FOOTBALL or Soccer? The battle has been silently engaged, but too few of us have noticed.
There have been a series of minor skirmishes, and several subversive actions, but we Aussie Rules fans, are sitting blissfully unaware that our great game is about to be challenged seriously by soccer. For heaven's sake, they're already trying to call it football. Imagine, in our footy-mad state, trying to call soccer football.
Of course, they say it is the world game, that it's called football in most countries, and that they don't use their hands in their game. Yeah, but they hit it with their head, which is about the silliest technique of propelling a ball that has ever been devised.
Actually, the name is one of the more serious issues. Quite blatantly, or as some would say, provocatively, the new soccer administration in this country, has renamed itself, the Football Federation of Australia. Some high-profile soccer identities are starting to correct those of us who call their game soccer. They obviously have no sense of history. Yes, various forms of football have been documented since the Chinese dynasties of the second and third centuries B.C. There are the more ghoulish histories of soccer being played with the severed heads, and skulls of vanquished opponents, but the fact remains: we were playing our football, with its codified rules, in competition before the Football Association, in England, from which the term soccer evolved, (as-SOC-iation) forbade any handling of the ball in their game.
That year was 1869. We claim the historical high ground.
Soccer was predominantly a British sport. The Brits exported their game as well as they exported their culture, their religion and transported their human refuse. The game has been extremely popular, and has been enthusiastically embraced and enhanced by hundreds of other countries. It is significant, however, that three of the most ferociously patriotic nations; the USA, Ireland and Australia, have their own codes of football. Football is the dominant sport in those nations where soccer has struggled to gain a stronghold. Any attempt to impose a relic from imperial Britain upon us will be vigorously resisted – if we know it's happening.
Some of the national newspapers, television networks, and websites have already capitulated and use the term football when they are talking about soccer. There is no rationale to this when we have four major football codes in the country: rugby league, union, Aussie Rules and soccer. Instead of clarifying the situation, they are only confusing it. When you say or write the word soccer, everyone knows what you are talking about.
If you say "football" you could be talking about any one of four codes. And in our proud state, football means only one thing: Australian Rules.
For fifty years now, pessimists have been predicting the downfall of Australian Rules football and the prosperity of soccer. Only now do I believe that the threat is serious. Too many young kids are playing soccer. It's a much easier game to learn and to play, and you don't need 18 players to have a match. Soccer's senior administration introduced a promotion this week called "Football Anytime" to encourage kids to "get out there, get active, and play football anytime". They mean soccer of course, and they got $800,000 from the government to do it. The AFL has to react to all these initiatives that are making other sports more accessible and easier to play. Michael Wright, our Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing, spoke with glowing praise recently of the modified rules and programs that were encouraging more kids to play volleyball. The AFL can learn much from these programs and those which soccer is employing.
In less than a month, our national soccer team will attempt once more to qualify for the World Cup finals. The dark cloud of failure and an ominous sense of tragedy have been their constant companions in recent campaigns. This time, I sense it will be different and it will unite the sporting fans of Australia like nothing since the 2000 Olympics. And if they do qualify, how could they be called anything else but the SOCCEROOS? The name will become an iconic Australian institution. How then could their game be called anything else but soccer?