In a year when football smashed club attendance and ratings records and the Socceroos took on the world’s best in the spiritual home of football, Brazil, at a World Cup, and in a week when the Wanderers rocked Riyadh and brought home an Asian Champions League trophy… it’s worth reflecting on the past.
Ten years ago, I had a coffee with former Age football writer and author Patrick Mangan. Back then, life was waaaaay different for football fans.
For two life-long Aussie football supporters like us - who’d lived through seven failed World Cup qualification campaigns - all we knew was cruel heartache.
Back then, to be an Aussie football fan was to be marginalised. Un-Australian. An outsider in your own country – a country we loved yet hated for this reason.
Well before the Hyundai A-League launched in 2005, before the formation of FFA and Australia’s move from the Oceania Confederation into the Asian Confederation, before consecutive Socceroo World Cup appearances and mainstream media attention, football was bullied in the media because it was perceived as “different”.
To discuss the Socceroos, or South Melbourne, or Marconi at the office was like explaining Differential Calculus.
Over that coffee we reflected on what appeared a very bleak future.
The game was on its knees at club and international level – media and corporate worlds all but shunned the game.
Worse still, we were our own worst enemy as petty politicking and administrative incompetence held football back at most levels.
And we were no good at football anyway, they claimed.
“Soccer”, or “Wogball”, was derided by most mainstream outlets egged on by other seemingly “manly” codes as being foreign and soft.
It was a game for “Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters”.
We had that coffee the same week Johnny Warren passed away. He, like many football true believers in this country, the former Socceroo captain and broadcaster had fought the good fight for football.
Johnny shed tears on SBS TV when the Football Gods tore our heart out at stadiums across across the world as the Socceroos valiantly fought for respect.
He was a relentless promoter of football in a country where the rugby codes and VFL/AFL were mainstream representations of what it meant to be Australian.
His gloriously titled book “Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters”, which he co-wrote with Andy Harper and Josh Whittington, paints a beautifully clear picture of the game’s history and its struggles; its stories and heroes of the past.
Buy it. It’ll open your eyes – especially if you’re new to football and only know the good times since 2005.
It all seems a long time ago.
Johnny Warren never lived to see the last ten years and the spectacular growth of football. Who could've predicted it?
But he believed. He always did. Football was, is, the world’s game. Now it’s Australia’s game.
Lord knows how big football will become in another ten years.
As Johnny said, “I Told You So”.
*Johnny's passing will be commemorated in the Hyundai A-League and by FFA this week