On occasions, Australian football can be Beautiful. On Sunday morning in Riyadh, it was Bold. To succeed in the mainstream, it will need to be both. Ben Shine reports.
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On Sunday afternoon 17,000 sun-drenched fans at the SFS watched a uncharacteristically disciplined Sydney FC side methodically dispatch a Central Coast Mariners side short of confidence. Among the crowd was Ronn Moss – otherwise known around the world as Ridge Forrester, a character from the long running Soap Opera the Bold and the Beautiful.
In a week where Australian football reached dizzying heights with the Wanderers Asian Champions League triumph, the presence of this quasi-famous soapie star at an A League game was a sharp reminder of the glaring shortcomings in our local game.
For all its growth, for the A League and
soccer football to be accepted in the Australian mainstream, it needs more soap opera.
Just like TPA Chief Executive Dave J. Edwards has argued that Rugby Union needs a good scandal, for the A League to succeed it will need to occupy the back pages, as well as the front pages.
Rugby league, and to a lesser extent the AFL, does a fantastic job of this. Despite diminishing entertainment returns on the actual field of play, the NRL has a canny knack of sustaining the public’s interest by forever embroiling itself in a series of off-field scandals.
For years it has seemed the NRL has a monopoly on low-brow, tawdry soap operas. Match-fixing. Assault. Drugs. Pissing in one’s own mouth etc etc.
This soap opera distracts from the game itself – but perversely that works in the NRL’s favour, helping to attract wider media interest to the sport. Like a philandering Karl Kennedy from Neighbours, Rugby League keeps on playing up, and yet like a loyal Susan, we always take him back.
If football wants to mix it with the big boys, it’s time the A League started eating away at the NRL’s lion’s share of the scandal market. It’s unrealistic to think this will happen overnight, but if the A League makes a few small adjustments, and borrows liberally from the script of popular soap operas, they could snaffle a few more column inches in Sydney Confidential.
First, the A League needs characters. Flawed characters, specifically. The next marquee at Sydney FC should not only be great at football, but he should also have well-documented substance abuse problems. Del Piero was too clean. Too family-friendly. Too approachable.
The A League also needs conflict. Not confected derbies, but a good old fashioned personal feuds between players, coaches or owners. I’m talking Melbourne City’s John van’t Schip calling Melbourne Victory’s Kevin Muscat a yellow-bellied rat f*cker – to his face – prior to kick-off, and then letting the pair have at it.
Like a good soap opera, there will also need to be some form of sexual infidelity or scandal. Whether it is happening or not, I think the world is ready for a coach-player homosexual relationship that is exposed after a player revolt on team selection.
Finally, a much loved character – who we all had assumed was long gone – should surprise us all by coming back. Like Harold Bishop in Neighbours, imagine the look on the faces of the
Ramsay Street locals fans when Mark Viduka pulls on a Newcastle Jets jersey and started posting-up in the box just like in his Dinamo Zagreb days.
Rather than simply feting soap opera stars at a Sunday afternoon fixture, the A League head honchos should be sitting down with the likes of Ronn Moss and picking his brain. After decades working on the Bold and the Beautiful, he knows a thing or two about garnering eyeballs.
Instead, rather foolishly, it seems the A League is intent to walk a lonely road – trying to make it into the mainstream on the merits of the sport alone. Even Ronn Moss knows that good looks don’t get you everywhere. You need a juicy storyline. Preferably one with sexual overtones.
By Ben Shine