In the merch tent at Etihad stadium last night, they were selling an old Socceroos strip, the one that looks like a collaboration between Ken Done and Pro Hart. The Socceroos were playing in that strip when I first took a passing interest in them in the mid 90’s. I was in year 9 and at lunchtime my Greek mate Yianni had commandeered a TV in the Science room. Australia were playing Argentina. My complete lack of understanding for the game was matched by the TV’s patchy reception (we only had a coathanger to use as an aerial). An ageing, overweight Maradonna was attempting a comeback. He wasn’t much good anymore but Argentina still beat us.
Last night the Socceroos played out a 1-1 draw in their World Cup 2018 qualifying match against Japan in front of 48,460 people at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. After conceding the opening goal less than five minutes into the game, the Socceroos were able to convert a penalty late in the game to secure a point. It made me think for a moment about how far we’ve come from that match we played in a horrible strip against Argentina 20 years ago. On the pitch we now have a CV that boasts some impressive achievements and we have developed into a nation of true soccer fans.
It’s taken some adjusting. We’ve had to learn to accept, for example, that fans like to sing at soccer matches. And during the game too! Last night the Japanese supporters spent most of the second half on their feet singing ‘The Entertainer’. That was the first song my brother learned to play on piano. Was it annoying listening to 10,000 people sing it at Etihad Stadium over and over again? Yes, it was a little bit but we’ve come to accept singing as part of the game’s rich tapestry.
Australian goal keeper, Matt Ryan turned himself out in a hot pink kit, head to toe but I didn’t hear one person point out the fact that it looked like he was on his was to an 80’s party. The modern day Socceroos fan knows better than to cast judgement on goalkeepers. Having lived through Mark Bosnich’s 1998 sex tape, in which he was filmed being whipped while a wearing ladies dress, we better understand the correlation between eccentricity and goalkeeping ability today. Long may Matt Ryan’s hot pink outfit reign.
The only area where we really let ourselves down is in our acceptance of play acting. Players feigning injuries… Our flat refusal to accept it as part of the game is holding us back frankly. Late in the game, when Japan started to warm to the idea of taking one point for a draw, they began slowing the game down with the traditional array of soccer theatrics. Just the customary stuff – rolling around on the ground with pained expression. Clutching of the ankle. Pounding of the ground with open hand. The Aussie fans were instantly infuriated. The woman sitting behind me, who had been quiet the entire night to that point, whipped herself into a frenzy. ‘Get up ya bloody dickhead’ she shouted at one point.
Even the Aussie players seem to have a low threshold for it. Later, when play was halted by a Japanese player lying on the pitch, Tim Cahill actually picked him up, carried him and dropped him over the touch line so that play could continue. The Aussie fans at Etihad stadium roared their approval.
We’re well on our way to being bona fide soccer fans by the time the 2018 World Cup comes around but if we really want to fall into line with international fan standards, we’re going to have to work a little harder at being more sympathetic towards simulated injuries.
What adjustments have you had to make to embrace soccer fandom? Leave a comment below…