Do soccer fans suffer discrimination in Australia?
Soccer in Australia has long suffered a victim complex. For example, when soccer legend Johnny Warren launched his biography, he titled it “Sheila’s, Wogs and Poofters.” The title was in reference to the derogatory comments that Warren felt that he and other soccer players had been subjected to when growing up, and which seemed to have steeled their resolve to keeping playing the sport they loved.
It would be fair to say that soccer is indeed spoken of in tones of ridicule in Australia. That said, it would also be fair to say that Australian football is spoken in tones of ridicule in Australia. For example, it may be referred to as GAFL, Mexican rules, raffety rules, or aerial ping pong. Rugby league may also be spoken in tones of ridicule, which references to it as thugby or a meathead sport. The prejudices are the inevitable outcome of diverse cultures seeking to be king of the local hill.
Soccer's victim complex has even extended to fans getting into arguments over whether the ther codes should be called 'football.' Because soccer is the only one of the four major codes where the ball is primarily played with the feet, the fans believe it should be called football. Truth be told, the argument is an ignorant one. The word football was coined to refer to games that were played on foot (as opposed to on horses.) If it had been a descriptive of the manner of moving the ball, it would have been called feetball. Many non-English speaking countries around the world refer to it as feetball as they use the descriptive term. England is the only English speaking country to refer to it as football. In any case, arguing about which of the four codes truly deserves to be called football would be like arguing whether chicken, fish, beef or pork has the true right to be called meat.
Speaking about the injustice they suffer and having silly arguments about which codes can refer to themselves as football is sign that soccer fans probably feel the insults harder than most. This may be because their code is number 1 on the world stage but relatively insignificant in Australia, which results in them suffering decline-in-status-syndrome. (Something similar is felt by Australian expats who succeed abroad but are ignored in Australia, or migrants who are high status in their homelands but are treated as ordinary in egalitarian Australia.) To deal with the decline in status, they need to find something wrong with Australian culture, not with themselves.
Soccer definitely had equal opportunity to Australia to become the number 1 sport. It arrived in the 19th century but just never really took off as a spectator sport. After World War II, soccer had a revival on the back of a massive immigration intake from mainland Europe. In 1977, migrants established the National Soccer League to remind them of their home countries. This was the first national football league in Australia. Potentially, it may have been able to use national symbolism to climb up the pecking order; however, racism ultimately led to its failure. Instead of the clubs being named after ideals that all Australians could identify with, they were named after European concepts such as "Sydney Croatia" and "Marconi” that excluded others and led to racial conflicts.
Aside from alienating mainstream Australia, the racial identities also made it very difficult for soccer's administration to co-operate as a unit. Board meetings were characterised by racist comments, support for own ethnic groups, and threats of violence. In the absence of productive decision-making, soccer went bankrupt.
With soccer on the verge of complete oblivion, in 2003 the federal government was asked to finance a restructuring of a new league without racial associations. In 2005, the A-League came into existence. So far, crowds and media coverage have been quite positive.
Most of the marketing of the A-league was based around hype, which seemed to fed the decline-in-status syndrome that soccer fans wanted to overcome. Firstly, it was hyped around the idea that soccer is the "world game." The second was that the A-league will become Australia's national sport. For example, in 2008 on Total Football, A-league commentator Robbie Slater said,
It was a very effective marketing strategy. Typical comments on message boards echoed the predictions:
Activity 1- Battle of the Codes
Look at the statistics comparing the fortunes of Australia's football codes