The Death and Life of Australian Soccer is perhaps the greatest book written on the game in Australia so far.

It intertwines stories and legacies from the late 1950’s to today. Author, Joe Gorman, has eloquently shaped the story by contesting the analysis with the perspectives of two of Australia’s finest soccer historian’s Roy Hay and Paul Mavroudis. 

The different visions and personalities between these two men are reflected in this book, and they help shape the battle of Australian football. The battle between the people and clubs who resist  change, and those who don’t.

For Mavroudis the pain of the A-League is in print; the stories have come alive in a text that will be around forever. I am great mates with Paul, forged from messaging him on the Sydney FC forum many years ago. We have enjoyed great debates over many years, having first connected as mates on the dissatisfaction with the pathways of the game as the A-League commenced in 2005. An Anglo male from Perth - me - angry and bitter at the transformation that incorporated a version of professional football that did not wet my palate as much as the Perth Glory era of the NSL. For Paul,  it was South Melbourne’s move into the Victorian Premier League, away from being part of the national competition.  It is something that is a permanent cause of pain for Paul - much like a death in the family.

It is weird, and deeply emotional, to read Roy Hay and Paul Mavroudis highlighted in print on their shared love of the game. Different and complicated, but it is the jewel in the Gorman text. Rather than summarising the game and its future, we weave a path from the beginning to end looking at the game in the ‘glass half full’ synopsis of Hay to the ‘glass half empty’ of Mavroudis. These two men shape the pitfalls and joys of everything that Australian soccer delivers. 

They are two fine historians critical to understanding how the game is, and has been shaped, in Australia. Knowing both of these men makes analysis of the game much easier, as Gorman says.

It is Gorman who has put the time into constructing this text though and piecing together stories from the disparate times. There are elements I contest with, but these are hardly important. Gorman can’t possibly talk in a unilateral fashion for a complicated game that is best described on page 368

'The history of soccer is a wonderful, stressful, genuinely Australian and ultimately confusing mess.'

It is in this light that I speak not critically, but of Johnny Warren’s speech at the 1987 Rothmans Gold Medal Award (for WA’s best player in the local league) which David Andrews the soccer reporter published in the West Australian newspaper on 9 October 1987. Warren said:

“It is time to turn our backs on ethnic soccer as the staple of the code in this country. It is time to bury the image of soccer as the foreigners game that fails to attract the bulk of the Australian people.”

The reason behind pointing this out is to not overtly criticise Gorman’s statements regarding Warren and his views on how the game moved from ethnic football to the more commercial A-League, but to show how history continues to surprise us and that absolutism is frayed with conversations being told in one world not being relevant to another.

When Johnny Warren came to Western Australia, at a time when there was no internet or social media to instantly share his thoughts, he spoke differently to the recordings within New South Wales.

It is this that makes Gorman’s book all the better. He has tried to weave through the componentry of how football in this country has moved from the 1960s to today, but has left the door open for future publications to fill in more of the blanks.

He has captivated his own passion for the game and the grassroots, to encompass two peoples' lives and how soccer intertwines into their thought processes. This is a story that has no absolutism, but is the beginning of our beloved game's past coming alive.

If you are a football fan, go out and buy a copy, and learn more about Australian soccer through the lives of two of the best people I know in the world game today. 

The Death and Life of Australian Soccer is published by UQP and is available on the UQP website or through other bookstores. 

Categories: People | Football Life

book review, football books, joe gorman, paul mavroudis, roy hay

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