Thursday, 24 July 2008

Raul Blanco, eloquent and straighforward

As seen on the FourFourTwo website

Blanco: We Made Mistakes

Former Socceroos coach Raul Blanco admits the National Soccer League made "mistakes" - but says the FFA are blacklisting the sport's old guard.
Argentine-born Blanco, whose coaching career spanned across state, national and international level, says NSL clubs were guilty of isolating themselves from the wider Australian community during the existence of the now extinct league.

“The [NSL] clubs were guilty because they didn’t open the doors and allow people to come in,” said Blanco.

“I guess there’s nothing wrong with doing it at the beginning, getting the community to come together and saying 'this is our club'.

"But clubs failed to open their doors to the Australians, to everybody everywhere and say come down and be part of us.”

Blanco said the financial constraints on clubs severely hampered the potential of the league, contrasting sharply to the financial support given to the A-League.

“I think we always had an incredible challenge ahead of us, they were difficult times," he said.

“It was the first national league of any kind in this country. The vision was there but as time went on, the game outgrew the people.

"The money has always been an incredibly difficult issue.”

The former Arsenal de Sarandi, Prague F.C and Pan-Hellenic player says a major aspect of the league’s downfall was its reliance on an ageing fanbase.

He said: “They kept banking on the people who were growing older and it isn’t the same after a while.”

But Blanco says the failures of the NSL should not be solely attributed to the game’s administrators but also to a hostile society.

“I think when you look at the past, we all have to share a little bit of the blame both ways,” Blanco said.

“The response of the people wasn’t as open, warm and supportive as it should have been because they thought it was a game from somewhere else, a game not belonging to them.

“But it does belong to all of us, and as you can see now, it always has.”

Blanco, who arrived in Australia in 1967, emphasises the importance football held for entire communities of migrants.

“It meant everything to these people, they come from different parts of the world and they all found a common language in football as something which united masses all over the world – this is how clubs initiated and this is how football in many ways started over here,” Blanco added.

“I remember communities coming together on Sunday and Saturday to celebrate the incredible love affair they had with the game.

“They were wonderful times with full stadiums. There were 25,000 people in the final of the Ampol Cup.

“It was a normal thing to see the stadiums with a lot of people and excellent players.

“It was a wonderful experience which I enjoyed tremendously."

Blanco also reserves his deepest respect and admiration for those people who kept football alive for over half-a-century.

“Without all of the incredibly hard work that so many people did in a quiet way behind canteens, cleaning grounds, preparing things for the big occasions - thousands and thousands of people who worked incredibly hard just to keep the dream alive – we wouldn’t have football as it is today,” Blanco admitted.

“And they very tough times; it isn’t easy to travel from here to Brisbane or Adelaide with a team, enormous money was involved and the league survived for such a long time, even if we lacked the vision to be able to keep improving it.

“My admiration and respect for those people who worked so hard will be forever because I know what they did, how they worked so hard for the game."

Despite the positive contributions to the game, Blanco claims that people have been discriminated against by people involved in Australian football’s new era.

“The saddest part of it all is to see how many people belonging to that time are saying ‘Let’s not talk about it, let’s not think about it and let’s forget about it.’

"It is very annoying, sad, and discriminatory that they are saying this because they were part of it and now they are embracing the good times and saying forget about the past.” Blanco said.

“A country who forgets its past, it isn’t a true country: at least in terms of sporting culture.”

“And it seems that everything was wrong, badly done, too ethnic, but it saddens me to no end that the people who worked so hard were completely forgotten.

Blanco says Australia’s football past should be embraced.

He added: “We should not forget. Not only should we not forget, we should embrace those people who kept the dream alive.

"It has now happened only because of those people worked so hard behind closed doors and put so much time and effort of their lives into it keep it going.

“We just need a little bit of help, which this federation now has in a big way thanks to the government.”

The former Olyroos coach says the move to separate Australia’s football present to its past was a move which involved excluding people previously involved with the game.

He said: “I think it was very obvious from the very beginning the way they [the FFA] talked that they didn’t want to anything to do with the past, not to touch the people involved and in some cases, not to even mention them.

“I think from the very beginning, as soon as the new league was formed, it was a must that the people running the game made it clear that it was for everybody: we need you, we want you, make sure you’re part of it.

“If you don’t do that with these people, they won’t come in: they’ve got a bit of pride too – there are people who are perhaps hard-headed, stubborn and now won’t join.”

He added: “If you look to our federation right now, there are a lot of people who have nothing to do with our game.

"They didn’t then and they shouldn’t have anything to do with it now because they are not football people.

“You can be very intelligent but you have to understand what the game is all about and so many people I think don’t understand what it is all about.

“But in saying that I feel very strongly that they are eliminating people – maybe that’s a strong word though.”

Despite his own personal disappointment at the conduct of the FFA, Blanco believes the hurt experience by a generation of those involved with the game is virtually beyond repair.

“I was never invited anywhere, by anybody, at anytime. I think if you looked at what we did with the game, we might deserve a little better than that.

“I feel discriminated against to be honest. People don’t want us to be there. I would be lying to you if I said it doesn’t hurt a little bit because it does,” Blanco said.

“Four or five years of complete ignorance and talking as though they are 'old, ugly and ethnics' - it just keeps hurting the people who were hurt in the very beginning.

“And obviously if you start to receive a good amount of new spectators to the game, the more spectators they get the more they will forget these people.”

Despite the game needing to move into a new stage and the term 'new football' coming into use by the FFA, Blanco says the game is still the same.

“The game was stagnant. There’s no doubt about it. The game needed to be moved forward; everybody who loved the game would have told you there and then we needed change.

“Everybody started the battle a long time ago against the odds, because football was not welcome here; you can’t forget the adversities that people faced at that time.

“Johnny Warren would tell you from the top: it was a lonely battle. It had been unfair for a very long time.

“But it isn’t a new game, it is the same game, run in a new way with a lot more money than we ever had.”

Despite the difficulties and what he perceives to be the discrimination involved with the transition into a new age for Australian football, Blanco believes the “dream” of those migrants who kept the game alive is slowly being realised.

“Now you go to football and see people of all nationalities at Sydney, Melbourne and I think this is where the dream is starting to happen," he said.

“If the game is going to do better, you’ve got to suffer a bit of pain and applaud the move to move the game forward.

“So good luck and let’s hope we keep improving and keep moving forward.”

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