Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday, 16 September 2013

VP Hell. The final insult

So this is what it takes.

Overnight, the VPL - a ghost-like competition haunting the fringes of Melbourne sport and whose existence the mainstream media has been happy to ignore - has become front page news and first-up news on the radio. Last night the commercial news channels used footage from SMTV, MFootball and the Melbourne Knights TV show to provide vision for their stories because the only thing in the MSM sokkah archive is grainy footage of wogs rioting and Archie Thompson punching corner flags.

The cancer of match-fixing and gambling has been alleged in 2nd tier Victorian soccer. The Southern Stars are the focus and who knows how far the disease has spread. It's a devastating blow for those of us who follow state league soccer and it's hard to predict where the story will take us.

One of the reasons we know so little about this stuff in a public sense is that the mainstream media has abdicated its responsibility to cover elite Victorian soccer in the Australian winter. A big shock in all of this for many casually interested sports fans might well be the revelation that there is actually a semi-professional league of decent standing operating in Victoria. If one relied on the Age and its top soccer writer Michael Lynch, one might have no idea soccer was even being played in Victoria during the winter.

So while Lynch and the Age sports desk have been asleep at the wheel a rotten culture has been flourished without comment or investigation - from a sports angle. Of course, other journalists from other desks have been beavering away. Nick McKenzie, Nino Bucci and Richard Baker and others from the Age have clearly been working very hard on the story. Indeed McKenzie and Baker are the ones who broke it.

John Silvester foreshadowed the story in February this year. In his article 'Match-fix gangs set sights on Australia' he wrote: "Police fear international match-fixing syndicates are grooming Australian sports stars as part of long-term plans to infiltrate local competitions." The only thing he got wrong there was the tense because clearly the grooming process was well underway. Yet, in keeping with the general ignorance of the VPL, Silvester's article shows how many commentators missed the point: "Organised crime experts have identified A-League soccer and Big Bash cricket as likely targets of Asian crime cartels." The article's accompanying checklist (reproduced right) just shows the extent of the failure to comprehend.

Those of us on the ground have laughed for nearly a decade now about what some of us mischievously call "dodgy-Asian-betting" whereby soccer fans have been recruited to give frequent live action and score updates of A League and VPL games to Asian betting organisations. A general weary acceptance that something is not quite right seems to infect the whole culture. An engaged soccer journalist on-the-ground would have known about this.

Silvester also raised credulity issues when he commented today that "No one could work out why the second-tier soccer side filled with internationals could play so badly." He is, as they say, 'avin a larf. No-one would accuse any of the Southern Stars players of being internationals in any sense other than the one one implied in their possession of British passports. No-one. Just no-one paying serious attention to the VPL ever considered the Stars matter in the terms suggested by Silvester.

I note that Michael Lynch said something similar about Silvester's argument in his piece today, a belated attempt to bring his audience up to speed on the VPL. For Lynch "Crowds at VPL games are small – sometimes only a couple of hundred people – and interest desultory." The standard is also ordinary, apparently:
It is a competition made up of players who have, for the most part, fallen short of what is required to play at professional level in most well funded national leagues: the wannabe, might-have-been and never-will-be alongside the odd former big name who is now in the evening of his career and playing either for fun or a final contract at a level well below the heights he might have once scaled.
Well I beg to differ. In a bums-on-seats sense it's more popular than the VFL and Lynch sells the quality a little short. The reality is that Lynch, by virtue of his failure to attend anything but a mere handful of games, is not qualified to comment on either.

Lynch is, unfortunately, the best of a bad bunch on a sports desk that is simply unable and/or unwilling to understand the place soccer has in Victorian culture. More than 50,000 people play soccer every week in Victoria yet our mainstream media fails to acknowledge even by scant reference their commitment and passion except when the occasional scandal of violence or corruption erupts. The Age, for example, can't even be bothered regularly to publish the weekend classified results listing on a Monday morning. Last night it took me three minutes to get this up. (It's a question of will and commitment.)

Scandals will arise in all sports because sports ultimately reflect the wider society. Unfortunately when soccer scandals erupt in Victoria the media has little ability to make sense of what is occurring because it has little comprehension of the culture about which it is trying to make sense.


  1. The Daily Telegraph covers every tier of English football - including SPL, SFL, Wales & non league.

    The Age is mad if they beleive no other paper covers lower leagues. The age doesnt even give lower league footy results.

    Fairfax is elitist tripe.

    James Hothersall

  2. Sad reflection on The Age that their Chief Football writer Michael Lynch does not operate as a fulltime football writer but at different times of year covers horse racing and finance.What hope does the local game have with this sort of arrangement?

  3. ECP. Yes. What's even sadder is a whole raft of journos taking this criticism personally when it gets down to Fairfax's priorities and preferences.

  4. Lynch was employed to cover motorsport and horse racing and only was given football when a true football journo Laurie Schwab passed away.

    Lynch is, and will always be a prawn sandwich eater.