My youngest child is lucky enough to attend an excellent little Catholic School only three hundred and fifty metres from our house in the North West of Sydney.
On rare occasions, I get away a little early from work and have the privilege of picking her up and not feeling like a disappointment in shipping her off to after school care. No Catholic guilt there.
In the process of the pickup, I normally have around ten minutes to kill before the bell sounds. That time gives some of the mums and dads a chance to chat and chew the fat.
A few weeks back I heard a discussion between an English migrant who has been here for a couple of years and a second generation Italian-Australian woman. Both of whom I know reasonably well.
I wasn’t involved in the actual conversation and stood nearby as I heard their discussion turn to the topic of football. As pathetic and stalker-like as it sounds, I edged a little closer to try and gather what they were saying.
In short they were discussing football and the woman asked the man if he enjoyed watching the A-League, obviously realising that he was a huge football fan back in his homeland.
‘Oh no’, he said. ‘I watch all the English matches, but I don’t like the fans of the A-League.’
‘Yeah, they are disgusting, aren’t they?’, she replied.
To say I was hurt and angry is an understatement. However, to say I was shocked and surprised would be a lie.
I couldn’t help but think that it might be the same thing they would say about a halal snack pack before they had actually tried one.
But what else would I expect? Unlike some of the parents at the school who are Wanderers or Sydney FC members, the woman in question isn’t and takes more of an interest in the plight of the Parramatta Eels in the NRL competition.
I stood there thinking of the sources and roots of her comment. I pictured a busy mum, with three kids, doing all the things that hard working people do to organise their week around school, sport and their own employment.
My conclusion and I think it is a fair one, was that her understanding and impression of the A-League had most likely been nurtured via a series of short sighted and bias mainstream media grabs.
Perhaps she had seen Channel Nine’s summation of the most recent Sydney Derby as ‘a night of soccer violence’, or read some of the subtle jibes and pot shots taken at the local game from people like Eddie McGuire.
She may have even been a regular listener to Alan Jones, who has compared some A-League crowd behaviour to the Paris terrorist attacks.
Maybe she was a subscriber to The Australian and had read some of their articles about the ‘scourge’ that diving had become in the game. Whatever the source, her summation of the fans as being disgusting and her dislike for the Australian game sounded rather final.
The gentlemen involved in the discussion interested me even more, in that, as an Englishman, his rather poor view of the A-League and the behaviour of its fans reeked of irony and hypocrisy.
Honour on the terraces was not something for which English football became famous and revered and while great strides have been made in the modern EPL era, images of hooliganism from days gone by are still vivid in the football community.
How dare you call us disgusting? Have a look in your own backyard buddy.
The origins of the comments made by both parents were clear to me. The mainstream media took a combative approach to football in this country as soon as the game took a foothold and started to impact the broader landscape of sport.
Whether it be a journalistic conspiracy or just a by-product of culture and preference I am not sure, whatever the case may be, football has suffered at the hands of an inherent bias in media coverage.
I’m not sure if anyone would be proud of creating such false impressions in seemingly fair and reasonable people who, in turn, label an entire community of supporters in an unfair way.
Thus, to those who feel the need to tarnish the beautiful game with a brush applied with the most broad strokes. I give you the following advice.
Sometimes passions overflow at sporting contests. Just as they did at the showdown in Adelaide last week, where we saw a continuation of the ugliest side of Australian sport; racism and discrimination of the highest order.
The AFL acted swiftly and sternly and the advertising campaign that followed was moving and effective. While there has been a pattern of behaviour, no reasonably minded person would suggest that the behaviour is indicative of the average AFL fan, nor label the entire fan-base as disgusting.
However, the sweeping condemnation of the football community after the derby, comments by shock-jock radio parrots and commercial news networks rather summative and inaccurate reporting of events, held football to a different standard. A standard not demanded of other codes.
That standard appears to stem from an alarming fact that, yes, some football fans do look a little different to the ones with which you might be more comfortable. A lot of them have full dark beards, wear more sports-wear than beach-wear and like to bang traditional instruments as a tangible physical manifestation of their support.
They are what people of my mother’s generation used to call ‘ethnics’. That’s right, they are Italians, Greeks, Serbs, Lebanese and others whose heritage stems from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Oh, and just to clarify for the narrow minded parents at my kids school, they are not disgusting as a collective. There are disgusting individuals among them of course, as in all communities, yet my children have bloodlines from the Middle East as well, after my marriage to a fiery Lebanese belly-dancer who I met on a wild night in Istanbul.
If anyone would like to label my three girls as disgusting, I might have to put on my teacher voice.
Mainstream media, institutionalised racism aside, might also like to consider the following.
Run across your front lawn as fast as you can and have another member of your family throw out a leg and knock you off balance so that you tumble to the ground. Hurt didn’t it?
Probably took you a minute or two to get your composure back hey? While you may have laid on the ground, moaning, looking for a bit of sympathy from your spouse, it actually didn’t tickle.
So the next time you read an article about simulation, or as the mainstream media like to call it, ‘diving’, have a think about the vast majority of moments in a game of football where the victim has been chopped down quite hard.
Stop questioning a footballers courage and start measuring the behaviour against comparative acts across all codes, where players stay down to ensure the video replays pick up minor contact in order to advantage their team or gain favour from umpires.
As Sydney FC attempt the unthinkable and strive to complete the almost perfect season, it is a shame that some people will continue to see football as an ethnic, violent and pathetic game played by cowards.
What it will take to change their mind is hard to gauge. Yet understanding, awareness and perspective is undoubtedly the key.
It’s a little bit like the invitation I extended to Pauline Hanson last year, requesting a meeting over a halal snack pack. I’m sure there is no inherent bias there on Ms Hanson’s behalf, just a case of her probably never having had the opportunity or motivation to give it a go and truly understand it.