Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : World Sport Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature






The latest in the so-called ethnic riots allegedly shaking soccer in Australia

Last week I had this to say

I was at the Melbourne Knights v Perth Glory game on Sunday night as a guest of the president and saw just about every blow. It was a disgraceful performance by a handful of cowardly supporters and it will again hurt the game's image. However the facts are that of about 7,000 people at the game it took only some 10 to 20 to destroy the night.


It's instructive that on a day when a dozen cowards created a confrontation in Sunshine, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire was urging Magpie supporters to 'stick it up Carlton supporters'. Comments such as these enhance the tribalism of football. But what would mainstream commentators say if this came from the president of the Knights or Perth Glory?


The spot from where the two flares were thrown.

Otherwise, there was no trouble at all until after the game.


Bad security?

It's now accepted that it was a security mistake to lead the Perth players into the Knights supporters and thus into a situation where some idiot could cause trouble. Furthermore it's wrong to say a mob descended on the Perth players. In fact there were about two would-be-toughs who confronted the Perth players. This led to an exchange and a mob of about ten arriving before the police could take control.

Every Knights supporter I saw in the vicinity was outraged by what had happened. So too were several Knights officials who decided to take justice into their own hands and chase the offending Knights supporters thus creating a second confrontation.


It was here that the bloke who appeared to have started the trouble (or an offsider) was seen bleeding and being carted away.


Was it racial?

Although Bobby Despotovski has admitted making a 'political or religious' gesture it doesn't follow ipso facto that the confrontation was a result of the political nature of that gesture. As I suggested to Jon Faine (ABC Radio) the two blokes who attacked the Perth players didn't need a so-called Serbian salute to cause trouble. I'd suggest that Despotosvki only needed to rebuke their abuse for them to want to even the score. It might serve the Knights to say that the gesture was the reason for the confrontation but that only protects the mob and confuses the issue and the nature of tribalism in football, Aussie Rules and Soccer.


Whatever the origins it wouldn't have happened if there had been a more stringent approach to security. Nor did this gesture result in a racially motivated riot. Once the players had been led back into the room the offending mob of ten headed for the gates. Here they were confronted by officials from their own club thus ensuring the intervention of the police.



As I suggested on the Jon Faine program, comments about a 'racial dispute' need to be considered carefully. For former NSL chairman David Hill to weigh in without any understanding of what actually happened is pathetic. At a time when the likes of Pauline Hanson love to fan the flames of ethnic conflict it's unfortunate that some commentators aren't more circumspect.


Part of the crowd of 7,000 looks on. The lights of the West Gate bridge can be seen in the background.

It was in the foreground where the players were confronted 30 minutes after the the ref blew full time (that's Soccer for final siren).


Remember Nicky Winmar?

When confronted with racial abuse back in 1994 St Kilda's Nicky Winmar pointed to his skin and said 'black and proud of it'. In a sense this is what Despotovski did to his taunters. If the white fella who were giving Winmar hell had found him in their company and had been poorly disposed to him what might have happened?

It's worth remembering also what the Collingwood president of the day had to say about blacks only needing to 'behave like white fella to be respected'.


When confronted with political abuse Despotovski gave the equivalent of an 'up yours salute'. That was all it took for a couple of thugs to assault the Perth players.

So what's this business about me being partisan?

I'll admit to being annoyed that ABC commentator Dwayne Russell (Jon Faine - Monday morning) should have suggested my views were compromised because I was 'working in soccer'.

It's interesting how Aussie Rules people want to raise the question of 'conflict of interest' for others yet not for themselves. Is Dwayne, who works on football for the ABC and Channel 9, objective when he discusses a so called rival game?


The worst thing is I don't earn a cent out of Soccer Australia or any other club. If I do I'll let you know! At Carlton I was only a consultant and am today a creditor of the club.


I was invited to the Knights game by the president, Harry Mrksa, with whom I've had a number of discussions concerning soccer. If someone asks me to act as a consultant, whether it's for soccer, football, cricket or Lawn Bowls I'll consider it.



Does this kind of violence happen in other codes?

Unless I've gone completely mad and lost touch with reality Soccer is not the only sport that experiences violence in Australia. Hardly an Aussie Rules game goes by without a confrontation of some kind between supporters afterwards.

From the much documented Hepburn Springs brawl to the sporadic blues that occur after AFL games, to David Parkin taking a swipe at a supporter screaming at the race, there are many incidents capable of escalating into what happened at the Knights ground.


And what of the exhibition by our own Anglophiles at the MCG during the cricket.



One last word from Peter Kell author of Good Sports-Pluto Press 2000

'The media focus on soccer has tended to highlight the occasional on-field incidents, creating the impression that these are the outcome of ethnic tension. Groups such as the anti-immigration lobby have used such incidents to demonstrate that multi-culturalism has not worked.....Crowd violence has more to do with poor facilities .....than any deep hatred ....on the basis of ethnicity.

In many ways soccer is a victim of some of the anxieties about immigration and multiculturalism, anxieties which have triggered the moral panic that has unjustifiably identified soccer as the 'folk devil' of Australian sport'..........

Soccer highlights the question of how sport can act as a platform for reforming and changing the legacy of intolerance and racism, by repositioning itself as a vehicle for tolerance, acceptance, ......and how sport can celebrate diversity.


What's the state of play a week later?

As Soccer Australia moves towards a resolution of the matter there are many issues to discuss.

To date we haven't had a decision on whether Despotovski's salute was meant as 'a symbol used by Serb forces during the the Balkan War' or an 'ancient Orthodox Christian' symbol.  Whether Despotovski's grasp of history should be the judge is a matter of opinion.  If it was equivalent to a Christian crossing him or herself Soccer Australia would be in deep trouble if it acted against the player.  Although we don't have  Bill of Rights there are anti discrimination laws in Australia. 

Despotovski claims this salute was Serbian Orthodox in nature whereas some Muslims, whilst acknowledging its origins in religion, argue that it's inextricably linked to Serbian supremacy over Muslims, and therefore to mass slaughter and rape in the Balkans. This a serious accusation against Despotovski and one it's in his interest to answer. Just as Carlton president John Elliott's description of Blacks as forgotten people on Channel Nine's the Footy Show in 1996 should have earned him a 'please explain' from the AFL so too should Despotovski be reprimanded if he can't convince the NSL that his gesture was not a symbol of the triumphalism found offensive to people associated with the Balkan wars.



In a sense Gael Jennings' interview with Soccer Australia chairman Tony Labbozzetta on SBS television unwittingly uncovered some of the issues involved in the dispute.  The gist of one Jennings question was that the ethnic underpinning of soccer clubs should be eradicated.  It's fascinating how middle class society, having proclaimed the beauty of multi-culturalism and sneered at the politics of One Nation, can so easily slide into this line of thinking.

Immigrant people built soccer in Australia.  If the game hasn't infiltrated white-Anglo Australia it's because vested interests have demonised it.  Furthermore if ethnicity was taken from the game there'd be no soccer.

All the same conservative assumptions about politics and life have emerged in the discussion over the incident at Somers Street.  Michael Lynch in the Age newspaper has at least been circumspect enough to describe what happened as  a 'rampage by a minority of shaven-headed hooligans'. Some other  journalists need to cast off the assumptions and deep seated aversions to the game and the people who've made it. 

The last thing soccer needs is for the NSL to cower in the face of the prejudice and jump from the shadows waving the pitch fork.  Careful and considered action rather than a pitch fork or a hillbilly Hansonite posse should be the order of the day. 

Soccer on Seven? I'd like to see that!

It's almost old news that Channel 7 has lost the AFL television rights to the Murdoch, Packer, Ten consortium.  But will this mean a harvest for soccer.  Let's face it 7 would be mad not to embrace soccer once it loses football.  And with a stake in Colonial and growing interest in that ground as a soccer venue 7 could yet have the last laugh. 

With soccer growing in popularity in Australia, overseas clubs looking to take shares in Australia clubs all the game needs is a serious media partner.


EASTERN PRIDE!  The latest edition.  

Hello Mr Schwab

On a previous occasion I wrote:

'although discussions with Brendan Schwab, CEO of the Player Association, were amicable (at the time of Carlton's demise) Peter Jess is entitled to believe there should have been a more creative proposal from the Association. 

It would be instructive to see just what level of expenditure cut former Carlton players have endured.  It is highly likely that had a 'collective agreement' based on an equivalent  pay cut would have enabled Carlton to fight on.  It's no secret that Carlton players at the Knights and elsewhere have accepted significant cuts and that some players have no employment'.

A Melbourne Consortium?

As coincidence would have it, prior to talking on Radio 774 Melbourne ABC on Monday morning I received a phone call regarding the possibility of a Melbourne consortium creating a team from the remnants of Eastern Pride.


Colonial and Soccer, you ask?

Not yet but maybe in the future.


Epping as a central venue? 

Although I spoke to Ian Collins and officials at Colonial on behalf of the Melbourne Knights (free of charge) to play its game against South Melbourne at Colonial it was simply too expensive. I remain convinced that Epping Stadium should be used at NSL level to build support in the northern suburbs.  Colonial is perfect for promotional purposes but building a base is just as critical. 

With a concerted promotional campaign a well cashed up and managed club could attract crowds in excess of 6,000 to games at Epping then draw these and many more people to major venues such as Colonial. 

Cast off the small mindedness

Soccer Australia must develop a strategy rather than smugly letting clubs appear then fold a few years later.  The good will being eroded by the loss of Carlton and other clubs seriously hurts the game.  Equally, many people currently involved in soccer need to cast off the paranoia and the small mindedness.

Rather than panicking at Sunday night's events the NSL should be taking on the lynch mobs, Neil Mitchell (3AW) and David Hill included.

It's no wonder Peter Jess was frustrated at what happened to Carlton.

Among Peter Jess' critics are a host of people who've been unable to take soccer one step beyond where it was twenty years ago.  Several of them like to puff out the chest and prattle on about what they've done but the truth is their contribution is a joke.

It's time they had a good hard look at themselves. 

One bloke in particular comes to mind. More about him soon.

Epping Stadium.

An ideal venue for some games.

It still might be. 

Soccer's current approach to developing soccer is manna from heaven for many mainstream anti-soccer journalists. It's time for change.

There's no doubt Melbourne needs a broad based club:

supported by the corporate sector

connected to an overseas club

capable of enhancing commercial links to Asia and

embraced as Melbourne's own

Beyond that it needs to have the game on free to air television and a promotional strategy in Melbourne where prejudice against soccer is as great and irrational as it has ever been. 




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