Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Friday 29 November 2013

Feminine in Firenze

Greg Downes is gallivanting around Europe. He put this report on his blog. It tells a nice story about women's soccer in Italy.
While enjoying a lengthy stay in Florence I decided to put my women’s football hat on and throw my support behind the local women’s team (Associazione Calcio Femminile Firenze). As luck would have it the home ground is only a short driving distance from where we are living. The home ground is called the Stadio Comunale San Marcellino. A small stadium with a capacity of only 1,000.

Game day started wet, cold and not very inviting. I had planned the visit to the soccer but was now having reservations, as it was only 5 degrees and raining. However after a morning trip to the Greve markets (in Chianti) the weather started to clear and we headed off to the ground. The stadium – if you could call it that is situated in the outskirts of Florence, tucked away amongst the homes and businesses of suburban Italian life in the municipality of Bagno a Ripoli. While the ground itself was netted off to secure surrounding properties the pitch was good, flat, well grassed and dry even after solid rain. It promised a fast and open game.

Game time finally arrived and with that both teams, Firenze and Como 2000, along with the referee and linesmen all ran out to centre field together. Never seen that before. A moment’s silence was held for what reason I couldn't understand and then both teams shook hands and withdrew to their respective sides of the centre for kickoff.

Image from the game. Sourced from ACF Firenza site.
In short I was impressed. Both teams threw themselves into the game, and the level of skill displayed with ball control, passing and tactical quality was high. If this was the level of skill displayed by two teams in the bottom half of the points table, I wondered how good the top teams played. The final score finished with Firenze running out winners after an early goal down, 5 goals to 1. The game was exciting, tough and very entertaining and it was a shame that only a small crowd of about one hundred supporters, mainly family and friends, turned out to support the two teams.

While numbers were low, some things remain the same no matter where you are in the sporting world. I was standing under the grandstand waiting to be served at the bar when an elderly Italian lady approached me. She didn't recognize me from the usual crowd and wanted to introduce herself. While we both spoke poor Italian and English respectively she managed to express to me that she was a grandmother (Nonna) to one of the local players and was very proud to be here to watch her play. I could only agree in my broken Italian and said that I was very pleased to be here as well. She nodded and left to join her family. I was left with a smile on my face and a feeling of being a welcome visitor to the game.

More action from the game.
It was at this point I began to think about how this league would compare with the W-League back home in Australia. Why were the crowd numbers so low?

The Serie A league for women has been around for approximately 30 years in its current format. The 2013/14 season includes a total of 16 teams representing a cross section of the country. The W-League on the other hand is a baby in comparison with its establishment in 2008! I realize crowd numbers alone is not a true indicator of a league’s success however I was amazed at the low numbers present when at home the W-League is averaging close to 1,000 plus and growing. I was also secretly hoping that as I was new to the league – one game did not make a season.

Team crests from Women's Serie A discussion board.
I do not proclaim to be an expert on women’s football in Italy, but from what I have read the game is not professional, is not generally supported and is not recognized by a male dominated sporting culture.  Although this situation is similar in most football playing nations, most are starting to emerge from culturally and male dominated pasts to take their place in the sporting framework. This does not seem to be the case here. But I am not here to judge only to enjoy the level of enthusiasm and participation of women playing football.

We both left the ground happy to have been involved, rugged up against the cold breeze and looking forward to getting home to a warm fire.

As we were driving home my wife turned to me and said, “ That was great! Seeing that the ground is so close we should come back and support the team at all of their home games.”

Looking forward to it already. At least I can add to the attendance averages.

Check video footage of the game here.

Monday 18 November 2013

Interstate Soccer in Australia

Today, interstate soccer is an irrelevancy. While Rugby League's State of Origin contests represent that game's pinnacle, there exists little desire for state versus state contests in association football. In previous eras intercolonial and state matches were afforded a deal of importance and it is a matter of record that the first recorded serious competitive fixture in Melbourne was an intercolonial contest between Victoria and New South Wales played at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday 16 August 1883. A 2-all draw was followed by a goalless game two days later at South Melbourne Cricket Ground.

This will eventually be a list of every recorded state game played up to 1920 -- though who knows, it might be extended to included them all eventually.

It is organised by year and the state versus state games are at the top of each listing while some of the minor games (state versus selections) are italicised and listed below them

Until 1900, the states are technically colonies but hopefully I can be forgiven for not confusing the issue by attempting to clarify it.

Victoria 2 NSW 2, East Melbourne Cricket Ground, 16 August
Victoria 0 NSW 0, South Melbourne Cricket Ground, 18 August

NSW 4 Victoria 1, Association Cricket Ground, 26 July
NSW 1 Victoria 2, Association Cricket Ground, 28 July

Victoria 3 NSW 0, East Melbourne Cricket Ground, 16 July (sometimes reported as 4-0)
Victoria 2 NSW 2, East Melbourne Cricket Ground, 18 July

NSW 4 Victoria 1, Association Cricket Ground, 10 July

NSW  (Scotch) 0 Victoria  1, the Agricultural Ground, 12 July
NSW (English) 0 Victoria  3, the Agricultural Ground, 14 July 

Victoria 2 NSW 2, East Melbourne Cricket Ground, 16 July

Victoria (Prahran & South Melbourne) 2 NSW 0, Melbourne Cricket Ground (?), 18 July
Victoria (Carlton & Melbourne Rovers) 2 NSW 2, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 20 July

NSW 1 Victoria 2, Association Cricket Ground, 28 July

Sydney District 1 Victoria 1, Association Cricket Ground, 30 July
Sydney 1 Victoria 1, Association Cricket Ground, 30 July
Sydney Metro 1 Victoria 0 Association Cricket Ground, 30 July
 [only one of these can be right!] 
Northern District v Victoria. Newcastle Cricket Ground, 2 August 

NSW 1 Queensland 3, Botany, 17 August 
(The game was eventually called off after NSW player Logan broke his lower leg in a collision with Queensland player Menzies, who also suffered broken ribs. Thanks OzFootball timeline.)

NSW 0 Queensland 1, Ashfield Recreation Ground, 24 August

Northern District 0 Queensland 4, Hamilton, 21 August


Queensland 2 NSW 3, Brisbane Cricket Ground, 6 August

Queensland 3 NSW 2, Brisbane Cricket Ground, 13 August

Howard v NSW, Brisbane Cricket Ground, 8 August
West Moreton 0 NSW 3, Ipswich, 11 August

South Australia 5 Western Australia 1, Adelaide Oval, 22 April
South Australia 5 Western Australia 4, Adelaide Oval, 24 April
South Australia 1 Western Australia 0, Adelaide Oval, 29 April  
It is a singular fact that whereas all who took part in the match on behalf of South Australia were British-born, and had played in the United Kingdom, the visitors were natives of Western Australia, where "soccer" is one of the popular forms of winter recreation. The Advertiser 24 April 1905
NSW 2 WA 2, Sydney Cricket Ground, 15 May
NSW 3 WA 1, Sydney Cricket Ground, 22 May 
Victoria 0 WA 3, East Melbourne Oval, 2 June
SA 4 WA 4, Jubilee Oval, 5 June
SA 4 WA 4, Jubilee Oval, 7 June 

WA 2 SA 0, Perth Cricket Ground, 13 August 
WA 4 SA 1, Claremont Showground, 20 August
WA 1 SA 1, Fremantle Oval, 24 August 

Tasmania 3 NSW 5, TCA Ground, 12 August

South Australia v. Victoria, Adelaide, Jubilee Oval 22 June
South Australia v. Victoria, Adelaide, Hindmarsh Oval 24 June
NSW 3 Queensland 0, Wentworth Park, 24 June
NSW 6 Queensland 0, Epping Racecourse, 29 June
Victoria 8 Tasmania 1, MCG, 17 July
NSW 11 Tasmania 0, SCG, 20 July 
Queensland 1 NSW 2, Brisbane Cricket Ground, 14 August
Queensland 1 NSW 3, Exhibition Ground, Ipswich, 17 August

NSW 2 Queensland 3, Epping Racecourse, 23 June
NSW 1 Queensland 0, Epping Racecourse, 28 June
Victoria 3 NSW 2, Fitzroy Cricket Ground, 16 August
Victoria 1 NSW 1, St Kilda Cricket Ground, 23 August 

NSW 0 Victoria 1, Epping Racecourse, 8 June (0-3 elsewhere)
NSW 2 Victoria 3, Epping Racecourse, 13 June
Tasmania 0 Victoria 2, New Town Sports Ground, 8 August 
Queensland 3 NSW 2, Union Grounds, Bowen Bridge, 12 August
Queensland 2 NSW 6, Union Grounds, Bowen Bridge, 13 August (possibly a rogue newspaper error)
Queensland 0 NSW 0, Sandy Gallop Oval, Ipswich, 16 August

1914 NSW team (click to see larger image)
1914 NSW team (click to see larger image)
Northern NSW 2 Queensland 1, 26 June
NSW 4 Queensland 2, Sydney University Oval, 28 June
NSW South Coast 1 Queensland 4, Wollongong, 3 July

Queensland 0 NSW 5, Brisbane Cricket Ground, 29 May
Queensland 2 NSW 2, Brisbane Cricket Ground, 5 June
NSW 3 Queensland 0, Wentworth Oval, 14 August
NSW 2 Queensland 0, Wentworth Oval, 21 August

Friday 15 November 2013

Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France

Review of Laurent Dubois, Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, University of California Press, 2010.

Here we go. Again. Another sah-curr book. Another American spellbound by the beautiful game – but seemingly not intrigued enough to nail a few of its basics.
To be fair, Laurent Dubois manages to spell Zinedine Zidane’s name correctly, unlike Franklin Foer. Where Joe McGinniss in The Miracle of Castel di Sangro has a massive moral meltdown upon discovering that football teams sometimes cheat, knowingly, and aren’t too bothered by their actions, Dubois takes such things in his stride. While Jim Rome’s sah-curr obsession is entirely hateful, Dubois seems to like the game.  But damnit, couldn’t he get a few simple terminological issues right? Games of football are decided by goals not points; overtime is not the appropriate term for “injury time” (nor should it be confused with “extra time”); Arsene Wenger doesn’t coach Arsenal; referees don’t confer with linemen; the crossbar is not the “upper post”; they’re draws not ties!
Picky? Maybe. But Dubois’ lack of familiarity with the superficial casts some doubt on his explorations of the deep. The argument that he is translating the terms for Americans will just not do – as the title of my forthcoming book, “Hitting Sixes in Baseball” demonstrates. Perhaps the errors are explicable entirely by the fact that the book’s copyediting and proofing were supervised by a university press in California. I hope so; because the story Soccer Empire tells is a beauty.
Unlike many football books this one has a carefully constructed, novelistic sense of narrative. The opening scene tracing construction worker, Sma├»l Zidane’s migration from Algeria to Saint-Denis is nicely balanced with the final act of the book, his son’s head butt (his coup de boule), administered to the baiting Italian, Marco Materazzi, in the 2006 World Cup final. 
 Soccer Empire takes us on a journey through colonial France. The edges of the empire are places to which football is exported, where the game is enthusiastically adopted by the locals. As is the way of colonialism, the postcolonial response kicks in eventually. Football, once a means of pacification, turns around and bites, and feeds, and bites again, the Metropole. In the French Caribbean, large swathes of Africa, New Caledonia and the French satellite suburbs, the banlieues that house the barely welcomed migrants, football emerges as a game embodying both loyalty and resistance to the French Empire.
The historical and political setting thus complete, Dubois fleshes out his central characters, two giants of the modern French game, Lilian Thuram and Zidane. Thuram is the hero: a football intellectual and diplomat (and half-decent centre back). Born in Guadeloupe, he is committed to his birthplace but also to the values of the French Republic. He is campaigner against racism for whom dignity is paramount, no matter what the provocation.
Thuram’s strength of character and intellect is revealed when asked why he doesn’t sing ‘The Marseillaise’ when representing France (something he always in fact did). Rather than defend himself he immediately leaps to the defence of others. He responds by saying it is more important to feel loyalty than to show it.
Zidane is the book’s antihero: a taciturn and enigmatic child of migration, devastating on the field, quiet and distant off it. He is the explosive foil to Thuram’s calm demeanour.  An object of Dubois’ admiration he nonetheless cannot be fathomed.
The central drama surrounds the French team’s success in winning the World Cup in 1998. Thuram, Zidane, the Ghanaian Marcel Desailly, the Kanak Christian Karembeu and a number of other players-of-Empire come together to create one of the world’s great teams. 
Their victory is seen by many as a moment in which the racism of the past might well have been overcome by a team that truly represented the multicultural composition of French society. For a while even the banlieues obtained brief inclusion in the cultural geography France.
The victory certainly quieted the book’s villain Jean-Marie Le Pen and his far-right Front National party. Dubois cites many examples of people, in the glow of celebration, letting their racist guards down. For “a few days it felt as if France was a unified, joyful, hopeful nation – a nation capable of anything, even overcoming the racism rooted in its colonial past.” Yet this victory is an anti-climax. The senses of tolerance and openness that sprang up overnight soon fade. Dubois traces the decay of this solidarity.
The true climax of the book happens eight-years later in a French team composed mostly of black players – a point Le Pen and others emphasise. The team’s defeat in the final is almost inevitable. Paris does not prepare for a night of Joy as in 1998, but for the violence of a vaguely intimated retribution.
The delightful twist is that this act of retribution happens on the field with Zidane’s coup de boule. While possibly costing France victory, it was a profoundly significant gesture that “shattered the image of a happy ending so many had come to the game with, proposing something bewildering, provocative, and unsettling in its place.”
Dubois concludes with an air of unflappable optimism. Zidane’s act was to sacrifice his own happy ending with an act of inexplicable violence in the face of vile insult. For Dubois this was a creative gesture, one able to instigate thinking and acting in ways that help to solve France’s interminable problems by “purging insult and provocation” from daily life.
I’m not convinced – though I’d like to be.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Michael Cockerill endorses biffo - on and off field...

Mavroudis on the money as usual

Apparently Sydney and Melbourne are playing for the 50 millionth time this season. I only bring this to your attention because I want to have a cheap internet attack on various groups. I don't think there's any real point that I'm trying to make, and if I am, it's as poorly as per usual.
Mike Cockerill's article. The relevant part is below.

On the field, it's often been a war. Off the field, things can get even more heated. In cyberspace, and in open space, the fans bait each other incessantly. Sometimes they even hit each other. Pubs in Sydney, and in Melbourne, have borne the brunt. The long arm of the law usually gathers in the culprits. After a few hours in a paddy van, they're out and proud, their brief incarceration claimed as a badge of honour.

This is the way of football the world over. This is the character which defines the A-League's biggest rivalry. There was a time when Football Federation Australia tried to dampen down the fires. Heavy-handed security. Seating arrangements changed. CCTV cameras installed. It didn't work. It was never going to work. Now they have come to realise the emotion driven by the clubs, the players, and the fans, is a strength, not a weakness.

Continued here South of the Border - a South Melbourne Hellas blog: Michael Cockerill endorses biffo - on and off field...: