It was interesting to read many of the articles on the World Cup this morning just before the 2014 edition commences, and one in particular penned by Geoff Lemon at The Guardian online stood out. In this piece he asked if the Socceroos are Australia’s number one national team.
Just like many have debated before, he raised the issue that football is far easier to comprehend for the uninitiated as the rules and scoring and extremely simple; with possibly the exception of the offside ruling and bidding for a World Cup. One of the reasons he believed that people will get up at all hours of the night to watch the Socceroos and many of the other games was “Partly it’s a matter of low commitment: the compact and infrequent nature of international tournaments mean that people don’t have to care most of the time.”
It could well be simpler than this. Australians love to win, and if they can’t win they want to compete against the best. They want to see where they stand against the best in the World. Cricket and Rugby are essentially Commonwealth sports, games spread to countries that were formerly British colonies, and although Australia dominates these, the average sports fan knows that more than half the countries in the world do not play these sports seriously at international level. Before people get upset if we look at the International Cricket Council, they have just ten full member nations playing Test cricket and 37 Associate member nations. The International Rugby Board has a higher figure of member nations at 101. FIFA the body that runs football has more than double the membership of nations playing the game at 208; in fact they have more member nations than the United Nations!
No Socceroos fan honestly believes that they can win the World Cup, but Football gives you the power to dream, for a brief moment to think that it could be possible. For so long Australia had missed out on competing against the best at the World Cup finals, and that in itself helped the Socceroos garner support from people who did not generally follow the game. The pain of defeat against Iran in 1997, the hope of a victory in Montevideo in 2001 and the much hyped scuffle at airport appeared that the Gods were against us. When in truth our naiveté cost us finals berths.
Qualification in 2006 was massive, it was one of the most incredible experiences to witness. Then at the tournament Australia progressed through the group, They beat Japan who for so long had been the torch bearers in Asia, they were well beaten by Brazil, which was a reality check and then they defeated Croatia. Now in the knock-out phase anything was possible, and they were oh-so-close to beating the eventual World Champions Italy. For 94 minutes a nation believed that they could make it to the Quarter finals.
The truth is only eight nations have lifted the World Cup trophy in 19 tournaments, in 84 years. Are Australia the best team? Are they realistically going to win the World Cup in the next 20 years, let alone make the final? Realistically, no they aren’t but as that game against Italy proved for 90 minutes football has the ability to suspend belief, with one goal being all you need to steal victory, there is always hope. That is the magic, and even those who do not follow the game on a regular basis could grasp that, and were caught up in the emotion of the game and the possibility that an upset could occur.
Australia is a country made up of people from other places, and even though many still have affection for the places they come from, they are grateful to be living in this great country. Many will still support the land of their birth if they have indeed qualified, but Australia will also be strongly supported as this is their home. Football truly unites people, unlike any other sport because so many countries play follow and understand it; regretably it also causes great tensions too. How many sports can say they have been the cause of a War, which football sadly can.
The Socceroos are Australian. They best reflect us as a nation. That is why they garner such support. We are not a super power in the World and never will be. When asked to join the big boys will we quietly sit there and be grateful we are there, and simply enjoy the experience? No, we want to be a part of the event, we want to make our mark and match it with the super powers. There is no fear, some may even say there is a lack of respect for reputations. The truth is we want to see where we stand on the World Stage, we want to test ourselves and show we deserve to be on that stage with the best. The Socceroos do that for all of us sitting at home, and that makes us proud.