Starting an article with a Star Wars quote, especially from Yoda, is a risky thing to do but the little green man could have been talking about A-League fans when trying to find reasons not to take a young Luke Skywalker on as his apprentice.
“All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing.”
Perhaps the best thing that Australian football fans and media can do as the current A-league season gathers pace is to enjoy the football for what it is rather than constantly fret about what it isn’t and where it is going.
In recent years I attended a number of A-League games ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup and again in 2018. They were enjoyable, of a relatively high standard and often played in good atmospheres. That is not to say that changes and improvements can't be made but there is a lot to be happy about.
Observing the beautiful game down under from afar and the overwhelming impression is that while there is plenty of passion in the football fraternity, it often comes with a side order of insecurity.
It is understandable given the competitive market place and the way that the sport has had to battle to carve out its own place in that crowded arena, a battle that is still being fought.
It can, however, result in a never-ending hunt for ‘meanings’ in everything. An exciting game is held up to show that the A-League is a good product, the signing of this or that young player reflects where the league is at and attendances are pored over on a weekly basis and talked about in terms of ‘what this all means’. There is more focus on empty seats than the fans who actually do turn up. There is even --perhaps unique-- interest in television ratings that are also discussed at length.
With the Sydney Derby, the consensus seemed to be that this is a game that can match European derbies in intensity and atmosphere. Whether that is true or not, surely it doesn’t matter when these occasions are memorable in their own right. It is possible to talk about the Sydney Derby --or any other -- without trying to see how it matches up against games in distant countries.
Some of this is necessary in the modern era of football when you can watch games from around the world. There is always going to be interest in comparing and contrasting to others but such derbies should be given time to develop their own identities and histories.
Of course, there are reasons for the insecurity and defensiveness. Even as an outsider, I understand that Australia has an unforgiving sporting landscape with other codes well-established and not enthusiastic about the prospect of the world’s most popular game becoming Australia’s favourite. The resulting Code Wars that crop up from time to time still seem a bit strange --it is OK to like or not like other sports, indeed, it would be remarkable if everyone liked just the one --but football fans can be forgiven if they are quick to mobilise.
For me, growing up in a country where following football was just the natural thing to do, I can’t imagine what it was like to follow the sport in Australia, especially in years gone past. scouring traditional media for coverage and information. I have lived in Asian countries where either football was clearly number one (Malaysia), vying with baseball to be number one (South Korea) or so far behind cricket that it wasn’t seen as a threat (India). There are plenty everywhere who don't like the game but the hostility towards football seems to be uniquely Australian and perhaps American.
That helps to creates a fanbase that is quick to defend and then hit back. Yet it would be a sign of strength not to engage or get upset every time a mean-spirited insult or misguided comment is lobbed over the fence. The proverb, that exists in various forms in various Asian countries, that the lion does not turn around when a small dog barks is often applicable.
When you are in a relationship, then there are times to discuss where it is all going and what it all means but not too often. The A-League may be far from perfect but in the great scheme of things, is one of the better leagues in the world. It has come a long way in 15 years and surely there are lots of twists and turns ahead and sometimes it is better to try and enjoy the ride. Actually, as someone once said, there is no try --just do.