Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A higher plane of existence - Australia 2 Thailand 1

When it comes down to it, people are fickle, short-sighted and prone to employing only the parts of their brains that produce willfully emotional and irrational responses to things. Yesterday, when trying to get on a train at platform 3 at Richmond Station after the game, I was concerned that the train would be packed because everyone seemed to shoving themselves into increasingly confined spaces. Me though, being someone who doesn't only use public transport to get to and from sporting venues with limited car parking, wandered down an extra carriage and found plenty of space. Good for me, you say sarcastically; good for everyone, I say with notably good cheer.

Afterwards, having had my chocolate milk and with still much time to go until my train to Sunshine, I started reading a book with some really out there academic theory. Not being good with theory at the best of times, concepts like non-postmodern and claustropolitanism kind of make me roll my eyes. But the latter term kind of makes sense, if one thinks about it, or at least pretends to - rather than than abstract whimsical promise of cosmopolitanism opening up one's horizons, leading one to become (or at least begin considering oneself) the literal 'citizen of the world', one instead finds oneself trapped on a big blue spinning ball, constricted by social media, the immediacy of world events, and the pressure to consume everything all at once alongside everyone else.

Steve Redhead seems to suggest that this crushing load of information and proximity to everyone all the time gives sets the scene for people quite understandably asking, politely or otherwise, if they could please be let off this giant blue marble, because this ride just isn't fun any more. Being at a soccer game, at least one with sufficient levels of interest (so not the NPL) may have some parallels, especially if you're in situation in which the 26,300 odd other people in the stadium are attempting to enforce the worst kind of claustrophobic group think on each other, and the team.

Luckily for me that I have ascended beyond a portion of this mortal footballing plane. That is to say, I have achieved a higher level of soccer being. That is not to say I have moved beyond all soccer feeling, but so far as international football goes, it seems to me that I now sit above the whole mass of irrational human feeling on this specific matter. After many years of emotional subservience to the Socceroos, I am at peace. There was of course that phase, which most of the Australian soccer public still exists in, where all is angst about results and about style, the perpetual status of feeling joyous or doomed with nothing in between - except for that tedious Pim Verbeek period where we were winning so much that everyone got bored and then angry, because that limited but successful version of competence was not emotionally satisfying or legitimate.

There was that other phase for me too, where I still wanted the Socceroos to win, but them doing so meant that the current regime's fiscal and cultural legitimacy would only ever be enhanced. It was problematic only on a really selfish level, but problematic nevertheless. But I never reached that point where I wanted the Socceroos to lose, as some South fans have, out of spite for the last decade or so and everything that entails. Discomfort with any and all attitudes around the matter is par for the course, but I've gradually lost touch with the angst attached to it. Doing the Heavy Sleeper for Shoot Farken helped, in part because that tournament is so great, but also getting to every Asian Cup game held in Melbourne, a tournament which was just a lot of fun to watch, a fact which had nothing to do with Australia winning. 

Then there is the fact that soon enough the World Cup itself will be not worth giving a damn for. Next year those without the simoleons or the nerve to pay for Optus' service miss out on most of the tournament anyway, thank you very much Sellouts Bloody Sellouts. After the hooligan bloodbath that will be Russia 2018 we head to Qatar, and after that to a 48 team tournament. So my attendance at Socceroos matches now is based on what I think is a fairly solid premise; avoid meaningless friendlies, and hope for an entertaining match in those games which count for something, and which provide a pleasant break from state league drudgery.

I'd bought tickets for myself and four others, but out of respect for them I won't talk about their specific reactions to the game. What I will say is that the value was excellent. Of course the Bubbledome is a terrific venue (with the niggling irritant that I wish the pitch had been lowered compared to the seating), but $18 for a concession ticket in the cheap seats to an international fixture is tremendous value (only $27 for an adult), and puts the fact hat South and other NPL clubs were charging $20 for adults and in our case $15 for children twelve and up into an even worse light. Even though the weather was wet at times, we still had what I would consider good seats, behind the goals at the Swan Street end, about five rows back, and far enough away from the most active part of the home end that their half-arsed chanting and attempts at atmosphere. Much more irritating were those in our area who wanted to stand up not just at crucial moments of the game, but also at utterly non-crucial moments.

Includes instructions for how to conduct
 yourself in the event that you meet the Pope.
Now I get the desire to stand, because at most games that I attend, standing is the norm for me too. But the fact is that we weren't in a standing area, and notwithstanding the problems with ticket sales to Australian active support area, the area we were seated should've been treated as a seated area. As etiquette writer John Bridges noted is his rather silly book How to be a Gentleman:
At sporting events, a gentleman feels free to stand up and shout during exciting moments. Otherwise, he keeps his seat. He does not begrudge the other team its victory. If his own team is the victor, he does not taunt the opposition.
When one person stands, then the people behind them have to stand, and so forth. That's all well and good for genuinely exciting moments, but once that passage of play is over, it's time to sit down again, not wait until the ball is up at the other end of the field. Apart from anything, it's discourteous towards those who are elderly, have bad knees, or who otherwise find it difficult to stand for long periods of time let alone repeatedly stand up and sit down. That's the lack of modern manners for you though.

A famous now former Australian soccer journalist has said to me of this time in our soccer nation's life that there is too much complacency, and that it would probably do Australia some good to miss out on a World Cup. I don't have strong opinions on this issue, but I can certainly see his point. Repeated qualifications have made a lot of people complacent, perhaps even indignant that might Australia should have to force its way through rather than cruise through. There were elements of the crowd who reverted to more primitive forms of behaviour, taking the crass form of a soccer junior parent. I can tolerate to a degree people being upset with some of the referee's decisions, even if that dissension is mostly the result of a cultural point of difference. The referee was on the more finicky side of things, but he kept things consistent, and really after the first few calls it was up to the Socceroos to adjust, which they mostly didn't, barging in not maliciously but nevertheless clumsily.

Worse were the increasingly incessant shouts of 'shoot!' and even the primitive Aussie rules demand to 'kick it!'. These 'instructions' had not only the feel of a desperate nation willing its team on to victory, but also the sense of an illiterate soccer public which thought they were pointing out the obvious even though in truth they were showing their ignorance. After all, the Socceroos were shooting. They shot a lot, 39 or 45 shots according to various versions of the stats. Granted, many of those shots were of a poor quality, or after one touch too many, but there were so many shots I lost count very early on. Now maybe the Socceroos don't really have the cattle to shoot well, or at the most opportune moment, but when you get so many shots the quality will vary. And the Thai goalkeeper made several great saves, the Thai defence threw their bodies on the line, and of course the woodwork intervened at least three times, including once when everyone on our side of the ground thought the ball had surely gone in.

People can talk up Thailand's performance all they like, and they did put in a solid shift effort wise, but they were barely in the game. Less than 30% possession, and looking dangerous only on the counter as you'd expect a team like that to be, and even then not really that often or that much. The result could so easily have been 7 or 8-1, and then what would people be saying? I'd be more forgiving of the crowd if I thought they'd just been overwhelmed by the tension and sense of occasion, the need to put several goals past Thailand to make the Saudis work hard for their win. But instead I thought the crowd was just ignorant. There were moments where they asking for shots where to my mind there was no shot on, where had a shot been taken, the Thai defenders would've easily stuck a foot out.

Equally there were other moments where the crowd got excited by shots coming in where to my mind there was little chance - maybe I should go so far as to say it was obvious there was no chance - that a goal would be registered. I was joking with Gains during the game that because we watch a lot of NPL, the reason I wasn't get excited is because that league seems to provide a sort of heightened sense of when a shot is going in.

Being a tactical naïf at the best of times, plus not having the best view of things on that front from our low vantage point, I won't be so bold to make aspersions on Ange's selections or formation. Plenty of others doing that online, and good luck to everyone. If I had to pick anything out of last night that struck me as odd, it was the clear instruction to Mat Ryan to play the ball from the six yard box to a player not much further afield than that, rather than going long. While there's nothing with expecting a goalkeeper at this level to be competent with his passing, it was all a bit Nunawading if I'm being frank. Less tenable as a criticism is that Ange is changing the way the team plays. This is at odds with the two previous coaches, and even with the reasoning for hiring Ange in the first place. Whether valid or not, Postecoglou's job application was explicit in its desire to change the way the Australian men's national team played football.

As for the discussions about managing legacies, both his own and that of Australian soccer more broadly, I might leave that to a time when I'll revisit the entirety of Ange's book. Suffice to say that all of a sudden, what everyone else that cared much more about these things than I seemed to like and admire about Ange's tenure in the job has become one of the things they despise. Familiarity breeds contempt I suppose. Without getting into a turgid metaphysical argument about whether the Socceroos as they are now and especially compared to some previous incarnations 'deserve' to be in a World Cup, all they have to do is qualify via the path set out for them. OK, it hasn't gone quite to plan this time around, but if they can't beat Syria and the fourth place CONCACAF team, then there can be no argument. 

Some other things worth commenting on... the Cricketers Arms is still a dump. I ended up there because one thing lead to another in terms of meeting up with people. There were power failures there throughout the afternoon, which included all parts of the business except somehow the terrible music being played over the speakers. It's a venue that's never going to win any prizes for its gourmet offerings, especially from what comes out of the kitchen out the back, but charging $8.50 for a frozen pizza seems like highway robbery, though I suppose if you're stupid enough to pay for one that's your problem. Watching staff separating frozen pizzas from each other like they were sheets of paper.... yeah, nah.

The venue was also visited by Channel 7 news reporters looking to interview Socceroo fans. Sadly, some Socceroo fans decided that it was appropriate to talk to them. How times change. I also got to meet one of the key local subbuteo folks who's organising the subbuteo Asian Cup to be played at South Melbourne's social club in late January 2018. All in all, a pretty entertaining and educational day and night. 

1 comment:

  1. I mean, if people want tactical analyses and such, they could always check out Ante Jukic


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