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Soccer: Sing when you are winning … well, you do if you are Japanese anyway

Fantastic: Australia needs more Socceroos supporters like James Keating to give them a lift at home. Photo: Paul Kane MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 11: Socceroos players celebrate after captain Mile Jedinak converted a penalty to level the score at 1-1 during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier between Australia and Japan. Photo: Paul Rovere
Nanjing Night Net

“Sing when you’re winning. You only sing when you’re winning …”

That was an inflammatory tweet I published on Tuesday night during the first half of the Australia v Japan game at Etihad Stadium, one which produced a series of responses.

Some were angry, some were anguished, some were critical, some were in agreement: but all acknowledged the central truth of what I had hoped was a pithy message, that Australian fans at this game were hardly providing the kind of loud encouraging support that their team needed, especially as they had fallen behind to an early Japan goal.

Japan supporters travel, like their media (who easily outnumbered the Australian press and broadcast pack) in large numbers, yet they were still a relatively small percentage of the 48,000 plus crowd at the Docklands venue.

But if all you heard was an audio tape of the match in the first half then you might have thought the game was in Osaka or Tokyo, so loud and fervent were the Blue Samurai supporters compared to their local counterparts.

It was particularly galling given that just 24 hours before the game Socceroo coach Ange Postecoglou – not for the first time before a home game – had called on Australians to get behind their team, to sing, chant, make noise and produce an intimidating atmosphere to throw their greatest Asian rivals out of step.

You might think that seasoned professionals like the Socceroos and their Japanese counterparts,  many of whom have played at top level clubs in the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga would be immune to crowd noise, that their concentration levels would be so great that they could shut out external distractions

Some can … but human nature being what it is, many can’t. Postecoglou knows that, specifically referencing the lift the voracious home support had given Saudi Arabia a few days earlier when the Middle Eastern team had fought back to secure a late equaliser in the World Cup qualifier in Jeddah.

The nature of Australian crowds, particularly at international football matches, has always surprised me.

While the noise, atmosphere and emotion generated at A-League games has been extraordinary on occasion – witness last week’s Sydney derby, played in front of nearly 62,000 fans, and the noise expected at the Melbourne derby at the self same Etihad venue on Saturday night – the national team seems to generate a much more muted response.

On some occasions in the past it’s almost like they have been playing an away game: I remember one night at Olympic Park against Chile in 1998 when the crowd made so much noise in favour of the visitors that it felt like I was in Santiago not Melbourne, while on other occasions thousand of Turkey supporters have come out in droves to make far more noise than Australian fans to barrack for the team of their birth or family antecedents.

Perhaps it’s just the way of the world: travelling fans are always the most fervent and make the most noise. They are the most invested in their team, otherwise they wouldn’t spend huge amounts of money getting to Australia in the first place, while family connections and links with the homeland in the other case are deep and profound. Australia, as a nation of so many immigrants, is always likely to find itself with a significant “away support” as a result.

But that still doesn’t explain why crowd noise from locals for Socceroos games seems, so often, to be muted, certainly in comparison to club support.

Australian fans, at least their active supporters, do like to organise themselves with military like precision in a large group in a strategic area of the ground where they can make the biggest impact. It’s a fashion widely adopted in continental Europe and Latin America, and highly effective it can be.

But on Tuesday it just didn’t seem to generate the right support levels. Socceroo active supporter organisers subsequently explained, in a piece on the website of the FFA’s broadcast partner, Fox Sports,  that communications problems on the night were the issue. The fans were dispersed in different areas, the drummers were set too far back and that a handful of different chants were going at the same time, diluting their effect, it was said.

That’s maybe true, but it was a not unfamiliar experience for the Socceroos.

Supporters were quick to comment on the social media platform twitter after my post.

Some tried to suggest I was simply hard of hearing. Now I am getting old, and I did listen to a lot of loud (mainly punk rock) music when I was young, but it’s not a problem yet. There were many media folk who agreed with me, and they are certainly not going deaf.

Others argued that their support for the national team is watered down  because there are a lot of “theatre goers” in the crowd, supporters who do not know how to barrack and shout at games.

Still more said there was simply a big disconnect between the fervency of feeling that fans had for their club teams, whom they follow week in and week out, and the national team, with whom their identification is not so great.

A handful blamed the geography of Australia. If Italy, Croatia or England play at home their countries are not so vast that supporters from all over cannot converge in Rome or Milan, Zagreb or Split, London or Manchester, to watch them.  In Australia even the most passionate Socceroo supporter would think twice about the costs involved in travelling from Brisbane to Perth (where Australia has played two World Cup qualifiers in a 12 month period).

A few also said that stringent admission policies at stadia over the past decade, the confiscation of banners and flags and the general attempts to suppress raucous active support at A-League games had taken its toll and fans could no longer be bothered to make the effort. There might be something in that. If you prevent the culture flourishing fully, then there will be an impact.

Perhaps Tuesday night was a one-off? Maybe fans will find their voice in Sydney or Brisbane, where the next set of home qualifiers are expected to be staged. Ange Postecoglou and his team will be hoping so. They wouldn’t want a late equaliser in their last game to grab a place in Russia and be looking for the crowd to get them over the line, at least not on Tuesday night’s showing, anyway.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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