Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.


Possibly the world’s most loved game, association football is definitely the world’s most vilified sporting code. There are plenty of reasons why this should be so. The game’s reputation has suffered legitimately through fan violence around the world and corruption and stupidities throughout its associations and federations; throughout history football (of various codes) has been variously held responsible for the collapses of moral order and collective political will; it has even been outlawed by monarchs afraid of football’s impact on their fighting forces.

But none of these relates directly to the main source of contemporary vilification, soccerphobia, the fear of one particular code of football, association football and its supposed potential to damage national and regional cultures.

The loudest bastions of soccerphobia are, curiously, found in Anglophone countries with a historical, colonial connection to the British Isles – the birthplace of association football. Australia, the United States of America, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa all house strong and entrenched cultures of soccerphobia. In three and one-half of these countries, association football is seen either as a threat to ‘local’ games or as a game that cannot assimilate because of its foreignness.

Ireland, Canada, the USA and southern and western Australia have developed regional variations of football (or other sports) that are assumed to be indigenous expressions of nationality – assumptions that are often flawed. For example baseball’s claims to indigenous status ignore the similarity it has with rounders and other baseball-like games long-established in Europe. The founders of Australian Rules would be surprised to learn that they weren't playing "British" football. Often, claims of indigeneity rest more on politically expedient assertions of national independence and contemporary concerns than they do on historical fact.

In New Zealand, South Africa and the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales the local/imported divide is not particularly relevant. The dominant football codes (rugby union or league) in each of these regions and countries have clear British roots. Here, the disparagement of football tends to focus on questions of masculinity and even sexuality. Historically association football has been seen to be a game for pansies and weaklings across the anti-soccer world.

The late Johnny Warren captured the various antagonisms in the title of his autobiography, Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters. In Australia, these were the kinds of people who played ‘soccer’. The game was seen as effeminate, foreign and for men of dubious sexuality.

While Warren’s title doesn’t quite capture the totality of the opposition to association football it does capture the vituperation and the spirit. He relates the story of a tickertape parade for the Australian national team in Sydney.
I have a daunting image, still prominent in my memory. It was the occassion of a ticket tape parade for the Australian national team in 1969. I had taken my allocated place in one of the sports cars which had been organised for the event. The calvacade was snaking its way through the streets and turned a corner. This one particular corner, like so many of its kind in Sydney, was adorned by a pub. Wooing the punters to drink from its kegs were pictures on its outer wall of rugby, cricket and horse racing. True-blue Aussie sports. Spilling out of the pub's doors were tank-topped, steel-cap-booted, tattooed workers quenching their thirst after the dust of the day's work. 'Fuckin' poofters,' some hooted at us. 'Dago bastards,' followed others. The odd projectile was hurled our way. Needless to say, I had, in my life, felt much safer than I did during that parade. (ppxxi-xxii)

This is an attitude that can be identified world over.

The following quotation from Philip Mosely's Ethnic Involvement in Australian Soccer: A History 1950–1990 (Australian Sports Commission, 1995) indicates what association football had to put up with in Australia in years past.
For decades soccer’s rivals had cruised along with virtually no competition. However with each new season in the 1950s they grew restive and even reactionary over soccer’s growth. The strongest responses were found in the Australian Rules states. Particular schools banned soccer and education authorities in charge of school sport were known to hinder the game as best they knew how. For example, staff at White Hills Technical School, Bendigo did not so much ban soccer outright as ban instead the use of school funds for soccer equipment. As early as 1951 buckets of glass were scattered on North Hobart Oval the night before a Tasmanian representative side took the fireld against a visiting English Professional XI. Next season the VFL directed its operatives to secure all available public sporting space in Melbourne in order to stifle the burgeoning threat posed by soccer’s migrant-inspired growth. Similar moves had been made in 1927 and 1928 when British migrants so rattled the VFL that it wrote “with alarm” of this “foreign code”. The 1950s boom in migration promised to be far more of a problem than that of the 1920s. In 1958 a Melbourne soccer club sought to lease a council ground usually used by an Australian Rules club. In response to the application one rules-supporting sneer, “let them play . . . in the gutter”. Melbourne’s reputation for paranoia was crowned in 1965 when youths daubed anti-soccer slogans over Middle Park, chopped down the goalposts and tried to set fire to the grandstand. (59-60)
An important question is the extent to which such attitudes and practices are still around today. Below you will find random examples of soccerphobia and its responses from Australia and the United States as well as some nuanced views on the issue.


United States


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