Paddy Madden examines Australian football fan culture.
Australia, as a country, is undoubtedly a sporting giant.
Decades of Pommy-bashing – including the Shane Warne-inspired jinx held over the English cricket team for over a decade – have helped forge a rivalry of great quality, enjoyment and more often than not, torment.
But when it comes to football, Australian influence in Britain is comparatively negligible. Granted, there was Craig Johnston – the mid-80s Liverpool winger who designed the Adidas Predator – and Tim Cahill’s sporadic corner flag abuse provoked fleeting amusement. Mark Schwarzer, meanwhile, has proved a capable goalkeeper at both Middlesbrough and Fulham. Aside from this, a sprinkling of distinctly average footballers – think Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill or Vince Grella – is pretty much all Australia have had to offer.
Heading down-under, it was this dearth of flair that made it difficult to be excited about the prospect of the Hyundai A-League providing my fix of live football. The A-League is largely devoid of the stardust the likes of Thierry Henry, and of course David Beckham, have sprinkled over America’s Major League Soccer. Average yearly league attendances only just creep above the 10,000 mark, and the football is largely considered to be absolute dross.
Still, I couldn’t resist dipping my toe in the water and heading to a game – Emerton’s laser-blue clad Sydney FC against the Newcastle Jets – a local derby and a match pivotal to both sides’ play-off chances.
The standard of football was, as expected, very poor. The sluggish pace made Emerton look like Zinedine Zidane and suggested even the Jets’ bench-warmer and perma-crock Francis Jeffers wouldn’t have been out of his depth.
Yet the football aside, my A-League debut was an impressive and enjoyable experience. We stood on ‘The Cove’ – Sydney’s answer to the Stretford End – where the influence of European, and particularly British chanting, on Australian fan culture was clear. Alongside the swathes of banners and flags, the crowd of 15,000 sang songs normally heard on terraces across England at 3pm on a Saturday. Indeed, the crowd were soon enjoying a chorus of ‘‘they’re Sydney, they’re barmy, they’re off their fucking heads’’.
As the game heated up, so too did the atmosphere. Whereas it’s a heinous crime to be seen with alcohol on an English terrace, it seems tantamount to heresy to be seen without it in Australia. Stewards were also incredibly lenient with any persistent standing, and barely lifted an eye when a missile was launched at the away team’s goalkeeper after Sydney’s winning third goal – although thankfully it was only a tennis ball.
It isn’t just the football that appears to have been ‘Anglicised’ either.
Watching my adopted local Rugby League team – the South Sydney Rabbitohs – was again reminiscent of watching football at home, as the Bunnies’ fans raised their beers to ‘‘Drink a drink, to Sutton the king’’. They even had one ditty set to the irritatingly overused ‘Sloop John B’.
The parallels between English and Australian fan culture are clear. However, given that the A-League was only established in 2004 and that the Premier League has such a pervasive global influence, this is hardly surprising.
It appears that for once, the Aussies are willing to take a lead from their great Pommy rivals.