‘When Soccer Died’: New doco to lift the lid on Australian football

Club representatives look on during a press conference to launch the new season of the 2000/01 National Soccer League. Source: Getty Images

A major new documentary is in the works that hopes to shed light and offer solutions on the big issues currently confronting Australian football.

Local filmmakers Michael Cain and Oscar Vieira are behind the project that will tackle topics such as the national curriculum, the waning youth production line, the state of the A-League, expansion, the Socceroos and women’s football.

With the working title of ‘When Soccer Died’, the duo have interviewed many powerful figures in football, from ex-Socceroos to broadcasters, coaches, administrators, former Matildas and officials, to explore how the sport in Australia has lost its way.

Vieira, a freelance cameraman, and Cain, a Channel 10 journalist, are both passionate football advocates who came up with the idea to make a film.

“I’ve been concerned for a long time in terms of the direction that Australian football is heading, sort of going away from what made us a unique footballing country,” Vieira told The World Game.

“I went to Cainey and said we should do a story on this. For years me and Cainey have talked about the issues, the continuous themes in the game. We want to shine a light on what’s going on.

“We thought we'd go and speak to people involved day-to-day in football and see what they think, both positive and negatives, in the current environment of Australian football.”

A virtual who’s who of Australian football has been interviewed for the documentary including SBS chief football analyst and former Socceroo Craig Foster, SBS presenter Lucy Zelic, journalist Ray Gatt, commentator Simon Hill, veteran coach Ron Smith, former FIFA and FFA whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, former Socceroos Peter Katholos, Craig Moore, Ned Zelic, Luke Wilkshire and Les Scheinflug, among many others.\

The film will touch on the controversial introduction of the national curriculum, the closure of the Australian Institute of Sport’s (AIS) successful football program and the influence of Dutch tactics.

“My issue with the Dutch curriculum is its sort of a square peg in a round hole,” Vieira said.

“You’ve got to have your own identity. And if we were going to follow someone the Dutch system probably wasn’t the one to go with.

“I think everyone fell in love with Guus at the time, and we fell into the Dutch system and the Dutch are having to reinvent themselves at the moment in a way.

“We’ve gone down a path that was perhaps outdated. Football has evolved a lot in the past 10 years.

“It seems like what the AIS were doing in the 1990s a lot of the top academies are honing in on in the last 10 years. We’ve gone away from a system where we took the best of what they were doing all over the world but also kept it very Australian.

“Football’s all about identity and I feel we’re very lost at the moment to be honest. The people we’ve spoken to have reinforced what we thought – we’re kind of in no-mans land.”

The film also unearths the fallout from the end of the National Soccer League (NSL) and emergence of the A-League in 2005, as well as the stagnation of the new competition and how it has tried to expand.

“Everyone we’ve spoken to so far have been very concerned about the domestic game, the A-League, from the AIS being closed in 2017, to youth development,” Cain admits.

“The national curriculum was a good structure to have, but it’s almost like we’re in a box. We need to have a Plan A, B, C and D when it comes to playing the national sides and we’ve only got Plan A at the moment.

“The A-League, a lot of people are saying the A-League’s boring now. We need to have that competitiveness.

“We’re in a country where there’s four different football codes and it’s a big pie, and it’s precarious because it has to be entertaining, but it has to be a good product as well.”

According to Vieira, many of the subjects they have spoken to for the documentary believe that in the past 14 years Australian football has lost its individuality and become corporatised.

“Just put one football team in Sydney, one football team in Melbourne, one in Brisbane, sort of like Super Rugby,” he said.

“And it lost the beauty of that unique sort of individual character and it tried to turn into what the formula of the other mainstream sports is. Whether its youth football, whether it’s the A-League, or whether it’s the Socceroos or the Matildas, it’s just all very vanilla.

“And it’s not what the system the Vinnie Grellas, the Mark Vidukas and the Harry Kewell’s came through. It was very unique, individual, different, quirky and you see when the FFA Cup comes around, you see that passion sort of creep back in.

“You sometimes see the potential when you go to a Sydney derby, you see the house rocking and you see it going nuts and you go this is football at its best. But then every other week, unfortunately, it reverts back to this really corporate thing.”

Viera and Cain insist their film is not about being negative, but about spreading awareness and pushing for change. The pair hope to have the documentary ready for screening before the end of this year.

“We’re trying to get as many of the voices people respect and understand into one space from a verity of different fields and get their opinion and find some common themes,” Vieira said.

“So people can see that it is really an issue, and if we can get enough people in that space we want to reinforce it and we want to make people aware, and we definitely want change.

“We want the people who make football in this country to be recognised, because in some ways since Lowy’s revolution after the Crawford report there has been positives, there’s definitely been positives. But we sort of threw the baby out with the bathwater and didn’t coalesce all the things that make football great in this country with the new regime.

“What we want is for football to be run by football people who understand its uniqueness, and bring awareness to what the current issues are with as many voices that are respected in the game as possible.

“There’s always hope. Football people are always hopeful. But I think people are well aware of the challenges going ahead.”

Vieira and Cain are speaking to distributors and are hoping to land a deal for it to be shown on Australian television.

“We haven’t got a platform for it yet,” Cain said.

“We’re looking to pitch it to a few different places. We’re still got a few people to speak who we want to include in the documentary – Joey Peters, Remo Nogarotto, Rale Rasic.

“It just shows everybody cares about the game. They’re so passionate and worried about the game – that’s something that stood out, everyone’s worried about the game.

“It’s almost like the FFA is saying nothing to see here, everything’s fine. There’s a lot of criticism towards the FFA but it’s not about that. We want to try and get answers.

“It feels like we’re back at square one again with Australian football. Like we’re a rat on the wheel… where have we gone wrong?

“It’s not about let’s bash it but let’s try and find a way to get back on the right track again.”