Sim­mer­ing angst gives way to rise in pas­sion

Sunday Mail - - SPORT - JOHN KOSMINA

IT’S a busy time of the year in the foot­ball world in Oz.

The Hyundai A-league is un­der way and run­ning smoothly. There doesn’t seem to be any­where near as much un­der­ly­ing angst within the dif­fer­ent ech­e­lons of the com­pe­ti­tion as there was this time last year.

The hi­er­ar­chy was at odds with the “ac­tive sup­port” groups and there was def­i­nitely a lot of overly zeal­ous and heavy-handed treat­ment by se­cu­rity that saw them essen­tially boy­cotting matches.

Then there was the con­gress is­sue which brought an el­e­ment of dys­func­tion­al­ity to the game as a whole. Thanks to some great work and a com­mon-sense ap­proach from ALeague chief Greg O’Rourke dur­ing the off-sea­son, that sit­u­a­tion has im­proved.

He met face-to-face with ac­tive sup­port groups, and se­cu­rity agen­cies and sen­si­ble de­ci­sions were made that brought the fans back to the fold. Now, at the games I’ve seen so far, there is some feel­ing and pas­sion back in the stands that adds gen­uinely to the oc­ca­sion.

For those that cam­paigned so ag­gres­sively in the past for mas­sive change in man­age­ment at the top, you’ve got your wish. The door is now open for some new knights on their own white horses, with their own slo­gans and rhetoric to come and save the lo­cal foot­ball world! Just how this will pan out I can’t re­ally say, be­cause I’ve heard it all be­fore. Only time will tell.

For all the work keep­ing the high-pro­file, pro­fes­sional end of the game tick­ing over just now, the “real” work is be­ing done in the sub­strates be­neath … the NPL and the Com­mu­nity clubs and the like that keep the game alive.

This is the time of year when ev­ery­thing is pre­pared for next sea­son. Th­ese clubs are the heart and soul of the game, be­cause this is where the kids that will go on to the Soc­ceroos and Matil­das learn to love and play foot­ball.

This is the facet of the game that re­ally needs to be de­vel­oped – to be in­vested in, be­cause it is the fu­ture. Don’t just talk about or take com­fort from the fact foot­ball is the big­gest par­tic­i­pant sport in the coun­try – make it work.

Make it the big­gest game in the coun­try. Th­ese clubs bat­tle year af­ter year to stay alive, while the cof­fers of lo­cal gov­ern­ing bod­ies swell along with the wages and size of ad­min­is­tra­tion off the back of the graft of those that care at the mi­cro level.

The clubs fight bat­tles to ex­ist in their own right. Foot­ball is al­ways fight­ing bat­tles – of­ten within its own ranks, but there are also bat­tles to be fought with those out­side the foot­ball world – with politi­cians and bu­reau­crats that pay lip ser­vice to the game when it suits but don’t do much when a club or an as­so­ci­a­tion needs ex­tra field space or a grant for de­vel­op­ment.

Then there are the bat­tles with the other codes, the peren­nial fight for sur­vival in a small mar­ket.

When the new board comes in, this is an­other pri­or­ity that needs to be ad­dressed. In the past, we haven’t taken the fight to the other codes. I ac­cept diplo­macy and deco­rum are im­por­tant, but some­times we have to get on the front foot and step on some toes.

The Asian Cup is two months away, and her­alds the be­gin­ning of an­other World Cup cy­cle for the Soc­ceroos.

The Matil­das are go­ing from strength to strength and play in their World Cup Fi­nals next year. By the time the Soc­ceroos reach Qatar in 2022, foot­ball will have painted a vastly dif­fer­ent pic­ture to the one now. Rightly or wrongly, change is about to hap­pen.

With change comes op­por­tu­nity, and re­newed hope.

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