Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Socceroo interview

In part seven of my global interview series we travel down under to Australia and learn about football from Graham Drummond. Graham hosts a blog dedicated to West Ham called Whu-au, West Ham United blog for fans in Australia. My thanks for joining in.

FC: Australia has not traditionally been a football nation, what is the domestic league like?

GD: Football was always a very popular participation sport but not very popular as a spectator sport. There's a big divide between roundball (soccer) and eggball (AFL, Rugby League, and Rugby Union) in this country. The National Soccer League, or NSL, was the domestic league for years but was suffering from lots of fundamental problems. For example, many of the clubs were ethnically based, and the match coverage was non-existent.

However, that's starting to change. We've recently gone through a bit of a revolution. The new league, called the A-League, has just started this last month and this is a huge improvement. There are only eight clubs which means that the overall skill level in the league is higher. The clubs also represent a whole city, state (Queensland), or even country (New Zealand) rather than an ethnic subgroup or small locale within a city. This will make a big difference in the supporter numbers because it's an inclusive system rather than exclusive. The marketing and coverage has so far been excellent and the crowds have been good. Even the eggball fans are starting to watch it. Hopefully this upward climb will continue. Unfortunately the matches can't be seen on free-to-air TV and I think this will really hold the sport back.

The quality of the league is probably somewhere in the bottom half of the English Championship, or top half of League One. The teams have only just been formed though so it should improve by the season's end.

FC: What other football leagues do you get to see there?

GD: If you don't get cable TV, then not much. You can see the World Cup, FA Cup Final, Champions League finals and a few Australia international matches, but little else. Up till recently you could also see the English Premier League. The primary free-to-air football provider, SBS, is a governmentally funded channel and can't afford to buy the rights any more, which is a terrible shame. However, they do have a superb four-hour show called The World Game every Sunday, and give the sport good coverage on their nightly sports news programme.

If you have cable TV then you get heaps of coverage: EPL, A-League, Champions League, Primera Liga, Serie A, FA Cup, internationals, and probably a couple of others that I've forgotten.

FC: Who are you top 5 Australian players? How about 5 we have never heard of, but you rate?

GD: Of the players who play in overseas leagues:

1. Mark Schwartzer
2. Mark Viduka
3. Tim Cahill
4. Craig Moore
5. Marco Bresciano

I don't rate Harry Kewell because he's been injured so much, but he might have otherwise been top of the list.

Some of the overseas players who I rate but you may not have heard of are Zelkjo Kalac, Scott Chipperfield, and Ahmad Elrich. Max Vieri, who is Christian's brother, is also pretty good.

In the A-League, the top few Australian players are (in my opinion anyway) Andy Thompson, Ned Zelic, Alex Brosque, Jonty Richter, Michael Ferrante, and (as much as I hate him) Kevin Muscat. Kristian Sarkies and Chad Gibson are also very good. There are quite a few more who might shine over the coming season. Of all of them, Andy Thompson is the most likely to make an impact internationally.

FC Follow-up: Max Vieri is Christian's brother, but he's Italian, how has he ended up with an Australian nationality?

GD: Their family moved to Australia when Christian was very young. Their father played for a Sydney club Marconi Stallions (a good example of the ethnicity I was talking about - this was an Italian club). Max was born in Australia. The family moved back to Italy and that's where Christian became a professional. Christian could have chosen to play for Australia but instead chose to play for Italy. Max also had the same choice but chose to play for Australia. I'm not sure but this may be the only case of two brothers playing for different countries!

FC: What if Australia and New Zealand joined their domestic leagues, would that be good for football down under?

GD: There's a New Zealand team that plays in the A-League. That's good for the sport but unfortunately they don't appear to match the Australian clubs in terms of talent, which is a bit of a shame. They were unlucky to lose 3-1 to Sydney last week, though.

FC: What are your thoughts on having Guus Hiddink as your part time coach? And your chances for the World Cup in 2006?

GD: I suspect Guus Hiddink didn't know what he was signing up for! I think he'll be great for the team but I would be absolutely gobsmacked if we qualified for the World Cup. Despite what many Australians will tell you, the national team is pretty ordinary and doesn't really play well together. There's potential but it's never been realised. Hiddink is a good coach, but he needs more time than he's got to really develop the team, and he needs the full backing of the FFA. If he stays, Australia could become a good, world-class team.

FC: I've never read anything about the youth football system in Australia, what do you know about it?

GD: We have national and state institutes of sport, which help develop young players. Beyond that I don't know much about it but don't think it's very good. I believe that football is the most popular participation sport in the country, particularly amoung kids and teenagers. Unfortunately there seems to be no way to help players take that big leap from being a good player to being a world class professional, without actually playing overseas. The A-League should help that a bit, but there should be some sort of reserve competition to help players go from the amateur and state leagues to the A-League and beyond.

*Please email if you'd like to conduct an interview (over email) or if you know the name of a weblog in your country.


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Blogger whubris said...

Boy, was I wrong!

2/02/2006 5:41 AM  

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