI Park

Curiously, over the course of Saturday night, the Sunday Telegraph has gone instead for a different front page for the issue – an interesting decision.  The original article is still in there, though :


But that’s not all for the campaign against football from News Limited. In Melbourne the Sunday Herald Sun has the following front page screamer (courtesy of @GuidoTresoldi):


Secret files reveal violent A-League antics in our sports capital

Secret files! Violence! Oooh! Let’s see what evidence there is from the Melbourne angle. First, a weird reversed image from 2010. 4 years ago.
Police struggle to respond as fans set off flares at Etihad Stadium in 2010.

Police struggle to respond as fans set off flares at Etihad Stadium in 2010. Source: News Limited

THE ugly face of Melbourne soccer hooliganism has been revealed in secret dossiers compiled by police covering A-League games.

Reports outline regular ­incidents of violence and ­hostility directed towards rival fans and security staff.

And there is evidence of ­intimidation of police by the most hardcore supporters.

Fan behaviour became so aggressive during one 2012 Melbourne Heart-Melbourne Victory derby match that police had to retreat and monitor the crowd from afar.

2012. Now two years ago.  Nothing more recent yet.

And a report on crowd behaviour at one of last year’s Victory-Heart derbies warned: “It is clear from this match and previous recent matches that crowd behaviour, particularly in the active support area, is deteriorating.”

Last year now. It does raise the question – were there any AFL matches where such behaviour was a. experienced b. reported upon in a front page one year after the event?

A senior officer said this week that a core of about 40 rogue fans were the source of most of the drama.

Three years of post-event police reports and briefing notes have been released to the Sunday Herald Sun under Freedom of Information laws.

40 fans.  Doesn’t sound all that widespread and certainly not worthy of a front page screamer.  But let’s read on.

Briefing notes for officers also describe soccer fans’ behaviour as “totally different to AFL and cricket”. It states they have a “touch one, touch all” mentality. The dossiers reveal:

A BANNER was removed telling a Victory supporter to “stay strong” after he had been sentenced over an assault in which the victim lost an eye.

SECURITY was pelted with coins and bottles before 500 supporters invaded the pitch in late 2012.

A POLICE unit called for back-up after being surrounded by up to 20 Heart supporters earlier that year.

Totally different from cricket and AFL fans.  Un-Australian, clearly. Must be foreign. People who share a communal bond.  And again, incidents from over a years ago.  But this is a mere foreground for the ever predictable references to the recent Victory – Wanderers game:

Soccer fans riot outside Melbourne pub ahead of A-League clash between Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers.

THERE was regular dangerous use of marine flares.

Most of the post-match ­reports note there was no trouble and that the crowd was well behaved.

But, even then, police are forced to go beyond their usual procedures for big sporting events in Melbourne.

One notes how officers held back Sydney supporters after a game last year to allow the opposition Victory fans to disperse.

The same method was used in a 2012 game against Adelaide.

Another states extra members were deployed to travel with Sydney supporters as they made their way from Federation Square to a game.

Other members scout around hotels for troublemakers in the hours before kick-off.

Inspector Geoff Colsell, who heads Victoria Police’s handling of A-League games, said a core of about 40 troublemakers was the problem and the vast majority of supporters were like those who back any other code.

He said the small thug element had to be removed.

“They’re not true fans of the sport. They’re using A-League football as a vehicle for violence,” he said.

Again, even the quotes from the police don’t seem to be supporting the hysterical line being pushed by the Herald Sun – the police may have to use different techniques of control, but that’s inevitable due the different natures of the codes of sport.  Plus, it’s a SMALL NUMBER. The same small number Rebecca Wilson “doesn’t want to hear about”.

Cue a file photo of a flare being set off in the past – 2012.

A flare is lit during a Melbourne Victory match.

Insp Colsell said he did not want parents to think they could not bring their children to the A-League.

He said families were safe at the fixtures and it was essential they not be driven away.

“If they give up, they’ll let the thugs and bullies take over the game,” Insp Colsell said.

The police don’t see a problem outside the small thug element. But then there’s the Wanderers.

He said fan behaviour had improved enormously this season, until last weekend when Melbourne Victory took on the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Before the game at AAMI Park, rivals fans threw rocks and other objects at each other as fighting broke out outside a city hotel. One man ended up in hospital.

Insp Colsell was disappointed a flare was lit at the stadium, the first flare seen at a match Melbourne this season.

The marine flares produce heat so intense they can “burn to the bone”, police say.

Each device burns ­at about 2500 degrees – the metal tube reaches 900 to 1000 degrees.

Insp Colsell said he had seen a hard plastic chair literally burn to the ground by the intense heat of a flare.

The damage to a human body if things went wrong would be enormous, he said.

Flares are bad. We know that – the flare event was a week ago and every football administrator and commentator have agreed. Yet we have to hear more about flares.  But let’s go back to March last year.

The match-day strife last Saturday followed tense scenes when the Wanderers faced Heart in March last year.

A post-event report recorded: “Approximately 100 Heart supporters moved to the northern end of the ground to bait the opposition. For a few minutes it was chaotic as the crowd was becoming very hostile towards each other.”

None of this has happened this heart in Victory – Heart derbies – so why mention it?   But let’s go back to the Wanderers, filming their supporters and the trips to the UK that NSW Police have been making:

Victory and the Wanderers were on Friday stripped of three premiership points each after last weekend’s incident, but the sanction has been suspended for the season pending good behaviour from fans.

Football Federation Australia also announced it would evict from A-League games any supporters covering their faces with masks or scarfs.

Police in Sydney are now regularly filming Wanderers’ most extreme supporters, who call themselves “Northgate Hooligans”.

They were involved in the Melbourne CBD violence last weekend.

Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, of NSW police, said: “We’re not on the scale of the UK but we do recognise we have a problem. A small group of people who have the potential to ruin the game for a large group of people.”

His officers have travelled to Britain to learn from expert football units how to deal with soccer hooligans – who have plagued the game for at least 40 years there.

So, the message here is that football is dangerous and bad and full of hooligans – based on police operations, trips and old fights.  Talking of old fights, the Herald Sun finishes its piece with rehashes old events, to remind people of the ways football can be violent. It’s not as sensationalist and dog whistling about foreign and “ethnic” supporters as the Sunday Telegraph piece, but it’s still got the whiff of a slow news weekend looking for someone to flay.

This is not to say that the A League doesn’t have a problem – it does. There is a small thug element that needs to be found and banned for a time from the game.  But to tar the whole code for it is just the usual sensationalist coverage of football that we don’t see in the Cricket, AFL and Rugby League, the good old fashioned “Australian” codes.

With thanks to Victory supporter @laurencerosen for the links and my other half Claire for the title. 

Cultural Comment Sport

Supporting Sport – The Power and the Passion

This, post 199, is dedicated to the concept of supporting sport and the importance it can have to people’s lives.  Last night, I took my family to the Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers’ game at AAMI Park in Melbourne.  It was a beautiful night out – it looked outstanding from where we were sitting.

IMG_0785I will preface the rest of this post with the comment that I really want the Western Sydney Wanderers to succeed as a club – and that their success in terms of onfield results and off field membership reach has been remarkable. I was one of those people who went to support the Parramatta Power in the old NSL:


Which is why I rather like this alternative logo for the Wanderers:


The problem for the Power was that the supporter base never really built – partially because soccer was trying to distance itself from the old clubs like Marconi, Sydney (Croatia) United and the like – associating instead with league clubs like the Parramatta Eels. There was certainly no chanting at Power games or intense groups like the Wanderers’ Red and Black Bloc (RBB).

Last night we arrived to see the RBB arrive at the overpass bridge that leads to AAMI Park, singing their chants and banging their drums, taunting the opposition Victory supporters. The chants and songs didn’t stop inside the ground – indeed, they seemed to remain exactly the same throughout the game, a touch like a bagpipe drone in the background of the game.  But they like to stay in unison with each other and hold their passion.  It’s as if making their voices heard is more important than watching the game and cheering in tempo with its rise and fall.  It’s a unified passion the Wanderers’ fans have in spades.  One such example of that passion was also shown earlier in the day, when Wanderers and Victory fans fought in Melbourne’s streets:

Another example of said passion was midway through the second half, when a couple of the RBB set off flares, which one of my children thought were gunshots:

IMG_0801I know that this doesn’t represent the actions and attitudes of most Wanderers’ supporters – that it seems to be mostly a few testosterone driven blokes who like to appear like they are Big Men by fighting and setting off maritime rescue devices. The chanting, however, is an interesting phenomenon in terms of supporting sport – whether to continue with the same chanting throughout the game, or just let the game carry you through it. It’s a question raised also by the repetitive chants used by the Barmy Army being carried through the country.

When it comes to my idea of sport supporting, when you sign on as a supporter / member of a club, you are also agreeing with the club culture, not only whether they are winning or not.  The kind of supporting attitude exhibited by the RBB can be – and is – explained, however, as “people having fun”.  They aren’t, however, the kind of fun or support for me – which is why I haven’t climbed onto the Wanderers’ train and attended games at Parramatta Stadium.  Not that this should or would matter to the club or its supporters – it’s now a tight, large group that buys up the memberships quickly and fills home games before the season begins.  They are happy with the culture they have built in this short time and take it everywhere they go. And some people want to know – especially media outlets wishing to characterise soccer as a violent game off the field.  It is for this reason that the Wanderers’ administration really needs to address the problems of flares and the result of a touch too much passion in terms of off field fights – it does reflect badly on a game trying to appeal to families.

The thing about team culture has also built around the other Sydney football club that has experienced recent success – the Sydney Swans.  It has, over the past few years, recruited players who not totally succeeded at their previous clubs and built them to fit the Sydney way, or built players from their youth. It’s been a great way for Sydney to stay “under the radar” and have success with unheralded players.  It has also helped to built a distinctive Sydney Swans team culture to the outside world.

Two recent decisions has shaken that image for some – the signing of successful Adelaide forward Kurt Tippett and the superstar half forward Buddy Franklin.  The signing of two expensive, successful stars from other clubs have shown the intent of the new Sydney – to win by using every inch of their salary cap.  Plus, show that the club has little issue with Buddy Franklin bringing his sexist, nasty and selfish ways to the Swans.  It’s certainly shaken my other half’s commitment to the club, which has been strong since 1995.  She is refusing to support them while Buddy is playing. She is just waiting for him to be injured in order to watch again. For me, it confirms a sneaking suspicion that all of the top clubs in the AFL have a “whatever it takes, whatever cash it takes” attitude to staying at the top – an EPL attitude, but with a salary cap to bend to a club’s will – the Swans are no different from the rest.  It’s also a ridiculous deal that should backfire on the Swans – Franklin will not last anywhere near the nine years they have paid him for.  The deal and what it symbolises has shaken a bond I have had with the Swans since their arrival in Sydney in 1983.

Perhaps, though, my bond wasn’t ever that had by most members and supporters of sporting clubs – that of total, almost blind dedication to the colours and song.  That a perception of a team culture isn’t as important as winning, as raising the cup as many times as possible.  Many Swans supporters would think I’m a turncoat and traitor to finally sever my support for the club for ephemeral things like this, Buddy’s clothing line :


Instead, these same people would claim that I and others making this kind of stand about Buddy should leave politics and consideration of sexism out of our sport supporting.  But many can’t, anymore than a club fundamentalist can sway from supporting their team no matter what happens.

It is for this reason I will continue to enjoy sport as a spectator, separated from having the type of rusted on passion that we have seen from RBB members and from Swans supporters who love the idea of Buddy missing from a set shot Buddy scoring a goal from the sideline in the red and the white.

Politics Sport

Homophobia – Still a Giant(s) Thing

In the wake of the weekend weddings of same sex couples in Canberra, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, through their Facebook page, made a strong statement of support for the ACT Government’s stance in the area of marriage equality. A cynic would say that the club did it due to a keenness for more support in progressive Canberra, but even so, it’s still an admirable stance for what is still a contentious issue for some in the community.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.11.38 am

It is illustrative, therefore to look at the Facebook responses to the statement made by the Giants. It seems that homophobia still runs strong amongst some people – especially men.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.08.24 amNote the opposition fan speaking about a “failing” franchise and then the other user making a reference to the “carbon tax”, as if marriage equality is just an issue of the ALP and Greens, rather than all Australians.  Those who complain about a club being interested in “political issues” remain curiously quiet when clubs announce Government funding of their stadiums and training facilities.  It is usually the case that when people decry to introduction of “politics” into sport, it’s because the complainant doesn’t agree with the politics of the stance.  Or, in this case, the admission that people are gay and should be afforded access to marriage.

The support for the stance, however,  became more vocal as the thread continued.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.09.15 am

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.09.29 am

However, the thinly veiled homophobia (or not veiled at all) was not far from the surface – The conversation became more heated as men (again) came back in to either be out and proud about their homophobia or, claim that they weren’t homophobic, but…

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.09.40 am

Note that Adam Smith and a couple of other men seem to have some issues…

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.10.09 am

And so it continued, finishing here with the activist homophobe who is railing against a lack of “moral values” – I am surprised that there weren’t many more of these, using their family – and children – as a pawn for their political game of putting pressure on the club.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.10.21 am

And there it is – I don’t necessarily think there is “so much homophobia in AFL fans” in exclusion from the wider population. Plus, these are isolated examples of homophobic attitudes – as well as a desire to avoid all “politics” – as in, progressive politics, in sport.  The furphy that opposition to marriage equality isn’t homophobic isn’t repeated all that much here – it’s a furphy because there aren’t reasons afforded that aren’t related to the homosexual community being the “other”, the “outsiders” who don’t deserve the same cultural traditions as heterosexual people.  This thread provides ample evidence of the homophobic attitudes that do still exist amongst some in the community.

The Giants’ stance is admirable, and would do well to ignore the outcry from a few cranks.    Homophobia, whether it’s overt or hidden behind cries about “politics”, is of a previous age and football clubs are starting to embrace that.


Stress, Depression and Australian Cricket – It’s Not ‘Tidlywinks’

Just as the summer of 2006 / 7 was about to start, English cricketer Marcus Trescothick left Australia due to what was called a “stress related illness”. We know now it was a long standing depression.  Media outlets, however, do like a euphemism when it comes to depression, so “stress related” it is.  At the time, I was in the middle of my own swirl of depression and self loathing, in the middle of a marriage that was about to run out of puff two years later. I didn’t really know at the time that I was in a fog of depression and chronic anxiety – we didn’t have the money for me to be seeking psychiatric help – getting the rent and car loan paid was difficult enough.  I did my best to hide and bury my own feelings of inadequacy and listlessness, which was worse when I wasn’t at work.  In the middle of this we had a cricketer declare that he had been going through his own hell – this was despite the fact he was a success, even England’s captain for a time.  It triggered confusion and more feelings of distant despair into some bloke out in the outer suburbs trapped in a life he didn’t want.  In addition, it wasn’t an overly understanding era in Australia then – I remember the rumours swirling about Trescothick’s wife being the “real” reason. The prevailing mood was “how could a cricketer be suffering a mental illness?”

I had forgotten almost all of this – I have mostly successfully buried my darkest years – when yesterday Jonathon Trott announced that he too was suffering and needed to go back to the support structures he has set up around him in England.  And then Oliver Milman of the Guardian reminded me of it yesterday.  The Trescothick decision came back to me and I was wondering how Australia would react this time.  For the most part, from what I have seen in our media outlets and on Twitter, it has been a sympathetic treatment of a man going through a situation that many in our community go through, often silently. Interestingly, the same Guardian journalist, Oliver Milman thinks that Australia will be more understanding of Trott than contemporary England:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 7.36.30 am

I hope Milman is correct.  This article from the Daily Telegraph, however, doesn’t fill me with hope.  The front page, which was supplied by Adam Spencer on Twitter this morning (and Kimberley Ramplin alerted me to its presence) is an utter disgrace, inferring that Trott is a little kid having a tantrum while Michael Clarke laughs at him.



The article doesn’t improve much on the tone.

Embattled England No.3 Jonathan Trott flies home with a ‘stress-related’ illness

  • NOVEMBER 25, 2013 7:03PM

Already with the parentheses around stress related, suggesting that maybe it’s not related to stress. All the news outlets were using them in 2006 – almost none of them are now, which shows a greatest level of sensitivity to the issue.

And again, with the title for an embedded video:


Then, we have the story, which has curiously dropped the parentheses that were in the headline.

JONATHAN Trott has dropped a bombshell on the England team by quitting the tour of Australia immediately due to a stress-related illness.

In a devastating blow to England’s campaign, Trott’s Ashes series is over after the classy No.3 returned home following his side’s crushing first-Test loss at the Gabba.

England coach Andy Flower and director of cricket Hugh Morris informed the 17-man touring party that Trott had left Australia and will take an indefinite break from cricket.

It is the latest ruction to hit the Poms, who are attempting to pick up the pieces following their heavy 381-run loss to Australia in the Ashes opener at the Gabba.

Trott has been the backbone of England’s top-order but the South Africa-born batsman said he has issues that are preventing him playing to his optimum.

England coach Andy Flower has slammed David Warner about the comments he made regarding Jonathan Trott in a press conference about the English batsman leaving the Ashes tour due to a “stress-related illness”.

“I don’t feel right that I am playing knowing that I am not 100 per cent and I cannot currently operate at the level I have come to expect,” Trott said in a statement via the England and Wales Cricket Board.

“My priority now is to take a break from cricket so that I can focus on my recovery.

“I want to wish my team-mates all the best for the remainder of the tour.”

After the statement, the article then seems to to show little sympathy for Trott as it reprints the things said about him during the test, including withering comments from former captain Michael Vaughan:

Trott left for England last night following the team’s first Test defeat against Australia, during which he played two strange innings and was shaken-up by Mitchell Johnson.

The 32-year-old registered twin failures at the Gabba, scoring 10 and 9 as he struggled with Johnson’s bounce and aggression.

He was also the victim of insults from David Warner , who accused England of being “scared” of fast bowling and Trott of being “weak”. Trott’s decision came just 24 hours after former England skipper Michael Vaughan lashed his batting efforts at first drop at the Gabba.

“Trott’s second innings at the Gabba was among the worst I have seen from an England No. 3 and the time has come for him to admit he has a problem against left-arm quick bowlers,” Vaughan wrote in his British newspaper column.

“Trott does not need to confess to the media but he should go to the coaching staff and tell them he has an issue against that kind of bowling.

“You do not play shots like the ones he did on Saturday without something being seriously wrong in your mind.

“For the first time in his career Trott is facing a question mark about how he is going to cope with a crisis.

“Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen have gone through that sort of period in the past and emerged stronger.

“Trott can do the same but he has hard work ahead of him because his problem is against pace and that kind of issue is so hard to resolve.”

The article then goes on and mentions Trescothick’s withdrawal. It is puzzling, however, why an article about Trott would include all those words from people like Warner and Vaughan when now people can work out that things were “seriously wrong” in Trott’s mind.

The other issue running alongside the withdrawal of Trott is that surrounding the Australian cricket team and its rediscovery of the “mental disintegration” so beloved of former captain Steve Waugh.  Press conference insults, threats of broken hands, that kind of thing.  That somehow it’s ok to tell a fast bowler who can’t bat all that well that he may well get injured. It’s a side of Australian cricket I have always disliked, possibly because it was Ian Chappell’s side that ramped up the testosterone levels into contests and I really can’t stand Chappelli’s brand of “Australian Bloke” behaviour. I know it’s possibly unfashionable to believe this, but a great team speaks louder with actions than brutal words. But I am also aware that in Australian sporting media and sporting circles in general, this isn’t the Australian way.

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It was inevitable that the issue of sledging would be tangled up in this story – indeed, if you look at the Telegraph’s format, the Trott article is littered with links and videos connecting it to the Michael Clarke / James Anderson story.  The article also brought up whether Trott’s decision to leave had anything to do with Warner’s comments about Trott – an issue very well dealt with by England coach Andy Flower:

Flower said Warner’s verbal attack on Trott was not behind his decision to leave.

“Jonathan has been struggling with this condition for quite a while, we have been on tour for about a month and he has had his ups and downs through that month and it is not directly related to that (Warner’s comment).

“I would also say players commenting to fellow professionals in the media is disrespectful and I think on this occasion he has got that horribly wrong.”

The attention has fallen to Warner and generally it seems that his comments have been declared out of order, as Matthew Hayden’s retweet seems to show:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 8.18.10 am

There has also been this comment by former captain Kim Hughes, who called Warner’s comment disgraceful. The fault shouldn’t be entirely sheeted home to Warner, however. It appears that since the ascension of Darren Lehmann to the position of coach, there is a return to the nasty, aggressive, arrogant tone Australia adopts at times in the name of “a winning team culture”. Warner, I suspect, could feel that and added what he believed would be appreciated.

It ultimately makes me wonder if the Australian team culture – and the culture of aggression that is reforming around it – could cope with a figure like Trott, a talented, prolific batsman who has needed strong support from the England team and the structures around it for a while. Whether an Australian team could gather around a bloke that needs understanding and time away from bonding sessions and the like from time to time.  After all, this is the same team culture that had castigated Michael Clarke for wanting to be with his loved ones rather than sitting in a dressing room singing the team song. It’s also a team that in the 80s didn’t show much understanding for the problems of Kim Hughes.  I don’t see much evidence that we have moved far beyond that era as a cricketing culture.

I hope I am wrong and then whenever there is someone who needs the Australian team to gather around him, that they will be able to do it. Like people in all walks of life, they need to be a community that is supportive of those walking with the black dog.


Larrikinism and Casual Racism – Goodesy, MMM, Eddie and Harry

It’s been a strange old week, where it started with a 13 year old girl learning very quickly just what saying “ape” to an Indigenous man actually means.  Eddie McGuire certainly knew what it meant – I doubt Eddie has moved more swiftly to an opposition’s dressing room than he did that night. This moment reminded me strongly of that moment where the production team at Hey Hey it’s Saturday very quickly realised how having a blackface act belonged more to the 1890s than in the 21st Century world.

Flash forward to a quiet Wednesday morning in Austereoland at MMM, where it seems that Eddie McGuire had a few things running around his mind.  I’m guessing not least of all the number of meetings, commitments and events he goes to – but also Adam Goodes.  Up pops the words “King Kong the Musical” and a thought creeps into his mind “oh, in the old days, the promoters of that would have had tried to use Adam Goodes as a bit of a joke”. Those old days being the days when blackface was still “funny”.

Most of us would have dismissed those thoughts and known that such a cultural shift can’t be explained without causing offence, especially in the bubbling pace and tone of breakfast radio.  It may have been something for a history essay maybe – but not for a widely listened to radio station where such discussions cannot be done with the depth needed.  Hence the mess that Eddie waded into, out outlined here.

One of the problems with McGuire’s explanation is that he said it was “a slip of the tongue”. As Richard Colless of the Sydney Swans correctly pointed out though, this wasn’t a slip of the tongue. This was quite a few words.  a thought pattern.  It was a thought pattern that tells us plenty about the way we talk about race in Australia.   That to McGuire it was fine to talk about casual racism of the type of which McGuire was referring in a lighthearted fashion on a jokey, blokey radio station.  That to compare a human being to a primate is ok, as long as it’s done in a lighthearted tone and context.  It’s not a slip of the tongue, it’s a slip of the way many people of Anglo Celtic heritage think and speak.

An impressive side effect of this incident was the appearance of Collingwood player Harry O’Brien.  After this tweet about casual racism criticising McGuire:

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 5.17.58 PMHe was on AFL 360, pitted against his club’s president. The key point of his response was of how larrikinism is used in Australia to mask casual racism – that it’s “lighthearted” and “not serious” and the like – that the targets of these daily pieces of racism should just accept their lot and laugh along.  In what was an impressive array of comments, he also spoke of the demonising of asylum seekers by society and how it discriminates. He didn’t miss his targets and well worth a watch if you can see it – some of it is here.

There has been some blowback on O’Brien in the aftermath of his comments, especially after his comments directed at Tom Hawkins, which were unfortunate and discriminatory towards those who experience weight problems.  It should be pointed out, though, that he quickly realised his mistake and apologised.  Those who practice daily casual, indirect racism usually don’t. From what I have seen in the community, it’s usually framed as “only a joke” and “no harm was done – he was ok with it”.

If anything, this week has shown us that people who have experienced institutionalised, previously accepted casual racism delivered in a larrikin accent are starting to say “No, I’m not ok with it”.   It’s also provided high school teachers with a whole load of new material to show their students precisely what racism is and how it affects its targets. And that’s not a bad thing.

Cultural Comment Sport

The Giants – A Continuing Eggshell Walk

Those who know me and my writings about sport will know of my interest and reasons for supporting the GWS Giants. Today was hard, sitting amongst the dismal crowd of 5,300, watching what was possibly the worst performance in the time I have been following the team.  I can’t say my supporting life is as hard as that of long suffering Bulldogs, St. Kilda, Richmond or Melbourne supporters – the latter currently writhing in despair.

It’s still hard though. 5,300.  Loss by 130 + to a team that probably won’t make the finals. I walked very slowly to my car.

It was clearly also tough on the coach, Kevin Sheedy, whose post match press conference revealed the pressures brought to bear on the club that has so many millions of dollars riding on its long term success.  In the press conference, as outlined here, he isolated two key concerns for the club – its growth as a playing group and growth of a supporter base.  They are the main issues affecting the club and will be for the next five years.

For passionate Melbourne based football fans, Sheedy’s comments will echo loudly in the next week. He places the blame on the current performance of the Giants at the feet of existing powerful clubs unwilling to let go of existing stars whose presence at a club like the Giants would make an immediate and profound difference. As can be seen by the presence of Gary Ablett Jnr at the Suns, as well as the work of Chad Cornes last year at the Giants, experience and body development count a great deal towards the success of a team in AFL. You just can’t build a team entirely on the promise of 19 year olds.  From where I sit, if there were two more experienced players in the back, two more experienced players in the forward line, the difference would be marked.   You will hear, however, on the SEN talkback in Melbourne that clubs “shouldn’t be giving up players they developed” from a range of passionate fans.  I can understand their point. The idea of transfer, however, is a feature of most football codes in the world, but is considered sacrilege by many in AFL.

This is a key difference between the on field success of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Giants. The Wanderers had players of varying levels of talent and experience – with key outstanding players like Ono, which helped to create a team that was quick to mature and blossom. This is why their sudden success of the year shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it was.  Soccer (I will call it soccer here, as distinct from Australian Football) easily transfers players from other clubs, it’s part of their game.  In AFL, it is a major, painful sticking point.

What we will also hear is reaction to his other comment – already he is being accused of being a racist.

“…That was probably a reminder of what the Swans have been telling us. (Sydney chairman) Richard Colless says you’re going to do it hard early.  So it just tells everybody how tough it’s going to be to build the club. We don’t have the recruiting officer called the immigration department, recruiting fans for (successful A-League soccer club) Western Sydney Wanderers.  We’ve got to start a whole new ballpark and go and find fans.”

It’s a silly comment, a clumsy, insensitive attempt at humour and should not have been made. What I suspect Sheedy was trying to say was that soccer has a wide following from people who come from overseas to Australia while AFL, being home grown, doesn’t have that natural, from birth support. It is an accurate observation to make, especially when we consider that the soccer mad UK is the source of the third highest number of migrants to Australia.

DIAC Source Country for Immigration Statistics, 2011 - 12
Source Country for Immigration Statistics, 2011 – 12 – from DIAC.

It is also the case that soccer’s supporter base in Western Sydney was well established amongst various British, Irish and non – British migrant communities long before the Wanderers came along. This explains why the Wanderer support base was quick to form. Due to that heritage, I still think Western Sydney should have had a soccer team before Sydney.  I was a supporter of the Parramatta Power back in the NSL days.  That the Wanderers was a hurried afterthought was an indictment on the A League’s founders.  However, maybe because it was an afterthought that it’s been a success.  Perhaps, if there had been more planning, Parramatta Leagues club might have stumbled in and repeated the mistakes they made with the Parramatta Power.  Due to the fact almost all games are played at Parramatta, the Wanderers are little more than a reborn Power, but this time with genuine grassroots engagement, as opposed to top – down control.

Thus, what Sheedy should have said in the press conference is that AFL doesn’t have the same cultural roots in Western Sydney as sports like soccer and rugby league and this makes it a hard, long sell.  But he didn’t, thus leading us to what will be a bit of a storm on which the media will feed for a while.

Sheedy did come out and explain his comments on Twitter later in the evening, which fit into what I suspected he meant –

Sheedy Tweets

What he will find very quickly though, that it’s a thorny field, talking about immigration and Western Sydney.  Accusations of dog whistling are always quick to form whenever immigration is mentioned.  It will be interesting to see where this issue heads. Soccer fans will be furious, saying that it shows that Anglo Celtic people like Sheedy see soccer as “wogball” and only played by European migrants. Yet others will see it as sour grapes because the Giants haven’t built the support that the Wanderers have.  In truth, I don’t think Sheedy should have mentioned the Wanderers at all in comparison to the Giants. They play at a different time of the year for a start and the codes don’t necessarily compete for juniors.  The two junior codes play on a different day – Saturday is soccer day, Sunday is AFL day in Sydney.

Ultimately, Sheedy should have focused on the fact there’s still work to be done on the team and on the poor mother’s day scheduling. It would have been less controversial and not make it into an us and them issue. The Giants and the Wanderers should not be fighting against each other, no matter what journalists will ask and write in their articles comparing the two codes.

As for what might happen next, I think we will see Sheedy on the TV in Sydney a bit this week, apologising, showing how he likes the cultural diversity in Western Sydney as well as soccer.  In Melbourne, however, he will be quizzed about “stealing” players from the successful clubs.

For me, though, it’s just been a hard Sunday. The Giants have a long way to go, in terms of team and crowd development. I sincerely hope these comments don’t make people think Giants fans and staffers are all racists and that we hate soccer. I just want to see better efforts from the players and more people to be part of what should be a great AFL club representing one of the best – and most misunderstood – parts of Australia.

Cultural Comment Sport

Sport Writing and Access – Time for a New Voice

I like watching sport. Shocking, I know. Many people don’t like it, which they will state on Twitter whenever the feeds are filled with weekend sport watching.  The argument many make about sport is that it’s helping to dumb down our society and culture, make it just about watching people kicking a football a long way or making a good dummy and flick pass. When these critics watch the coverage and culture related to sport, it’s easy to agree with their objection – from Brian Taylor’s “wowees” and 1970s style “humour”; to Tom Waterhouse being as welcome a visitor to rugby league coverage as Frank the rabbit is to Donnie Darko; Ray Warren and Phil Gould speaking against poker machine reform on behalf of their employers, Channel 9; those inane ads for VB and merchandise during cricket coverage – and whenever Ian Healy speaks; Footy Shows featuring a range of outrageous activities, from thinly veiled racism, overt sexism, homophobia and picking on pretty much anyone who is an easy target. It’s also easy to find supporting evidence of one of the most accurate charges – that sport reports are little more than recounts of games, repeated gossip, trivia and “insider talk”.

Not all sport reporting is breathless gossip and small stories exploded into massively vital ones. There are notable exceptions in terms of excellent sport writers and broadcasters – people like Brad Walter, Neil Cordy, Richard Hinds, Gideon Haigh, Jarrod Kimber, Francis Leach, Deb Spillane, Caroline Wilson and Malcolm Knox (there are more, fill in the gaps…).  These writers and commentators have a way of fitting sport into a wider context, showing why it should matter to us why things happen in sport.  Most sport writers, however, don’t.  Part of the issue for sport writers is that of “access”- which is often used as a way of justifying an amount of what is written.

Access to all available players and sporting officials is a key claim towards authority for sport writer – we often read “I was at Whitten Oval today, and…” or “Deep inside Panthers, I was talking to Phil Gould about…”. It’s often mentioned in an irrelevant context – such as when a piece on A League starts with something David Gallop texted Phil Rothfield.  This question of access is also often used as a defence of their articles by the sport writers on Twitter – the “I talked to X, I saw Y, you didn’t” approach.  It’s a similar phenomenon to whenever we hear from Canberra Press Gallery journalists about their level of acces to those notorious “anonymous sources” from the ALP. That level of access raises various questions:

1. Does being too close personally to the figures involved affects the level of objectivity and clarity of the author?

2. Does the level of access renders all “outsider” commentary on sport irrelevant and without authority

3. Does access render the articles as being “safe”, due to the fear of the journalist losing that level of access that allows him or her to write their pieces?

4. Does close access reduce sport commentary and writing to the detailed reportage of intimate details of day to day activities in the sport?

The insistence on “access” (often called “unprecedented access”) as well as experience in sport is something we see dominating sport coverage and commentary. This is why the AFL dedicated channel on Foxtel, is filled with former players or newspaper writers who have “access”.  Or Eddie McGuire (there can’t be many Chairmen of any organisations that would be allowed to their own TV show – imagine “Rupert Murdoch Tonight” or the “Alan Joyce Show”). Even the Supercoach Show, a show for people who like playing fantasy football, is now hosted by a former footballer, Brad Johnson, who doesn’t seem to know very much about the Supercoach game.  The result is that we have the same talking heads, with their unparalleled access, treading the line of being uncontroversial and largely uncritical of the game or the wider cultural impact of the game.  An exception to this is the ABC program “Offsiders”, which is often controversial – even if the panellists are Insiders with Access.  It will be a while until we see a Fan Forum show on Fox Sports, where people with no access will be able to discuss issues and comment on the game.

When it comes to be experienced or someone with access, this also shuts out and marginalises a significant sector of sport fans, commentators and writers – female fans, commentators and writers. Fox Footy is like the Marylebone and Melbourne Cricket Clubs of eras past – men only.  Women aren’t anywhere to be seen, even the week where it was Women’s Round in the AFL was advertised as “Christmas in July” on the channel. This means that sideline commentators like Barry Hall, when speaking about the “unprecedented access” the channel had to Port Adelaide’s preparations for their March 31 game, said “the women will be disappointed we haven’t got cameras in the change room”. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…  This theme of marginalised female sport fans, commentators and writers is a continuing one. They can be poor “victims” of a partner who likes fantasy football, removed from TV commentary in the case of Kelli Underwood, or the idea that women are best employed writing about women’s sport.  Women in commercial football seem to be best employed as readers of sporting odds or as the giggling sidekick – a role Fifi Box played for a while in the NRL Footy Show – or as a target of disgusting activities undertaken by Sam Newman in the AFL Footy Show with a Caroline Wilson mannequin.  The exception to this is the ABC, with Underwood doing commentary for them, the continuing presence of Simone Thurtell and Karen Tighe on Grandstand, as well as Deb Spillane both hosting Northern Grandstand and her “Hens FC” panel show.

A solution to all of this – as it has been for the political news community, is for the blogosphere to pick up where traditional sport media leaves off and create blogs and media hubs that provide honest, varied views about sport and the wider context of sport.  One about various sports, no matter the gender of the sportspeople. Where a range of good writers write about sport in a meaningful way – but without being fussed about “access”, “exclusives” and other old media methods of excluding readers and possible contributors. We don’t have many templates for such a site.

The US has Grantland, which is an ESPN project. One of the best features in that was one that demonstrates the issue of being a journalist with access as against being a sport fan and member of society demanding the truth, explored by the creator of Grantland, Bill Simmons.  None of our sport broadcasters present such a forum.  I’m also not talking about Bound for Glory news, which is a commendable attempt at alternative sport writing featuring a range of writers, but is limited, in that it mainly concerns itself about AFL and that world.  I am speaking about a sport version somewhere between The Drum or Ausvotes 2013, which has a clean, accessible front page as well as writers who are free to contribute their pieces, no matter their “background” in sport. Not sure whether this will ever happen, but it would be nice if it did.

Cultural Comment Sport

It’s All About The Numbers – Fantasy AFL

While Twitter and the blogosphere has been gripped by the rolling maul of Ruddmentum (and to me, the much more amusing Crean – Get On Top movement) these past weeks, I have been gripped by a much more difficult activity. As a generally non sporty person, though as an avid sport watcher, I occasionally try to work out what goes on in the world of sport, get initiated into places that are almost foreign to me. This year, it has been plunging into the (mostly male) world of Fantasy Football – in my case, AFL Dream Team and Supercoach. As with politics, it’s all about the numbers.

Being in a NSW workplace as I have been all my life, I am the only person I know who plays AFL fantasy football. I am fully aware that if I was a teacher in Victoria, I would have had to develop a pretty sophisticated understanding of the workings of the comps, both to keep up with Monday morning staffroom conversations, but also have something to talk about down at the pub on a Friday night. A female teacher friend of mine, in order to have something to talk about, decided to have fun with the concept some time ago and selects a team each year that contains players selected entirely on the basis of their names being a double entendre. Hence, Sidebottom, Suckling, Swallow (x2), Goldsack, Ryder, Plowman, Johncock… (you get the picture). For me, though, it’s a case of having no pressure to be some kind of King of the Staffroom, it’s purely diverting and fun.

In order to help fuel the obsessions, there’s a whole internet community dedicated to the numbers and machinations of the two fantasy football competitions. Amongst the best of these are Dream Team Talk, which features the occasional Youtube show with three friendly blokes talking at a pub; Supercoach Paige, which features one of the few women who talks fantasy football; a page with an amusing title picture, Sargeant Supercoach and probably one of the more interesting projects attempting to emulate 1970s football language, Jock Reynolds. These weeks have been spent trying to work out what all the numbers mean. That’s why my Twitter feed has me following a range of DT and SC experts, all talking in a foreign language. That’s why I’ll have commentary on which sauce bottle Rudd has shaken followed by cries of “Broughton isn’t rebounding the ball in the NAB Cup game”, “Ross Lyon really hates DT coaches”, “This game in Renmark has produced awesome numbers for Port”, “Swan is a definite lock”, “What do you mean Tom Mitchell isn’t playing???”, et cetera. As with any concept foreign to me, it fascinates with its coruscations.

Despite the best efforts of members of this very friendly and helpful Twitter crew (especially fellow Giants member and Dream Team Talk contributor, @RLGriffin85 and that outstanding AFL news source, @janinemcglynn), I still don’t entirely understand how the numbers work. This includes the differences between Dream Team and Supercoach. Both use quite different statistical formulas. All I have worked out really is that some players touch the ball more and get involved in the game, which gives them more numbers. But champion players like Adam Goodes and Nick Malceski aren’t really all that good for the fantasy competitions. Even my favourite player in the AFL, Kieren Jack, is barely mentioned. Apparently it hurts him to be playing with other champion players. What I have learned, however, is that the games are actually outstanding learning activities – especially in terms of providing a workout in terms of statistics, mathematics and speculation based on evidence. This is why parents shouldn’t get too worried if their children like a bit of fantasy football activity.

As an exercise in attempting to understand this world of numbers, statistics and the like, I decided to select two teams in each competition. One is my regular all sides team – the one where I have attempted to listen to all of the advice and tips from the various sources. The other is my Northern States team, consisting of players for the Sydney Swans, GWS Giants, Gold Coast Suns and Brisbane Lions. This is partially because I wanted to track how players from the Swans and Giants go in the competitions, and partially because I am very fond of any team operating in the “league states”. This is why the DT / SC crew like giving me advice on my all sides team, but are sometimes profoundly puzzled by the Northern States team. They possibly don’t understand what it’s like for a Western Sydney boy to have four sides north of the Murray to watch. Plus, they have the torrent of “coaches” asking questions about their legitimate teams. “What about Fyfe?” is more pressing than “why don’t any of these teams have cheap rookies that will get a game?”

Here are my Northern States teams – the Northern States teams are both named in honour of the Flamboyant Icon of Northern States AFL, Warwick Capper.

Dream Team

Dream Team Northern States

Super Coach

Northern States Supercoach

Then there is the All States team, built from all of the rumours, comments, research.

Dream Team

Dream Team Regular Team

Super Coach

Allstates Supercoach

Summarising the gap between my political Twitter friends and the Fantasy Footyheads, almost no-one took up my invitation to join my “Flamboyant League”, also named for Mr. Capper. That is to be expected though, the worlds have almost no intersection.

Today is the big day for Fantasy Football chat and last minute panics as the numbers of changes that can be made becomes restricted. The Crean Bun Fight barely rated a blip yesterday in their world. Brad Crouch’s non selection for Adelaide made more of an impact. I hope they all remember it really is just fun rather than a reflection of their abilities as people. But maybe that’s just the view from an isolated Sydney person. Ultimately, however, I’m glad this type of thing exists. Otherwise, we’d all just be more than a little depressed about the state of play in this country.