Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
Read earlier columns
The golden wattle
A couple of months ago, my girlfriend and I holidayed in the south-east of
my home state of South Australia. It was only a short holiday - three
relaxing days on the outskirts of a small seaside town - but it was sheer
It's a common type of holiday in Australia. If you live in most parts of
Europe, you can easily spend three days in another country. But, without
meaning to delve too far into the obvious, my country is different. It's
big, it's isolated and most of it is sparsely populated. Nearly 20 million
of us live here but about 60% live in Australia's five biggest cities.
And those cities are a long way apart. By road, Melbourne is 730 kilometres
(450 miles) from Adelaide but, of the five main cities, those two are the
closest together! Once you venture out of any of those cities, you can find
anything really - including nothing. I live in Adelaide. With around 1.1
million people, it's the smallest of the five and the capital of South
Robe, the small town we holidayed in, is 340 kilometres (210 miles) away. It
was an easy enough drive because there are only a few towns between it and
Adelaide. It's a nice "getaway" town because it has a quiet little harbour,
a big beach and the countryside surrounding it is rather pleasant.
And we stayed in a lovely beachside cottage. Winter is fairly moderate in my
parts so a lot of Aussies don't mind getting out and about at that time of
At some European beaches, it can be a nightmare just to find a vacant spot
to rest your body on. But we've got over 25,000 kilometres of coastline down
here and that means that there are plenty of places in which you can
literally have a beach all to yourself - and we did. Perhaps that's a buy
off for our inability to make quick and easy visits to other countries.
I highly recommend the type of holiday I had in Robe. When it concluded, my
batteries were recharged and my mind refreshed.
The country roads around that area are quite pretty in parts. And one thing
really sticks out - a beautiful tree called the wattle. It's everywhere and
the sight of its golden flowers on a sunny day could inspire a painter or a
Regular readers might have noted that I'm not awfully sentimental. But
seeing golden wattle after golden wattle really made me think about my
country. It's our national floral emblem and, in a way that I couldn't
possibly put into words, it's inspiring. Don't just take my word for it.
Think of all the Australians - particular on the sporting field - who have
drawn inspiration from the colour combination derived from those golden
flowers and green leaves. (Yes, now you know why they're our colours.)
We're fairly good in a lot of different sports. You can usually expect the
green and gold to be at (or near) the forefront in cricket, rugby union,
rugby league, field hockey and netball. We've produced some great swimmers
including Ian Thorpe, the sport's current star and an utter freak in the
pool. (Sadly, however, the "Thorpedo" has shocking taste in our sport - he's
a mad Spurs fan!)
I know he's not greatly loved but the world's No. 1 ranked male tennis
player is Australian (from Adelaide too) and we also have a great history in
that sport. We even broke new ground when a chap called Robbie McEwen won
the points race (the green jersey) at this year's Tour de France.
And there have been motor racers, golfers, squash players and even sailors
who have represented Australia with great distinction. The America's Cup
might be in New Zealand now but, in 1983, it was Australia that first
wrenched it away from the New York Yacht Club's vice-like grip.
I know I've missed plenty of high achieving Australian athletes in other
sports but my mild outbreak of patriotism has probably bored you already.
I'll conclude these "God, we're good" paragraphs by reminding you that all
this sporting excellence has been achieved despite a small population
(compared to, say, the US, the UK, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, etc) and
while many of our finest sportsmen are engaged in a game which is virtually
exclusive to this country - Australian Rules football.
But you know where all this is going don't you? There's one sport which we
just can't seem to get right - soccer.
I may be a fan of many different sports but this one will always be my
greatest obsession. My Italian father introduced me to soccer when I was a
little kid; he took me to games and watched on television with me. I
remember watching from as far back as the late 1970s when I was four or five
Unfortunately it always seemed like it wasn't an Australian sport. TV would
only show an hour of soccer each week and local matches were played,
largely, by European migrants and their offspring. The two biggest clubs in
Adelaide had almost always been one that was established by Italians (which
was called Adelaide City Juventus) and one established by Greeks (West
Adelaide Hellas). Interstate you'd find Melbourne Croatia, South Melbourne
Hellas, Sydney Croatia, Sydney Olympic, Preston Macedonia, etc.
Therein lies the big paradox. Soccer's growth and survival has largely been
due to the waves of European migrants that came here after the Second World
War (like my parents did). But, on the other hand, the largest part of our
population - Aussies with several generations of ancestry in Australia - has
trouble warming to the sport and part of the reason is that soccer is
considered an "ethnic" game.
Soccer needs more general acceptance among those "dinky-di" Aussies. With
it, our national league and national team would both benefit.
I can think of no better examples than Steve and Mark Waugh. Both have
represented the Australian cricket team since the 1980s and Steve is the
Australian captain in test match cricket, the longer (5 day) version of the
game. I love cricket and I've enjoyed watching them both play since I was a
teenager. But, more to the point, both were outstanding junior soccer
players and could, by all accounts, have played the game at a very high
level. Cricket would have seemed far more lucrative and it offered clearer
career paths. And so the Waughs were lost to our sport. There are plenty of
Australia's domestic competition, the National Soccer League, is in such bad
shape that many observers believe it's on the verge of collapse. It is
poorly attended; its profile in the sporting media is low; nearly half of
the teams can't shake off their "ethnicity" and struggle to gain a wider
appeal; most of the clubs are losing money hand over fist; and, of course,
the standard is low. To top all that off, the teams are poorly distributed
around the country. More than half are in the state of New South Wales and
although it's our most populous state, it won't be able to sustain the
number of teams it has.
In my last column, I highlighted some of these problems and disparaged of
Soccer Australia, the sport's governing body. To top everything off, we're
stuck in Oceania - the confederation that Peter Goldstein once described
(correctly) as FIFA's ugly duckling.
I don't think I could have possibly painted a bleaker picture. And do you
know what's worse? Every time there seems to be some sort of hope for the
future, it's usually snuffed out fairly quickly.
Soccer fans have had plenty of false dawns in this country but, despite the
fact that I'm a born pessimist, I do feel that a turnaround might not be far
The World Cup finals woke a lot of Australians up to what we're missing out
on. That - coupled with Australian soccer's seemingly natural ability to
shoot itself in the foot - has triggered a government inquiry into the
Publicly, at least, Soccer Australia has welcomed the inquiry. It's long
overdue and there is a good mix of people involved. That gives me confidence
that the inquiry will not only identify the problems - it might find some
Of course, I reckon I have all the solutions and, through the process of
public submission, I'll be sending them to the inquiry. You'll get it first
on World Cup Archive ... but that's my next column, the last in the "down
Still, there are other reasons for optimism about the sport's future in
Australia. There are plans for an "overhaul" of the NSL at the end of the
current season. The probable outcome will be a streamlining of the
competition and the speedy removal of clubs which can't demonstrate future
A couple of the existing clubs have actually proven to be successful on and
off the field. There is no better example than Perth Glory. The city of
Perth, on Australia's west coast, is a long, long way from the other major
cities - even by our standards. Perhaps that helps explain why Perth didn't
have a team in the NSL until 1996 (the competition began in 1977). But since
the Western Australians arrived, they've shown the rest of us how it's done.
Crowds are regularly around or over 10,000. That may not sound high but it's
miles better than most other teams are getting.
Most importantly, "the Glory" has integrated itself into the Perth
community. I spent a week in Perth not long ago and I was impressed by what
I saw. The Glory was the second sport item on the television news and
visible on advertising boards and pamphlet stands in major retail outlets. I
even overheard young schoolgirls talking about the Glory boys' latest match
while I was on a local train! When it comes to domestic soccer, you just
don't expect that kind of popularity in Australia.
The Glory's success is even more remarkable when you consider how truly dire
the NSL is. It's an example, however, of what can be achieved.
There are other soccer lovers determined to make sure that Australian fans
can see some half-decent action in this country. It's hard to attract major
club teams here for anything more than an end-of-season holiday. Arranging
big international matches is harder still. Usually, the best we can hope to
see is high quality youth players. But that's much better than nothing. In
1993, Australia hosted the World Youth Cup. Adelaide hosted an entire group
- Norway, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Brazil. Yes, we were treated to the
Brazilians! And they went on to win the tournament having defeated Australia
in a semi-final.
I went to every Adelaide match. When you're soccer mad and Australian, you
don't miss things like that. And the "which of these players will become
good pros" game is always fun. I remember, for example, being rather
impressed by Norway's goalkeeper - it was Thomas Myhre. The lanky Petter
Rudi, who played a few seasons at Sheffield Wednesday, was also in that
Norwegian side and he became quite a crowd favourite. Dida was goalkeeping
for Brazil and in the Brazil-USA quarter-final (also in Adelaide), the
authoritative referee was a Danish chap called Kim Milton Nielsen. England
reached the tournament's semi-finals and its team included Nick Barmby,
Chris Bart-Williams, Julian Joachim and David Unsworth. The most notable
players representing Australia included Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat and Paul
Earlier this year, Adelaide played host to a new competition which brought
talented young players to our shores. The "Festival Cup" invited Newcastle,
Glasgow Rangers, Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Vasco da Gama to bring
their best under-20 players here for a tournament. They were joined by a
team selected from Australia's best youngsters and a team from China.
It was an enjoyable tournament (Rangers won it, since you asked) but, more
to the point, it shows the kind of resolve that many Australian soccer fans
have to continue promoting the game.
Indeed, we're even looking at a bid for the World Cup finals in 2014. OK,
OK, before you burst out laughing, I know we probably won't get it and maybe
2018 is a slightly more realistic target. But I'd like to think that the
ambition being shown in bidding for the tournament is a positive, a step in
the right direction.
While we're back on the subject of the World Cup, Oceania's eternal friend,
Sepp Blatter, has repeatedly promised to give Oceania its best possible
route to the World Cup finals yet. Yes, Blatter wants us to have our own
spot. (I always said he was a great guy, didn't I?)
It may surprise you to hear it but I'm actually rather sceptical about the
merits of Oceania gaining an automatic place at the finals. And, seeing as
Blatter can't deliver the finals berth on his own, it may not happen. If
Blatter throws his clout behind OFC, however, we could come up with a happy
compromise - like taking our qualification route through the second phase of
the Asian qualifiers.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.