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We’re going to need our gumboots to get through this...

by Engelbert Schmidl on Mar 08, 2012

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So it’s been an eventful past couple of weeks in Australian football.

Quite an understatement that. But then, it’s not the first time we’ve been through strife, turmoil and tribal warfare: we’ve been there before and we’ll with almost no doubt go there again.

To put things into a little perspective though, let’s take a quick glance at what’s going on in the world of football.

Home to FIFA and bastion of all things prudent, conservative and well-timed, Switzerland has lost two of the 10 clubs in its top-flight league this season to bankruptcy. Servette, founded in 1890 and winner of 17 Swiss league titles, joined another longtime mainstay of Swiss football, Neuchatel Xamax both recently entered the football dustbin of history — there’s still a chance both clubs might shake off the dust and fight another day.

Closer to home, Indonesia last week suffered its biggest international match loss since a 9-0 drubbing by Denmark in 1974 when it capitulated 10-0 to Bahrain in its World Cup qualifier. The Indonesians were without almost all their first choice players because most of them now play in the rebel Indonesian Super League, a league not sanctioned by the governing body PSSI.

The Jakarta Globe said the game “also raised eyebrows at world governing body FIFA, which said it would investigate the match.” The result also put Qatari noses out of joint as it meant Bahrain - at least for now - progressed at the expense of the 2022 World Cup host.

Back in Europe, in the domestic league of the European and World Cup champions, Spain, we see another season of the El Clasico show. Real Madrid sitting 10 points ahead of Barcelona, who then sit 14 points ahead of Valencia, who are five points clear of fourth-placed Levante — that’s 29 points between first and fourth.

And the duopoly enjoyed by Los Blancos and Blaugrana is likely to continue considering the inequitable domestic TV rights deal in place, vastly bigger fan and merchandise revenue for the big two clubs, and more money guaranteed to flow in from Champions League participation.

It’s hardly a healthy situation for a domestic league — the Scottish Premier League does come to mind.

So we’re hardly alone in our troubles and it’s not the first time we’ve been knee deep in some form of effluent: we got kicked out of FIFA for three years from 1960 to 1963 for poaching players from European clubs; we muddled our way to a national league in 1977 without some of the country’s top clubs such as APIA; and we didn’t even have a national league once the NSL folded in 2004.

These examples are not given to mitigate our current circumstances nor to exonerate those at the top - FFA officials and certain club owners - who have allowed the current situation to descend into farce.

But what they do show, I think, is that football in Australia, as elsewhere in the world, is a difficult beast to tame and govern. We often look admiringly at what has been achieved by the AFL in terms of expansion and administration and ask why we can’t have something so planned and measured, so orderly and contained.

The AFL is a largely monocultural concern that concentrates almost exclusively on one league. It is a self-contained, socialist experiment that doesn’t have to contend with international pressures either at a political or economic level. It exists in a bubble of eternal goodwill fostered by Melbourne’s fanaticism for the sport.

Football in Australia, by comparison, lives in a wild west scenario of longtime internal conflicts that still simmer, all the while trying to find its place in the broader international scheme of things.

The parameters within which football operates are very different to the other football codes in this country — something myopic media types generally fail to understand because they have no idea of anything in the world beyond their backyards.

The FFA have made plenty of mistakes, but I think former Socceroo and football analyst Kimon Taliadoras got it right when he said this week: “Our resilience as people and as football people is shown in how we respond to hardship. That’s the test... the challenge remains for us as a sport to demonstrate that we are hardy.”

We’ve waded through enough effluent to get this far; we might just have to wade through a little more.