Why has the word “Ethnic” come to reflect all that is bad in Australian football? Just as with the dawn of the Football Federation the word “Soccer” was cast aside and “Football” became the word used, is it not time that the term “Ethnic Club” was also cast aside?
The dictionary definition of Ethnic is “relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.”
When reading such a definition are not the FFA, or the English or Italian Football Associations not simply ethnic sub groups of FIFA? In which case why is there such a strong feeling in Australia against clubs with a cultural heritage?
Without these first clubs in and around the country in Australia football would not be where it is today. We all know that when these clubs were set up by migrant communities, the main reason was to give them a focal point. To give them a place to come and talk to others from their homeland. To discuss any issues they may be facing in their new homeland, and be amongst friends. The club was a community centre. The one thing that many of these migrants missed was football, it was a game they all played and understood. It was cheap to play, so it made sense to form a football club.
When many of these clubs around the country were in their heyday, who supported them? The local newspapers, and the community radio stations. These were the people that kept football alive in Australia for decades.
As great a place as Australia is, it is not an easy place to break into. It wasn’t easy 50 years ago or 30 years ago and as new migrants today will tell you it is still hard. Many jobs that they apply for have already gone to a friend of someone in the company. Often the best way to break into life in this country is through joining a sports club.
Sure, many of the clubs with overseas cultural heritage did not move with the times, they did not go out and invite others in and introduce them to their culture; the food, the dance and the traditions, but then again few in the population seemed interested.
In time as their offspring grew up and viewed themselves as Australian many pulled away from their communities. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to be a part of such a place and would result in you being labelled ‘an ethnic.’
As time wore on, with many of these clubs more and more players from different backgrounds came and wore their colours, as after all it was success on the pitch that mattered most. Some of these players were, and still are treated like adopted sons. Usually players who performed, but also those who respected and took the time to learn the history of the club they were playing for. Many showed loyalty to that club over long periods of time, a loyalty that one could never place a value on.
There is no doubt that a great many of these clubs across Australia have been mismanaged. In many, family feuds and egos have prevented smart business decisions being made, but their contribution to the game as a whole is immeasurable.
There are many who will never forgive the FFA for wiping many of these clubs from the history books when they took over. There are many who feel that this was detrimental to the game as a whole.
The latter may have a valid point. In 2014 the FFA revealed its “The National Club Identity Policy.” This was controversial in the extreme but sadly the multitude simply rolled over and accepted it. (Football Cleansing – A Step Too Far.)
As we covered in that post in 2014 this policy prevents an Aboriginal community creating a club with an Aboriginal name or having Aboriginal sponsors in their won country. A point that a lawyer said would be indefensible in court.
Is this why we see so few teams dominated by our Asian neighbours who have come to Australia and call Australia home? Or even teams made up exclusively of African migrants. Many of these talented players are taking up places within junior state teams and even junior NPL teams but then many are discarded.
One former A-League Youth coach labelled one talented African player ‘strange’ and ‘hard to get through’ to, ‘a loner.’ The player was dropped from the squad. It transpired that the player in question had been kidnapped from his family as a child and turned into a child soldier, before escaping and then spending years in a refugee camp before arriving in Australia. How can any of us understand what he is has been through? No wonder he stayed apart, he probably was still working out whom he could trust.
With policies such as the FFA’s National Identity Policy, and forcing clubs to have junior development programs and qualified coaches at all competing clubs, the FFA and their state affiliates are in fact driving theses new migrants to Australia away from the game. They are not going to form clubs and be a part of organised State competitions. Instead they will organise games amongst themselves and their communities.
No matter where you go in the world migrant communities will initially gravitate to each other. There is a comfort in a shared knowledge of where you have come from, of language, and humour.
For many it has not been an easy journey, and it will take them years of hard work to be in a comfortable position where they can enjoy life, pay the exorbitant fees for their children to play organised sport or to attend a coaching course.
So just like those migrants who formed all of the clubs whose names we know in each state around the country, these new migrants will turn to football and set up their own clubs as a community focal point. Yet outside the auspices of the FFA and the state bodies.
Did you know that there are in fact over 20 registered football associations belonging to migrant communities in Australia?
The FFA espouses that Football is a “family,” that the game is multicultural, yet it would appear that this is far from the case. Everything the FFA and the state bodies have done since taking over the administration of the game has been to downplay and limit the exposure of the original migrant clubs to which we owe so much, and create rules and regulations such as the National identity policy that exclude a new generation of migrant.
Why is new football in this country so xenophobic? Is it because for decades the game has itself labelled migrant clubs “Ethnic,” and in turn allowed the popular press to label these clubs created by migrants “ethnic.” The game has also allowed the myth to be perpetuated that everything bad that happens in the game is the result of “Ethnic clubs” or “Ethnic rivals” or simply “ethnics.” Which simply is not true.
These same people who bandy around the word “ethnic” will sit back and extol the ‘golden generation’ of footballers who ended Australia’s World Cup exile. Yet 10 of the 23 players that went to the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006 came from Italian, Greek or Croatian communities. That figures is almost fifty percent of the squad, and is not including the likes of Mark Schwarzer whose parents emigrated from Germany in 1968, or Tim Cahill whose mother is Samoan and Dad is English of Irish descent, or Archie Thompson who was born in New Zealand to a New Zealand father and Papua New Guinean mother. If one delved into how many of the squad played for migrant community clubs in their developing years the number would rise even higher.
Surely it is time to ditch the word “ethnic” when it comes to football. Money should be invested to launch a marketing initiative to acknowledge the part played by all of the migrant communities of the past for keeping the game alive and producing a conveyor belt of talent, so that we can welcome the next generation of migrant, the Iranians, the Iraqis, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Sudanese and hopefully see them contribute in the same way as the Croatians the Italians, the Serbians, the Scots and the Greeks.
For decades Football has labelled itself in Australia “the World Game,” if that is truly the case then let us see migrant communities from all around the world made to feel at home, and welcomed to play football. Sport, and these community clubs do, despite what many will have you believe, have and continue to contribute greatly to the community and to Australia as a whole.