It was Manchester United’s controversial Irishman Roy Keane who once said “Away from home our fans are fantastic, I’d call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don’t realise what’s going on out on the pitch. I don’t think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell ‘football’, never mind understand it.”
The same could well have applied to many who attended the Wallabies v Argentina match at NIB Stadium at the weekend. Also a few weeks ago, when the Socceroos played Iraq. Simply wearing a Socceroos or Wallabies shirt does not mean that you understand the game.
It is great that Perth is attracting top flight internationals now, and when it comes to rugby and football, that they are being played on a rectangular pitch; and an outstanding playing surface too. The groundsman at NIB has done an outstanding job to have many of the players claim it is the best playing surface in the country. All that is missing is some atmosphere.
When the Socceroos played it has since become clear that there was confusion over the “Active Zone,” where the Socceroos most vocal fans gather to cheer on their team. With the rugby, in the main despite losing, the pocket or Argentina fans made more noise than the Wallabies fans. Sure we had the tuba and a few renditions of Waltzing Matilda that petered out as quickly as they started, otherwise all one heard was the constant chatter of people talking.
It was not by any stretch of the imagination a great game to watch. It was a bludgeoning victory by Australia who blunted the constant attacks by Argentina and then punished their mistakes ruthlessly. However with wins hard to come by for the Wallabies at the moment, one would have expected more from the crowd.
There is something about games in Perth. At the rugby when play stops and the requisite music comes on it is always late, by comparison to other venues across the country and the world. It is not spontaneous. It feels as if it is an after thought, rather than part of the whole experience.
So why is it that Western Australians currently seem to struggle to create an atmosphere at such events? Is it because they have been starved of international sport for so long? Is it because they have been forced to watch international games at oval venues, and been used to be so far from the action? Is it because in Western Australia a lot of “fans” like to simply tick a box and say they went and saw the Socceroos or Wallabies play, because it looks or sounds good at the water cooler on a Monday?
It is a hard one to fathom, but hopefully the answer can be found soon. Because as great as it is to have the national team playing in Perth it is the spectacle and the atmosphere created at the event that keeps people coming back; That, and simple patriotism.