Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Queensland Media Let Down Their A-League Sides

I've just spent a week in the Sunshine, sorry, the Smart State (gotta check those number plates), and was expecting a bit of excitement and expectation about the Brisbane Roar/Gold Coast derby match.  After all, the first game was full of niggle and rivalry as Gold Coast stunned their big brother.

But as I opened up the Sunday paper (pre-Farina-gate by the way), I was more than a little disappointed to find the match relegated the lower half of a page 9 in from the back.  Some quotes from Farina on Minnecon, and a picture of Josh McCloughan.  Up in the top corner, 3 pars on the Fury.

This after 3 pages on Fevola, 2 on Bathurst, 1 on Ewen McKenzie at the Reds, and 2 on the Broncos/Kanagroos.

Now the A-League is the only footy code doing the rounds, and it's treated with such disdain by media, print media in particular.  It was a similar story with the Saturday night TV news up there.  After the Bathurst qualfying, more on Fev, Corey Parker taking out the Broncos best and fairest, even the Presidents Cup, there was a 30" piece on the match, with a voiceover and one grab from Farina.

How is this selling the game?  Sure, 24 hours later the Roar were lead story as Farina's drink/drive scandal hit, oh and by the way there was a football match played and Gold Coast won.  But until that moment, your everyday Joe had probably forgotten about the A-league. 

There are many reasons why the crowds and interest are down in certain areas.  Brisbane haven't been helped by a horrendous Stadium deal with Suncorp, prohibitive ticketing arrangements, and a very inconsistent team, but if the local media won't support their side, what hope is there?

The attitude of the News Limited papers in particular perplexes me.  News own Fox who are stakeholders in Australian football, and are pretty much the A-League's sole cheerleader these days, and yet News Ltd papers treat it with contempt, especially in Sydney, with the refusal to change from "soccer" to "football", and an agenda that encourages sniping at the game from it's big name writers.  God knows how it feels to write for them as a football journo.

And I wonder what Fox's long game is with the competition.  The viewing figures for the A-League aren't too flash, and the Socceroos are clearly the big selling point in their FFA deal.  When negotiation time comes around for the next contract, the Pay-TV provider's position will be telling.  The FFA will want some FTA for their competition and I don't think Fox will put up too much of a fight.

As the competition expands, the interest is appearing to contract.  Worrying signs for the competition?  Or just a natural plateau after an exceptional first few years?

Dolphins Bring back the Glory Days. Kind of.

It's been a long time since I've watched the Miami Dolphins play NFL.  But last night I watched a replay of their match with the Jets, and it brought back a host of memories for me.

Lets start at the beginning, always a good place.  I grew up in the UK in the 80's, the perfect time to get into NFL.  The game boomed big time during the latter part of the decade.  Football was in a trough due to violence, the cricket team were pretty poor, the rugby side awful, and suddenly NFL arrived on a white charger to seduce a mass audience who wanted something different.

The Fridge arrived with Chicago to play at Wembley, and over the next few years, the names of Montana, Rice, Elway and Payton were as common as Rush, Dalglish and Hoddle, and the local side the Monarchs attracted 60,000 to Wembley every week.

For me, a gift from a family friend sealed my choice of side.  A full, and I mean helmet shoulder pads, the works, Miami Dolphins uniform.  This particular 9 year old was thrilled and regularly wore the whole ensemble around the house.  For me, Dan Marino was the hero.  The "Marks Brothers" Clayton and Duper ran close.

But as good as the Dolphins were on paper, it never translated into success.  A total lack of a running game and a dodgy defense killed them season after season.  It didn't matter though.  Marino was king for me.

Typically interest in NFL waned as the 80's hit the 90's.  The Monarchs fell over, and gradually the extensive coverage ebbed away to a timeslot more in keeping with home shopping.  I still loved my Phins though, even after Marino hung up the helmet with a swag of records but no Superbowl ring.

Fast forward to 2009.  To be honest I'd let the Dolphins slip a bit recently.  The opportunities to watch them were few and far between for me, after moving to Australia, and with the team in freefall, they were never an ideal pick for a broadcaster. 

But 2 years ago that changed.  I was selected to produce Superbowl 2008 for SBS, and so eagerly hit the research trail.  Sadly my beloved side slipped to their worst seaosn ever. 1-15.  Horrid.

Things improved last year as they bounced back to make the play-offs, winning the AFC East.  But even then, I followed without really watching.  The odd highlight on the net maybe.

But onto last night and the Jets game.  Staring down the barrel of going 1-4, the Phins were electric.  As ramshackled in defense as ever, but possessing a spectacular offensive style, the "wildcat" which basically means going without a Quarterback every now and then and snapping straight the running back.  The Phins have the best running game in the comp, and then snatched victory with 6 seconds remaining in a wild game that has rekindled my love for this often maligned sport, and team.

Sure, the names Brown and Henne don't mean much to me, but I was relieved to see a couple of familiar faces from years gone by.  Jason Taylor and Ricky Williams, who both had terrific matches, are chalk and cheese.  Taylor a big defensive back, with MVP honours throughout a glittering career.  Williams, the electric runner from 10 years ago, whose career slid into drugs, suspension and injury.  They were the stars as the Dolphions reminded me why I loved them all those years ago.

They may not win too many superbowls, but my God they'll be fun to wtach along the way.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The EPL Compass - September 21

What a weekend. Plenty of goals, tumultuous scenes on Derby Day and some ducks broken down the table.

Heading North


At 2-nil down in Belgium, Arsenal’s season was on the verge of unravelling. But the gritty comeback against Standard followed by the brushing aside of Wigan actually put a smile back onto Arsene’s face! Not the most dazzlingly Arsenal display but good enough.

Manchester United

What do you reckon the overriding emotion was at full time (plus six minutes) on Sunday? Relief would be pretty high up there I’m guessing. United were patchy to say the least but on the sheer weight of possession and chances in the second half, they deserved to win. Just. Fergie will be delighted to get the 'w' over his “noisy neighbours” , but will also know how serious a threat they are. A wonderful advert for Premier league football. A cracking, cracking match.

Michael Owen and Fernando Torres

Great finishes from great finishers. And truly great players choose their moments...

Manchester City

Ok, so they lost the game, but certainly laid down a marker for the rest of the season. The better side in the first half, they hung on and refused to lie down. They are truly exhilarating on the counter and have some resilience. A defeat but possibly a watershed moment for City and the Premier League. Doing a fine job of crashing the 'big four' party.

Craig Bellamy

Incredible performance. The finish for his first goal was quality, but the run past Rio was breathtaking. He is playing the best football of his career right now. The only thing that may sour it is the fracas with a supporter.

Shay Given

Similar to Bellamy. Given is the best shot stopper in the league and he kept City in the game.


It’s all going rather well for Ancelotti’s side at the moment. Spurs were a challenge for much of the first hour, but once King was withdrawn, Drogba dominated. Add to that the continued excellent form of Ashley Cole and Essien dominating, and you have a heady mix. Will be tough to beat this year. Drogba’s injury the only downer.


A crucial win for Wolves. They never allowed Fulham to settle and by the time the Cottagers started playing they were two down. There’s life at Molineux.

David Nugent

The North-West air agrees with Nugent. Prolific with Preston, pathetic at Pompey, but two clinical finishes have got his Burnley career off and running. Great win for the new boys.

David Moyes

A good news week. Lucas in and two comfortable wins. The green shoots of recovery at Goodison maybe?


It looked like the same old story. Chances galore, but no-one to finish them off. But finally Garry O’Connor buried the chance and got the Blues a much needed win on the road. 10 players were missing through injury so credit where its due.

Going South

Match Officials

Received the ire of several managers at the weekend. None more so than Howard Webb who didn’t give penalty for Spurs (Keane did give him the opportunity to not give it with his dramatic tumble), and of course Martin Atkinson for using the classic Old Trafford stop watch.

Liverpool’s Back Four

What on Earth is going on there? Jamie Carragher had a shocking day out at Upon Park, run ragged by the young Hammer Hines. Skrtel couldn’t pass water, and as a unit they were appalling. Vulnerable at set pieces, troubled by pace and all at sea.


Couldn’t have gone much worse really. Missed chances, penalty turned down, injuries galore. The bubble has burst, but on the bright side, that’s now threee of the top four already played and the fixtures look handy over the next month. Providing ‘Arry can find a fit centre half. King’s latest drama is a body blow.

Kenwyn Jones

Relegated to the bench in recent weeks, Jones got a chance in the second half at Burley, and promptedly made the mistake that led to Burnley’s second. His lacklustre display summed up Sunderland’s mood, and will frustrate Steve Bruce, who sees his side’s form swing wildly.

Phil Brown

The knives are out for Browny, with several English papers suggesting that the end is nigh. Defeat against an under strength Birmingham at home is a pretty depressing result. The Premier League novelty value has worn off on Humberside, and they are now dealing with the reality of week by week struggle and it’s not pretty.

Bolton and Blackburn

One step forward, two back. After positive weeks, these two clubs had a poor weekend. Bolton were booed off at the Reebok after escaping with a draw at home to Stoke in a poor game, and Blackburn rolled over at Goodison.

I don’t know why but I really believe Portsmouth have a good group of players there, and will come good, but every week the results don’t reflect that. Some many new signings will obviously take time to gel, but six defeats on the spin, combined with the schoolboy defending we saw at Villa Park does not bode well at all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sydney FC's Biggest Battle Starts Here

It was the perfect opportunity for Sydney FC to capture the hearts and minds of its public. No NRL, no AFL, perfect weather, and family deals galore.

Cheap ticketing hell even free pies were offered as an incentive to get punters through the door, as Sydney FC became the only show in town when they faced Newcastle today

But in the cold light of day it didn’t work. 10,357 was the official attendance. The lowest of the season, and a massive disappointment for the Sky Blues.

All this in a week where we saw a changing of the guard in the boardroom. CEO Stefan Kamasz, a survivor of the “Old Football” era, was moved “sideways” into a football development role, with another Dutchman joining the Australian football revolution. Edwin Lugt arrives from the Dutch 1st Division – not the top flight as some have misleadingly reported – where he was chief executive.

And he has a massive job to do. The 4th Chief executive in 5 years, Lugt has to find a way of selling the club to the toughest market in the country, and fight off the expected arrival of a 2nd entity in the city’s west.

There have been many suggestions put forward as to why the club with the biggest potential fan base have consistently failed to pull in the big crowds. Sure there is a certain amount of apathy amongst the citizens of the harbour city. They are fair-weather fans. If this Sydney side reaches the finals, then they will flood through the doors. But Newcastle Jets? On a sunny afternoon? Nah…….

The lack of a big name marquee is also hurting. Imagine Robbie Fowler in the sky blue shirt. No disrespect to John Aloisi, but Sydney needs a big name overseas player. The recent press has suggested that the club would look at a guest spell for Luis Figo. That may be far fetched but it’s the degree of thinking required to put bums on seats, and have the clubs name on the lips of more than just the hardcore supporters.

Things have been a little too quiet as well. Lavicka’s side are going only steadily, and you know, in a city like Sydney that’s not enough. The public demand a bit of drama or controversy. The Butcher era. The Kossie Calamities. Sure the team wasn’t much chop, but wasn’t the drama fun!

It’s a big job for Lugt, and as usual with the club formerly known as Bling FC, there won’t be much time given to make things happen. Regardless of ownership, or management, success is demanded, and quick.

Lugt’s first task. Bums on seats. Free tickets to schools in the west would be a good start. Get a 1000 kids in next week, and 500 may return the following. Plus they’ll badger their parents for a scarf, or a shirt and then you’ve got them.

In 2 weeks time the NRL season will be over, and great swathes of the population, particularly out west, will be without a sporting fix on their weekend. Sydney FC need to find a way of filling that void.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One Day England might be good at cricket....

It was to be expected I suppose.  After the drama of the ashes, England's cricketers have fallen in a heap during the one day series.

6-0 down with one to play (SBS sunday 7pm aest by the way), the hosts have been utterly inept from word go.  A disparate group of players seemingly clueless on how to play limited over cricket.

Just look at the names.  Denly, Bresnan, Morgan.  Who?  Andrew Strauss had to have his arm twisted to captain the 50 over side, due his lack of suitability for the shortened game, and yet he has been the stand out.

Too nervous, and indecisive in the crucila middle overs, England's batsmen get set, then get out.  Time after time after time.  It's remarkable how the basics of one day cricket confuse them.

It's a similar tale with the bowling.  Too often content to be milked at 4 an over, England lack genuine wicket takers.  I've taken a look at the top 20 wicket takers of all time in English ODI's. It's farcical.  James Anderson is number 3.  Of all time.  Bob Willis is in the top 10 for Christs sake!  Great bowler he was....25 years ago.

England reached the final of the 92 World Cup on the back of Botham at the top of the order, Lamb in support, all rounders chipping in and a slow bowler who kept it tight and took wickets.  Since then it's been a debacle and doesn't seem to be getting any better.

English cricket needs a radical rethink of it's 50 strategy, mainly because they've dumped it at domestic level.  Some of the rationale appears to be that the South Africans have done the same, and they're the best in the world. many World Cups have South Africa won?

The Champions Trophy starts on Tuesday and it's possible Engand will go in on the back of a 7-0 hiding.  I'm not putting much money on them winning a game on the high veldt in the coming month.

Manchester's derby day drama

As I write this we're just 24 hours away from the most anticipated Manchester derby in years.  After a summer of spending and acrimony, Ciy and United get it on, with more than local bragging rights at stake.

City's transformation from perennial under achievers to title challengers is nearing completion.  Their victory over Arsenal last weekend showed that can match it with the traditional "big four".  Their breathless counter attacking game will trouble many sides but there is a massive question mark over their fragility at the back.  Shay Given may turn out to be the best signing oil money can buy.

On Sunday they will be without Adebayor, quite rightly sanctioned by the FA for his stamp on Van Persie.  That was his crime, not the celebration that left many hot under the collar.  Its about time fans started to take responsibility for their actions.  Blaming a player for provocation after you've spent 75 minutes abusing him at the top of your voice is a bit rich.  Man up.

Mark Hughes has shown an enourmous amount of poise in his media dealings this year, refusing the get seriously involved in the tit for tat campaign with his former boss down in Salford, or becoming flustered by talk of pressure and money.  And he'll need to maintain his poise tomorrow, and guide his charges to what could be a defining performance.

As for United, they were quite brilliant at Tottenham, carving the hosts open on the counter, and suffocating the midfield.  City's style is sure to be a little different, and without Adebaor, they will have to re-jig, so it will be down to Fergie to work out how to break them down.  Expect roles for Giggs, Scholes, Neville and Owen, as United try to exploit the derby day atmosphere against a group of players with very little allegiance to City, or to Manchester.

I can't wait for this one, and can see City giving it a real go.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pim's in Charge

So Pim Verbeek has got the nod, and will be in charge of the Socceroos for the start of the World Cup qualifiers. Fair play to the FFA for getting the matter sorted pretty swiftly following the Advocaat debacle. And I hope for their sake that they have the right man.

The last 48 hours has seen a drag race for the job between Verbeek and the former Japan coach Philippe Troussier. The Frenchman appeared to have the inside running after travelling to Sydney and interviewing extensively. But it appears that the influence of Rob Baan, and the desire to continue with the Dutch philosophy has got Verbeek across the line. Troussier was the stronger candidate, but may have frightened off the FFA with his demands for total control of the players from A-League upwards. And of course, he’s not Dutch.

There’s no doubt that Verbeek’s record as a coach is very good, with extensive spells at club and national level, in Europe and Asia. The worry comes when you examine his credentials in the very top job. He took Korea to 3rd place in the Asian Cup courtesy of two penalty shoot outs, and the Reds struggled throughout. And his club career doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, with a disasterous spell at Feyenoord in the early 90’s standing out. Since then he’s been a serial assistant; successfully with Korean Guus in 2002, and less so with Advocaat’s pale imitation in 2006, before taking the head coach role with The Reds in 2007.

There will be no “getting to know you” period for the new man. Qualifying is in less than 2 months. Verbeek will have to get to know the A-League and it’s players very quickly, and will rely heavily on his assistant Graham Arnold for local knowledge, presuming Arnie retains his position as assistant to a man who was his peer just a few months ago.

The FFA have rolled the dice. Now we have to wait to see if our number comes up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Becks Effect

Well I wasn’t totally in favour of it (please see my blog for further details), and the TV ratings weren’t that impressive (average just over 1 million), but overall I have to say that the Beckham experiment was a big success. The game was entertaining, had enough niggle for the AFL fans over at Channel 10, it was a full house, and a bloke in white scored a free kick which seemed to please to rather a lot of people.

The real success of the match though will be measured not in dollars made, or shirts sold, but in how many bodies rock up to Sydney Football Stadium, or Bluetongue, or Energy Australia Stadium over the next few weeks. It’ll be measured by how many kids take off their Bulldogs jerseys or put down their Sherrin’s and head to the park for a kick about. That’s what football in Australia needs. For the previously apathetic to realise that ‘Hang on? This is alright this football lark.’

For long term believers Telstra Stadium was a surreal sight. 80000 fans watching an Australian side take on an American team on a damp Tuesday night. For the newcomers a word of warning; it won’t always be like that. There’s a famous story from England that the Bulgarian goalkeeper Bobby Mihailov joined Reading in 1994 on the strength of a DVD he saw of their play-off final. The deciding factor for the Bulgarian was the beautiful ground Reading were playing at, Wembley Stadium. Unfortunately for Mihailov the dilapadated Elm Park, capacity 12000 on a good day, was the Royals home ground, not the home of football! Needless to say, Bobby soon headed home.

The moral of that story for the newcomer is to look beyond the shiny packaging of Becks, and Telstra and Channel 10, and see and enjoy the game for what it is; the greatest single game in the world. There’s no denying that the game has been given a much needed shot in the arm following a post World Cup slump, exacerbated by the Socceroos wretched showing at the Asia Cup. The interest now must be harnessed and the momentum built on. A free-to-air highlights deal, better advertising of matches, and a better marketed comp (especially by Sydney) are the first steps. They mustn’t be the last.