The A League Needs To Be Bold And Beautiful

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.

More SCANDAL; not more SKANDO
More SCANDAL; not more SKANDO

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.

"All Night" Dwight was a smart, but the A League has lost its way in recent years.
“All Night” Dwight was a start, but the A League has lost its way in recent years.

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.

A formidable, yet traditional Number 9
A traditional, yet formidable Number 9

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

Can a Crocked Neymar Salvage Soccer’s Burgeoning Reputation as a Sport for Pussies?

“Soccer is for pussies”

It’s a refrain uttered by many Australians when speaking about the round ball game, and despite soccer’s increasing popularity, it’s a tough tag to shift.

Maybe it’s because soccer is, and never will be, as physically intense as league, union or AFL. It is true that when it comes to bodies colliding at speed with intent, soccer will never match the other codes. And it’s certainly the case that the prevalence of modern soccer players who dive, roll on the ground to feign injury and shed tears during games has not helped soccer shake the perception that it is less masculine than other sports codes.

But this all stands to change, and it’s from the most unlikeliest of sources.

Brazilian wunderkid/superstar/bloke with a rat on his head Neymar has always been the stereotypical soccer player that GPS-educated Tahs fans love to mock: he falls theatrically whenever he is touched, weighs 64kg and cries liberally throughout games.

The Notebook was a real tear jerker

And yet, somewhat ironically the serial diver/primadonna Neymar has the chance to salvage soccer’s reputation.

During Friday’s Quarter Final against Columbia, Neymar copped a violent knee to his lower back and left the field with a fractured lower vertebra. The doctors say he was lucky to avoid becoming paralysed. The injury is so severe that he will not play any further part in the World Cup, and won’t be able to touch a football for 40-50 days. Treatment will involve wearing a cumbersome brace ala Forest Gump.

In spite of this, various outlets are today reporting that Neymar may attempt to play in the World Cup Final with a broken back – a little more than a week after the injury occuredshould Brazil make it that far.

I’ve never heard of anyone playing professional sport with a broken back. Your back, and your spine in general, is a pretty fundamental part of the human body, and without it, performing pysical tasks becomes quite hard. I’m no doctor, but playing with a cracked vertebra would require a lot of painkillers to ease the pain, and of course you would run the risk of making the injury even worse.

Medical opinions should be considered accordingly
Medical opinions should be considered accordingly

But, what is more masculine than risking death or paralysis in the name of sport? Or even better, in the name of your country? I vividly remember former South African cricketer Graeme Smith batting to save the match as the sun set on the fifth day of the SCG Test, with a severely broken wrist. By risking further injury to an important body part in order to scratch out a draw – not even a win – Smith gained a lot of respect from the crowd, quite a feat given he is South African.

And then there is Andrew Johns who played with a punctured lung in 1997, and John Sattler who played with a broken jaw in the 1970 Grand Final.

But a broken back is a whole different ballpark. If you irreparably break your hand, you’re always got another one. Mess up your jaw, and you’ll probably look like Nate Myles a Neanderthal for the rest of your life. But sever your spinal cord and you’ll be luck to live, let alone walk or lay claim to having a good quality of life.

Playing through life-threatening injury has long been the sole domain of rugby league, but Neymar has the chance to change all of that.

If he takes the field for the World Cup Final with a broken back, Neymar will not only defy conventional wisdom on the body’s ability to rehabilitate, he will also shatter any residual belief that soccer is a game for pussies.

Only then will Australia forgive you

By Ben Shine