An ageing, British soccer player known for his curving penalty kicks and inability to string together a coherent sentence is said to be eyeing off a cushy unit at the Australian soccer retirement facility known as the A-League.
“My wife Victoria, and our three children whose pretentious names I can’t actually recall right now, have been seeking a change for some time now,” the man may well have just told The Punch.
“We wanted a place where we can relax, sit back and pretty much do nuffin. When we heard there was a soccer league where Alessandro Del Piero gets paid $2 million a season and where clubs are still vying for the signature of Harry Kewell, we could hardly believe it.
The laziest thing you can do in journalism is to use Wikipedia as your principal source. Sometimes, you’ve just got to break rules. Just look at the Wiki entry for Besart Berisha, who scored the winning goal for Brisbane Roar in yesterday’s A-League grand final.
It reads, and I quote: “Besart Berisha is an Albanian footballer, and an Australian renowned diver, who plays as a striker for Brisbane Roar in the Australian A-League and internationally for the Albania national football team.”
They sure got the diving bit right. Yesterday, Berisha put Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham (he of the 10m platform Beijing gold medal) to shame. The audacity of Berisha’s dive in the penalty box was matched only by the incompetence of the ref, who somehow mistook thin air as a malicious opponent in much the same way as a dog barks at its own shadow.
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The FFA has just terminated the A-League license of struggling Gold Coast United. This comes after a massive war of words between Franky Lowy and Gold Coast owner Clive Palmer, the latest instalment of which came today when Palmer tweeted: We intend to fight this ludicrous decision by incompetent FFA in the courts. Frank Lowy is an institution who now belongs in an institution.
As the battle rages on, here’s a nice wider perspective on the battle of the billionaires from first time Puncher and soccer nut Stewart Prins.
A-League football had one of its more mysterious moments on the weekend when colourful franchise owner Clive Palmer sent his Gold Coast United (GCU) team out onto the field with the message “Freedom of Speech” plastered across the front of their playing strip.
Neither Mr Palmer nor his Gold Coast United CEO Clive Messink offered an explanation for the late change to the playing strip, or for the advertising billboards quoting the same slogan.
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Yesterday afternoon, Football Federation Australia confirmed the game’s worst kept secret and announced North Queensland Fury would not take part in the A-League next season, the club short of cash and the sport’s ruling body unwilling to stump up its own.
Given we’re one week out from the competition’s grand final, this is a Godsend for the anti-soccer brigade, who will pounce on any opportunity to shove all those “the world game will dominate” arguments back down the deluded roundball fanatics’ throats.
There’s no denying the decision to close the Fury is a body blow for the code but it’s not the death knell for football. In fact, forget the Socceroos – this is the time when football in Australia really comes of age.
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Another week in the A-League, another drubbing for the attendance figures. I tuned in to the Gold Coast-Mariners game on Monday and thought Fox Sports had actually started adding canned crowds to their coverage.
I’m not here to beat up the A-League – I have to make a living out of and there’s enough people doing it already – but the Gold Coast attendance of 2037 is appalling. This club is a known basketcase and has never had much of a crowd but it was the same across the league. Why don’t football fans turn up?
Let’s get the obvious reason out the way: its finals time for the two big codes, and they’re sucking up every possible sports fan, second of airtime and dollar that exists.
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They say a week is a long time in football – they’re not kidding. This week has to go down as one of the longest in the A-League’s short history.
Dramas with refereeing decisions, last season’s champions bottom of the ladder, players unpaid, clubs on the brink of financial collapse, falling attendances, controversy over simulation and FFA’s match review panel - the list goes on, and none of it makes good reading for Australian soccer fans.
We’re only a couple of weeks into the football season but certain things have become very clear, very quickly: Sydney FC aren’t going to hold onto their title, while the two Manchesters will have to prise Chelsea’s from Didier Drogba’s cold, dead hands.
Domestically, the A-League is so open you’d get better odds on the federal election result than the league title. So what can we take from an instructive weekend?
1. Sydney FC have a lot of work to do. The champions were outplayed and outfought by Brisbane Roar and the chinks in Vitezlev Lavicka’s side are getting bigger by the week. At the back, they’re really feeling the absence of Simon Colosimo, who left for Melbourne Heart. Foxe and Keller are about as mobile as Easter Island heads. And deprived of Bridge and Brosque on the weekend, they offered little threat upfront - but even with both fit, Sydney are still too light to make an impact. And talking of impact, has anyone seen marquee man Nicky Carle? Lavicka’s put posters on all the lamp posts round SFS but no one’s taking any of the little tear-offs.
Take a sniff, breathe it in – you know what that is? That’s the smell of deep heat and hair gel - real football is back.
It was almost three weeks between the end of the World Cup and the domestic competitions starting up again. Felt like I’d lost a limb. But after week two of the A-League and the return of the English Premier League, it’s worth taking a look at some of the early lessons of the season.
1. The A-League is still impossible to predict. Two weeks in, we’ve had three three-all thrillers, and last weekend the two most consistent teams in the competition were punished. Reigning champions Sydney FC went to North Queensland and produced a first-half’s entertainment comparable to An Audience with Kyle Sandilands.
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For the good of the game, Sydney must win the A-League Grand Final
Now, I’m just putting this out there. I’m just going to run it up the flagpole. The A-League, and football in Australia, needs Sydney FC to defeat Melbourne Victory next week.
This season’s decider is the one the game had to have. They’re the best two teams on the field, the biggest two teams of the field and have a rivalry that inspires feelings of joy, anguish, revulsion and, when applicable, a hefty dollop of schadenfreude.
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Sydney FC fans have woken up this morning feeling like they’ve had their wallets stolen – but they’ve got no one to blame but themselves.
Melbourne Victory’s major semi-final extra-time winner yesterday afternoon was typical; clever Kevin Muscat exploiting the situation, too-quick Archie Thompson putting the ball in the back of the net.
But what were Sydney doing? Ball-watching? Waiting for the ref? Checking their haircuts? In an open and entertaining game, Melbourne always seemed most likely to grab the all-important away goals that would earn them a home grand final.
So Sydney FC are minor premiers. Congratulations, they battled their way to the top with a lot more perspiration than inspiration but yesterday afternoon they proved too tenacious for Melbourne Victory.
The game was interesting for a number of points. This is just the first leg of a possible three-match finals run-in between the two sides. Given the form of the pair, there is a good chance they might just meet again in the grand final.
First up is the semi-final in Melbourne next Thursday. Victory will be desperate to inflict some serious hurt on Sydney, particularly after Terry McFlynn reportedly broke Robbie Kruse’s leg. It was physical at SFS yesterday, but that clumsy tackle left Melbourne seething.
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Can anyone stop Melbourne Victory making it two in a row?
What did we learn from last weekend’s round of A-League games? The top six is all but decided, give or take a few late hopes. Sydney FC seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot. And Melbourne Victory, despite losing to Gold Coast, are still favourites to do the double again.
For those who had better things to do this weekend, the first four finals places are locked in, with Melbourne, Gold Coast, Sydney and Perth all doing enough. Despite tricky away games, Wellington and Newcastle should finish off the six.
For many Australians, John Aloisi will always be fondly remembered for scoring the penalty that put Australia in the 2006 World Cup, a goal voted one of the nation’s greatest sporting moments.
But any visitor to a Sydney FC game would think he was somehow responsible for the Haiti earthquake, the global financial crisis and Barack Obama’s failure to meet expectations on raising the level of public healthcare in the US.
I went to the Sydney-Gold Coast game Sunday afternoon, and was bemused by the scorn poured on Aloisi by his own supporters. Even forgetting the hardcore in the Cove, there were at least three loud voices in the crowd who took every opportunity to abuse the striker and point out the glaring discrepancy in his wages-to-goals ratio.
Things are happening on Newcastle that shouldn’t be. The Jets, last year’s wooden-spooners who finished with an eye-watering 18 points, are burning a trail through the top end of the league.
The Jets are one of the most limited teams in the competition when it comes to resources. The club is stretched to its limit financially, and they have consistently failed to keep hold of their best players.
In the first twelve rounds of the season, they won just three games. Their team was made up of A-League stalwarts, untested youngsters and in charge was Branko Culina, the man who rubs more people the wrong way than one of things your mum has to get rid of fluff on clothes.
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Earlier this week, Newcastle Jets coach Branko Culina got hit with a $3000 fine for saying his team still had a chance of making the finals “because all the teams around us are pretty s**t as well.”
But that pain in the wallet won’t be so nasty after the Jets mugged Sydney FC 3-1 yesterday afternoon at Sydney Football Stadium.
The fact that the team in ninth place can hand out such a heavy defeat to the second-placed team illustrates the A-League’s great strength and biggest weakness.
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It’s Monday - what is Robbie Fowler thinking this morning?
It was a tough weekend for the former Liverpool star. North Queensland Fury’s marquee signing recovered from a hip injury just in time to lead his team out to a 5-1 thrashing at home by Central Coast Mariners.
Two League Cups, one FA Cup, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, 128 goals in 266 appearances for Liverpool… What do you think is on his mind when he wakes up in Townsville this morning?
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Last week in Australian Football Weekly, I wrote a couple of disparaging remarks about Central Coast Mariners. Nothing too heavy, but I basically called them a team of grinding, featureless clones cultivated by coach Lawrie McKinna in a secret lab in Gosford.
Then, on Saturday night, they nipped down to Melbourne and duly gave the reigning champions, who had won six of their last seven, a hearty 4-zip spanking in their own backyard.
I’ll put my hands up – it was a great game. McKinna’s men wore Victory into the ground, and they were fast and clever in and around the box. They didn’t just ruin Melbourne’s party; they turned up, drank all the booze, pulled out some classic dance moves and went home with both the best-looking girls.
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Over the past eight games between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United, the tally stands Melbourne 8, Adelaide 0. I’d hate to be an Adelaide supporter.
I would literally be tearing my hair out, punching the bed, slamming doors, kicking the cat, and quite probably losing friends and alienating anyone I knew in Melbourne.
I should qualify that I have nothing against Adelaide; I’m actually a fan. They’re an honest team with some good players, they play good football and in Aurelio Vidmar have one of the best young coaches in the country.
The A-League is by no means the best football in the world, but as a competition, it’s better than the EPL.
I spend my week talking and writing about football and my weekends watching it - but I can’t get a single round of the A-League right in my tipping comp.
It’s an ongoing joke in the office that the editor of a weekly football magazine can’t get his tips right. Things are so bad even my art director’s beating me – trumped by a crayon monkey!
Soccer has all the ingredients to capture the imagination of Australia’s sporting public in the same way the AFL and NRL grand finals have done. All the ingredients are there except one: common sense.
The facts are this: football - as it has been rebranded - has the highest registered participation rate of all the football codes in this country.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more kids play football than AFL and NRL combined. So why aren’t the kids and their parents filling the stadiums at A-League games?
As an old time supporter of Football (or Soccer, if you feel so inclined – which many Australians do), imbalanced and factually incorrect media reports of riots, violence and hooliganism in my code is nothing new.
The rise of the A-League may have been nothing short of spectacular, but unfortunately the same old boys (usually AFL reporters) that pooh-poohed Soccer in the now defunct NSL era continue to periodically rear their snarling heads and tell us that this foreign sport is full of thugs that are more likely to slit your throat than not.
The formula is just about the same every time, and Tim Hilferty’s Monday article on The Punch ‘The myth that soccer is a family-friendly sport’ was no different.
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