Ever since I was a kid I have loved all sports. So why am I now finding myself hating other sports because of an anti-football agenda from the media and being made to pick a side? This MELBOURNEVICTORY.NET feature article explores the Football fan’s relationship with the mainstream press.
My earliest memory of kicking an oval shaped football was just over 20 years ago. When I delve deep into the memory bank, to the day of the 1995 AFL Grand Final, in which, as a 5-year-old boy, I went into my backyard after the siren sounded and kicked around a ball, it is an out of body experience. As I think back to that day, it’s as though I am looking down on myself, watching the young me kick and chase a shitty, hard-as-a-rock plastic footy bought from Target around on my own in the evaporating September sunlight.
Not long after that day, I began playing organised football for a team in my hometown of Sunbury. Sunday’s were spent travelling around the Riddell District, to such places as Woodend, Melton and Kilmore, trying to emulate the feats of my football heroes. It was in those days that my insatiable lust for competition had spawned. My enthusiasm for watching two teams battle it out, for the right to call themselves the best, was not just confined to AFL, but any sport I could get my hands on. Due to my family heritage, I was introduced to football – or soccer, as we referred to it – at a young age. In winter, my weekends would be consumed by watching AFL, and then in summer I would stay up late for the SBS Premier League game of the week, often falling asleep before a ball was struck in anger. When the A-League came along, I added that to my summer playlist and became heavily invested in the Melbourne Victory. When there was no AFL or Football to watch, it didn’t matter. I just loved sport. Any kind. Tennis, Basketball, Horse Racing etc. Even if it’s 3 in the morning and Canadian Curling is on, I would watch it.
But in the last decade, I’ve felt myself resenting sports that aren’t football because of the out-of-touch media. The constant agenda driven anti-football articles and incorrect reporting has angered me so much so that I have been compelled to pick a side and jump on our little round ball underdog and defend it to the hilt. It would appear that the most natural instinct of sport – competition – has spilt over the white line and into the newspapers and social media. When the A-League gets coverage in the mainstream press, the actual game itself is scarcely the top story.
This was amplified on Saturday afternoon, when a Channel 7 journalist got down on his hands and knees to take a photo of a flare in a gutter. It was literally ‘gutter journalism’. The next day, as the angry mob of Football fans descended upon his @mentions with their electronic pitchforks, the journalist admitted that he didn’t even bother to set foot in the stadium to cover the match. This is a clear sign that agendas are festered and created before the news even happens.
But, who is to blame for this?
Maybe we all are.
THE MEDIA CORPORATIONS
When you’re out and about having a few beers in one of the fine watering holes Melbourne has to offer, getting amongst a bit of ‘pub talk’ with an ignorant mate you have that thinks Football is for poofs and that nobody in our country likes it, one of the first arguments you’ll retort with is the participation level of the game in Australia. It’s true; Football is the most participated game in this country across junior and senior level for both men and women. That must mean people like soccer, right?
Whilst the three major TV networks have flirted with football in the past by covering cringe worthy exhibition matches featuring depleted European sides on holiday, none have pulled the trigger and stumped up the cash for a Friday or Saturday night A-League match. Why? Because not enough people will watch it. Some of the blame herein lies with the Australian EuroSnob fans that refuse to watch a game of Football unless their team is assured of a win. Yeah, it must be great fun to call yourself a Barcelona fan and watch Neymar put 4 past the might of Rayo Vallecano.
Despite the large numbers of the general public who take part in the game, this has never translated to a high TV audience of the local league on FoxSports and SBS, certainly in comparison to the AFL and NRL. When you think about it, it actually makes sense that the media outlets, such as the original Axis of Evil (Channel 9, 3AW and The Herald Sun), and others would protect those other codes of football that they literally pay billions of dollars to broadcast and report on. It’s understandable that they would protect their investment by maintaining a negative narrative of football in this country.
Traditional journalism is on life support. With the advent of social media in the A-League era, the old-fashioned newspaper writer is no longer anonymous; they’re now media personalities. In the same day you’ll see the likes of Rita Panahi in your morning newspaper, on your Twitter feed, bellowing out from your radio and in your line of sight on television. There are so many people now that have a communications degree and call themselves journalists, and they all have opinions that they want to be heard. With the sheer volume of people, teamed with the many different forms of media, these people have to say something provocative – even if they don’t believe it – so that you’ll remember them and they’ll keep their job.
Journalism is no longer about the quality of work you are putting out, it’s about how many clicks your article gets off Facebook, and how many people are engaging with the writer on Twitter. These Journos know that only the diehard fans are going to click on a headline that reads ‘Melbourne Victory win in stoppage time’, but that ‘SOCCER RIOTS, FLARES, WOGS, OUT OF CONTROL VIOLENCE’ is going to garner ore clicks from the general public, as well as the fans, who arc up every time one of the Anti-Football writers launch an assault on the game. Perhaps the most ridiculous thing is that these people have never actually been to a game, they are just entrenched in the ways of ‘old soccer’ and amazingly, the formula still creates traffic.
Like an AFL-loving bogan named Warrick whose son has just told him that he is gay, football fans are in denial over something that we need to acknowledge and accept; we give the media ammunition to lead with these stories.
We know that Peter Rolfe was incorrect recently in the Herald Sun when he said that 145 flares were thrown at Melbourne A-League matches last year. But it’s semantics. Outside the game, on the marches, I can guarantee that 145 flares, possibly even more, were ignited or thrown. We can safely assume that the Victorian Police count those figures outside of games and add them to the total amount, but because the writer simplified it for the general public, we think we’ve got him on a technicality.
Additionally, when a journalist pens a negative football article, the aforementioned angry mob get a bit too riled up on social media and level death threats at them. This is no way to advance the relationship. In fact, it further enhances the violent stereotype. This only makes the journalists want to attack the game more.
Guess what? Despite the media corporations and their blatant bias towards sports like AFL and NRL, despite over zealous journalists who are tripping over themselves to make a name for themselves, and despite football fans who do themselves a disservice by fighting, none of this has made a least bit of difference.
The A-League started in 2005 from a low base, dealing with a perception of ethnic violence in the eye of the Average Joe. Then in 2006, 50,000 people turned up to a football match. And guess what? 40,000 people turned up to a great match on Saturday night and Melbourne Victory smashed their membership record before the season even begun. We’ve endured a decade of negativity and self-sabotage, and people are still turning up to matches.
As football fans, we talk a lot about generational change. It will happen eventually. The current media landscape we are in will calm down. The older journalists who grew up on footy and cricket, and who thought soccer was for diving pussies will eventually die. The new wave will come through. The young kids with Archie Thompson’s name on their back will grow up and have kids of their own and blood them in the world game. One day we will be the mainstream.
I promise that one day everything is going to be better for you.
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