World Cup: Will Australia really embrace the Socceroos in Russia?
Australians will tune-in to the World Cup, but is it for our Socceroos or the stars such as CR7, Messi, Kroos and Neymar?23 May 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Lovers of sport always find something to get excited about. It is easy.
My sporting diet includes many of the games we play, thanks to an utter obsession with physical exertion and the romance of competition. Usually, it doesn’t actually matter what the contest is, as long as the stakes are high, my attention is held.
Last weekend involved AFL and Rugby League commentary, some tennis, golf, cycling and motor racing, as well as a spot of netball and swimming thrown in. Thrown in some football too and it is fair to say I was busy.
It is a wonderful life I live; blessed with the chance to watch and write on the world of sport; a world that will unite as one in June.
In a little over three weeks, the FIFA World Cup will begin.
What always strikes me as compelling is the universality of the event. People who take pot shots at the A-League during our season, mock Socceroo hiccups throughout the qualification stages, and make generally derogatory comments about the state of the game in Australia, all come together when the World Cup begins.
It has always been that way and it is thanks to the most basic and rudimentary game on the planet; accessible by the rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, able bodied and disabled, as well as anyone else who doesn't fit into one of the above categories.
It is that simple heart of the game, a basic sphere and a foot to kick it, that ticks most compellingly when the world gathers to celebrate every four years. Russia 2018 will be no different in terms of the true symbolic meaning of the event.
My circles consist of people from all corners of the globe with interests across a broad array of sports and activities. Often, I will attempt to explain the magic of the World Cup. Not for the purpose of conversion - football has more than enough fans - more to hopefully share a true appreciation of the romance of the game and its potential power as an agent of change.
There are still far too many cynical and pessimistic attitudes expressed in Australia about the world game. Issues around simulation, poor sportsperson ship and courage are often peddled by those without a fully developed knowledge or appreciation of the game itself.
Of course, such commentary would be heckled and mocked in Argentina, lampooned in Brazil and you might just experience a physical attack on your personage if you were to suggest anything of the sort in Italy.
Put simply, the game is in the plasma of much of the world yet still not trickling through the blood streams of as many Australians as we might have thought at this stage of our growth.
Yet strangely, as June draws closer, Australians too, will become gripped by the event and outline their allegiances based on country of birth, heritage and family connections.
It is a bizarre thing to see people from such a broad range of cultural backgrounds show such little interest and have essentially no connection with our local product yet engage feverishly with the World Cup every four years.
I too played a role in this phenomena, keenly supporting the English in their long history of painful and failed World Cup bids through the 1980s and 1990s.
With something of a mistrust of the Monarchy and a constant determination to reclaim the Ashes, I wonder from where on earth this concern and support of the English FA could have stemmed.
Now I realise, it was all I knew. Apart from late Sunday afternoon episodes of World Football on SBS where I may have caught extended highlights of a Brazilian or German game, and the Sunday morning staple of Serie A, it was the only football I knew.
The Division One highlights package on the ABC was my first real engagement with football apart from kicking the ball myself and thus it became the means by which I connected with the World Cup.
Thankfully, the Socceroos will be there again. Four times in a row now, and no matter how remote their chances, as many of my friends are at pains to point out, the national team holds immense power.
Socceroo success that engages with young fans, just as the English League impacted my youth, will continue to work on the hearts and minds of the Australian footballing public. Despite a historically blasé attitude towards the Socceroos, mainstream Australian’s do love football for all its beauty.
If only we could make them love our boys as much as they love the stars of the world game.
socceroos, #russia2018, 2018 world cup