Croatian, Australian or West Australian?
The complexity of Aussie football28 May 2017 | Chris Egan
On a crisp afternoon at Nash Field in the upmarket suburb of Mosman Park, I chatted with Emeritus Professor Roy Jones from Curtin University about his thoughts on the game nationally, unveiling the complexity of the game at a macro and micro cultural level.
The irony of two anglo-saxon men speaking at a club that David Hill considered was in the 'dark ages' was not lost on me.
It is these complexities within Australian football that Jones outlines.
"Australia has a very challenging and idiosyncratic football culture with its four codes. In very different ways they are all entrenched.
"Australian Rules Football and the so-called ‘Barrassi Line’, rugby league in New South Wales and Queensland, rugby union with a largely elite supporter base, and soccer as the migrant game."
These create the debate for different 'eyeballs’ as Jones terms it.
"Growing the code nationally is a problem. People try to find a magic bullet and solution. One solution is dollars. Another magic bullet is the A-League with the old NSL. Soccer against AFL, people are fighting for the eyeballs.”
"There is now more potential than the past, because we have a millenial generation who watch multiple sports."
Despite the opportunities for the world game that Jones talks about, he still needs to write letters to the local Council regarding the perceived opposition of the Council to the proposal to upgrade its facilities at Nash Field.
It’s a Council with an agenda that defines the Knights as 'ethnic football'; an agenda not in keeping with the dominant sporting culture of Australian Rules Football in these leafy suburbs.
"If there are problems getting development approval, I give my two cents worth to the local Council."
Jones has been a member of the Mosman Park community since 2001, and in that time he has noticed opposition to the club has softened.
"There’s been a very small shift of acceptance rather than involvement.”
Jones involvement and understanding of football history is rarely spoken about on a state or national scale.
"If you are in Western Australia you are not going to get your thoughts up nationally. You only have to look at ARC [Australian Research Council] grants which are notoriously focussed on Melbourne and Sydney universities."
He has a passion for football which led him to being part of a group that helped set up the Curtin University soccer club in 1971.
As Western Knights dominate the game we watch today with a 3-0 defeat of the University of Western Australia, the discussion moves to the legacy of the past and what it means for the game today.
"One really unfortunate aspect when soccer was pushing for a national code that it occurred roughly at the same time as Yugoslavia fell apart. It was rather unfortunate timing.”
Jones believes that these origins of nationality in Australian soccer is a reason why the code has a split personality.
The ‘eyeballs’ are of many different shades, shapes and sizes.
After the game I speak to members of the Western Knights committee.
The men who started North Perth Croatia in 1958 have a deep love for the game and their club. They are now called the Western Knights with a similar logo to their sister club, Melbourne Knights.
Who did supporters pick when Perth Glory played Melbourne Knights and Sydney United in the NSL?
"It was conflicted," they tell me.
I asked if the relationship was similar to the Eagles v Dockers in the Western derby in the AFL and they agreed.
People picked and chose whether to continue to support the NSL side they had originally supported or a club that represented their state. A conflict of worlds, a conflict that shapes Australia and its football clubs.
It is these conflicting narratives we talk about, the difference between a Croatian-Australian club in Western Australia and one in Victoria. The regional disparities get lost in national discussions on football.
North Perth Croatia were proudly a club for expat Croatians when they arrived in 1958 but they became enamoured with a strong sense of Western Australian identity as many of their fans backed Perth Glory when they came into the NSL. It was not one or the other; they entered both worlds.
It is also a progressive club with Gordana Sliskovic conducting the after-match football awards ceremony. She is a woman president for a club which was once the domain of men. The stereotype of Balkan-Australian football clubs and supporters being old-fashioned in their value system was the subject of a recent article in WA Today. The article failed to showcase the structural reality of the club, and it was out-of-kilter with what I observed.
The game in Australia is conflicted and complicated.
For the Glory's success in the NSL era, they were able to tap into the deep sense of belonging that ethnic communities felt for their Western Australian identity. Whether a died in the wool AFL fan or an Italian migrant, identity as a west Australian was more important and it was brought together and celebrated in the world game.
If only Mosman Park Council could see that they are greater with the Knights amongst their plethora of sporting codes than without them.
Their story is not one of a bygone era, but of the success of multicultural Australia.
football history, western knights fc