Oz Blog: How Did The Beautiful Game Get So Ugly?

On a week where there should have been celebration, the usual suspects have taken cheap-shots at the beautiful game, writes Goal.com's Con Stamocostas.

I turned up at the airport on Monday to greet the returning Socceroos, after they completed a historic back-to-back World Cup qualification.

Expecting to see a welcome befitting our heroes, I instead saw an unremarkable sight of few fans. The media gallery was there to greet them but they outnumbered the supporters ten to one.

Sydney’s reputation as the city of the one-night stand proceeds it. It was a beautiful Sydney day, and a public holiday, so why the small crowds?

Football Federation Australia (FFA) sent out a press release to the media but obviously the common fan did not know about it.

After qualification, the 20-20 cricket and the AFL led the news, while Channel 7 - who do the best job in the country in ignoring football - did not even have the Socceroos arrival in their sport report that evening.

The exclusive broadcaster of the Socceroos, Foxtel, did the same as the mainstream networks, hiding the team's historic back-to-back qualification behind other sports in their reports all day.

Foxtel do have to peddle AFL and Rugby League since they paid so much for the rights.

Considering that Australia's game against Uzbekistan on April 1 had a record audience for pay television, logic would suggest that the Socceroos' achievement would be headline news.

Terror Strikes

The day before the game, the Sydney tabloid The Daily Terror had a picture on the back page of coach, Pim Verbeek, labelling the Dutchman not as a great coach who had achieved something no one else could do.

No, Pim Verbeek was demonised as doer of evil deeds and the charges levelled at him included holding soccer back and my favourite charge against foreigners, being 'un-Australian'.

The tabloid paper was upset at his not allowing any media to speak to his players at the pre-match press conference, which is a normal practise by Verbeek before a game.

In any case, FFA boss Frank Lowy, CEO Ben Buckley, midfielder Tim Cahill, captain Lucas Neill and Mark Schwarzer were there to feed the chooks on Monday, so why make the big fuss?

If you ever snub The Terror they won’t be quiet about it. Josh Kennedy got the winning goal against Uzbekistan and the next day at the airport he didn’t feel like talking to the media at the airport. The following day in the paper the snubbed Terror journalist demonised our 'Jesus' in that special terror way.

Here is just a little of the tabloid's handy work:

“Here we are in the week when Australian soccer should be shouting from the rooftops that it has arrived on the world scene and the man who steered us there is pulling down the shutters on the whole show.

"Verbeek has placed a media ban on all players ahead of tonight's match, outside of his normally dull press conferences.

“Remember, this situation has been created by the same man who complained how disappointed he was to see soccer so far back on the countries sports pages."

And so he should complain, sports editors around the country should hang their heads in shame as Australia competing at the world's biggest sporting event ranking in third is just un-cool.

“After their heroics in foreign lands, the Socceroos deserve a better welcome home."

They do deserve better treatment especially by the media who by their own ignorance have yet to realise that this is the world game. And not appreciating Australia’s place in it is un-Australian.

The Game

I took my 11 year old cousin Gabriel to the game. He plays for Tim Cahill's old junior team, the Marrickville Red Devils. It was his first time to a Socceroos match, and the Australian attacking midfielder in waiting posed this question to me after the game.

"Why doesn’t Pim pick Nick Carle to play the whole game?"

"That's a good question," I responded.

Perhaps he realised from my constant groaning and sighing every time Brett Holman lost control with his first touch or misplaced a pass, I would just yell “bring on Carle”.

With eight minutes to go Pim was teasing us all, the noise that the 40,000 freezing, cheering fans with their cold and swollen tongues made when Nicky Carle came on indicated that they were thinking the same thing.

You could see the interplay with Vince Grella, Jason Culina and Carle in the second half was much quicker in tempo than when Holman and Mile Jedinak where on the field.

Holman has received more chances to play for the Socceroos than Cronulla Sharks players at NRL board meetings.

So here is where I am going to use some reverse psychology and implore Verbeek never to pick Nick Carle. Don’t pick him again. Stay true to your beliefs and build up slow.

Mark Bosnich had some interesting insights about Scott McDonald and Harry Kewell, that the build up in the Socceroos play is too slow. By the time the ball gets to them they are covered.

In defence I thought Chris Coyne had an okay game, his distribution at the back was off on occasion while a fitter looking Mark Milligan has lost all the junk he was carrying in his trunk and although he didn’t disgrace himself, I feel he kept on trying to find the killer ball too often.

Mile Sterjovski is a key squad player for the Socceroos, he gets in good position to score goals.

It’s been a weird week, back-to-back qualification and looking forward to a big party in South Africa in a year’s time should be the only food on the menu.

Instead headlines and comments like these from sections of the media leave a sour taste in our mouths:

“Why Pim is holding soccer back” and “it is Pim’s petulance and disdain for Australian culture which is holding the game back”

I for one celebrate the achievement Pim and the Socceroos have attained. I fantasise about revenge against Italy, embarrassing England and shutting up those who wish to fight ugly so I can concentrate on enjoying and celebrating this beautiful game.

Con Stamocostas, Goal.com