Ange Postecoglou sets the record straight in the football popularity contest.
From his playing days with South Melbourne in the 1980s to coaching the Socceroos to victory in the 2015 Asian Cup, Ange Postecoglou’s uncompromising commitment to success has coincided with the incredible rise of football in Australia. During this time domestic football has undergone several periods of dramatic change. The culmination of this evolution is the dynamic, enormously popular game we know today.
In his book, Changing the Game: Football in Australia Through My Eyes, Postecoglou reveals his experiences of the game, from the changing room to the boardroom, and outlines how to keep moving forward Australia must boldly reimagine its place in the football world. Straight from the pages of Changing the Game, here Postecoglou dispels a well-worn perception in Australia that football is somehow the lesser football code.
Football is the world’s most popular game, yet in sports-mad Australia the prevailing feeling is that the sport has struggled to establish a foothold. It’s a quandary for me. That assessment is wrong on many levels, but when talking about whether the sport has a place or not in this country one must make the terms of reference very clear. At a participation level, the game not only has an established foothold, but is clearly the dominant sport. None of the other football codes come close to matching football’s popularity and, indeed, the combined participation numbers of all three (Aussie Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union) still fall short of football’s.
In 2015 Roy Morgan Research identified football as the most popular game for kids aged between six and thirteen, for the first time surpassing swimming. In that age bracket the football participation rate now sits at 50 per cent. The same data shows girls are now playing football more than they are netball, the hitherto unassailable frontrunner in female sport. So, make no bones about it, football is huge, even in Australia. The challenges confronting football are not in the game’s uptake but in turning that grassroots support into a successful commercial product at the professional and elite levels.
There are, I’d say, deep historical and sociological reasons why football has been marginalised over the generations in Australia. As the late Johnny Warren said in his biography, Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, it is more than strange that, as a former British colony, Australia would shun what is by far the most popular sport in Britain. In fact the only places where football isn’t the single biggest sport are, like us, former British colonies: the USA, Canada, New Zealand, (white) South Africa, the Subcontinent.
Football’s Australian history has, recently at least, mostly been a story of the internal struggles for control of the sport and the external battle for institutional acceptance, or anyway acceptance at the big end of town. The only thing really beyond dispute is that the establishment, some time ago, decided to hitch its wagon to other football codes. Those allegiances have been impenetrable for football for a long time. Those moments when the nexus has been broken, it’s been through boldness and courage. Looking through recent history, that’s what has changed the paradigm for football. To make its point, football has had to crash through. One can’t help but hanker for more of the same.