Sunday, December 03, 2006

 

Who's Afraid? - another update

Boy oh boy, the football refusers in the media have been busy of late.

The latest and most absurd incident involves a story in the local Central Coast rag suggesting that "riot police" would need to be on hand for this evening's Central Coast v. Sydney game. As I have observed previously, the relationship between the Cove and the Marinators is, in fact, one of the friendliest in the A-League.

The spur for this story, amusingly enough, was a brag by a 15-year-old Mariners supporter on his myspace page (which has since been deleted, apparently), that his "firm" would be ambushing Sydney FC supporters after the game at Gosford Station.

The group in question, according to a Marinator friend of mine, didn't even know this particular keyboard warrior.

As a source of information upon which to build a newspaper article, in other words, it ranked somewhere beneath pathetic.

Yet Richard Noone (an appropriate surname if ever there was one) saw fit to publish his piece of alarmist nonsense, even, according to my Marinator source, inducing the Mariners' event manager Kathy Robinson to pose with police for a photo shoot, without informing her of its purpose. And the eventual "story", believe it or not, made the front page of the Express Advocate. The whole sorry tale has also been related on a new Mariners blog.

The lengths to which some journalists will go to beat up the slightest suggestion of soccer-related violence just beggars belief.

But wait, there's more. The Melbourne Herald-Sun recently published an interview with the FFA's new CEO, Ben Buckley, who, of course, has a background in AFL. There seem to be no links available as yet, sadly.

The interviewer was Mike Sheehan, an AFL hack. Basically, Buckley was assailed with accusations of betrayal and hypocrisy throughout, the implication being that football was necessarily the enemy of AFL in Victoria and elsewhere.

Just imagine the situation reversed; would an interview where the subject was bitterly accused of betraying football for AFL make it past the sub-editor's desk? Of course not.

Finally, there's a typically sly dig from Peter Fitzsimons, the SMH's former rugby international turned columnist. In mentioning Fabio Cannavaro's European Player of the Year award, he comforts readers with the observation that "I had never heard of him either". That's fine, Pete. In the real world, about a hundred times more people have heard of him than have heard of Andrew Johns.

At what point will media proprietors, and their editorial staff, actually refuse to publish the sort of childish anti-football snipes that would not be tolerated if directed against any other major sport?

Comments:
Heres the Mike Sheahan article:

MIKE SHEAHAN
2 December 2006
Herald-Sun
Copyright 2006 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Ben Buckley is a former North Melbourne vice-captain who rose through the ranks to become one of the AFL's top-ranking lieutenants.

In his first interview since accepting Australian soccer's top job, Buckley explains why he's crossed to the other side

BEN Buckley hasn't just changed jobs. He has defected. Crossed enemy lines. Leaving Australian football is one thing, bobbing up as the supremo of soccer, the "new" football, is something entirely different.

Buckley, 39, has gone from the chief operating officer of the AFL, effectively Andrew Demetriou's No.2 in the administration, to chief executive of the Football Federation of Australia.

Sporting treachery at the very least, some of us might say.

He has been entrenched in football Australian style -- his father Brian played in the VFL with Footscray -- and he played eight seasons at North Melbourne at AFL level.

He has spent the past seven years working at the AFL. His eight-year-old son, Jack, plays the game.

In this exclusive interview, Mike Sheahan brings Buckley to account as he prepares to leave football-mad Melbourne for Sydney and soccer.

How could you?

Unique opportunity. The time is right for me personally and professionally. In terms of sports administration in this country, it is a unique role -- strong domestic profile, incredible amount of international opportunity as well. Right opportunity at the right time for me.

Do you have no shame? You grew up in a football family, in a football state, and you've just walked away?

I have a pretty diverse background. I've lived in Melbourne, country Victoria, Tasmania, I've spent time overseas. The spiritual home is Melbourne, but I think I have a fairly global perspective.

What did your father say (Brian Buckley played 37 games with Footscray from 1956-59)?

He was very encouraging. He saw it pretty much the same way I did and has always been encouraging of us taking new opportunities.

What about the big boss?

Andrew (Demetriou) was disappointed, but understood the personal opportunity, recognised it. He certainly wanted me to stay, but he understood why I was thinking about leaving. (Demetriou told a subsequent media conference: "Ben goes with our blessing.")

What did Andrew say when you first raised the subject?

He wasn't surprised. I can't remember his exact words, but, in essence, he said we've had a very strong executive and management team and he wasn't surprised that people would come knocking on the door from time to time to myself and others.

He wasn't miffed that Frank Lowy (Football Federation Australia chairman) didn't go directly to him?

(Laughs) He might have been.

Ten minutes into the press conference announcing your appointment, you're publicly referring to soccer as football. Do you give your heart away that quickly?

That's quite amusing because when I mentioned the word "football" in the soccer context publicly, I got all these text messages from all my old footy mates saying all sorts of unprintable things. You have to respect that globally what we knew as soccer is known as football. People in Australia switch between the two terms and don't get hung up on one or the other any more.

Is this what $1.2 million a year can do to a man, is it; buy his soul?

I'm not going to comment on numbers, but life's not all about financial rewards. This opportunity is much more about the professional and personal than it is about financial rewards.

Are you prepared to say it is over a mill?

I'm not prepared to say anything on money.

Did you hear Paul McNamee was in the field?

I've only read the reports you would have read. I'm sure the board and Frank went through an extensive process; I'm sure they talked to a lot of people.

Given you'd never been a CEO in sport, were you surprised you got the job?

I've had 16 years' professional experience in a sports and commercial environment. I think I've had a number of roles that have given me a good background for this type of role.

I'm pleasantly surprised and genuinely thrilled to be given the opportunity. I think my background stacks up to what's required.

Who were your confidantes?

My family and a couple of close friends.

By name of?

Just close friends.

Mark Brayshaw (a teammate at North Melbourne)?

Yeah, Mark's a close friend.

The other?

I have a very close group of friends, mostly from my old playing days. There's a small number I take into my confidence and talk those things through.

Dale Holmes, perhaps? (Holmes, the AFL's general manager in New South Wales, also played with Buckley at North Melbourne.)

You're getting close.

Are you excited; you're not a person who exudes excitement?

Oh, yeah, the more I became involved in the discussions, the more I genuinely became excited. Sarah (Buckley's partner) said she saw a change.

Have you and John O'Neill (the man Buckley replaces) had any contact since the change?

Yeah, we've spoken. John rang me to congratulate me. He wished me all the best. I don't know John well, but we'd met professionally over the years and I've got enormous admiration for what he's achieved, both in Australian Rugby Union days and clearly what he has achieved in the past two or three years with the FFA.

Was there any advice about how to handle Frank?

We haven't spoken in detail, but we'll catch up when the dust settles.

Now, the most frequent question I get: have you ever played the game?

No, not seriously. I've played some social games, but I can't say I've kicked the round ball in anger.

How many games of top-level soccer have you seen in your life?

Too many to count. In the three years I spent in Japan, I went on a regular basis to watch the J.League. Every time I went to London for work, I'd watch a Premier League game.

Tell me three things you know about Sepp Blatter (FIFA president)?

He's head of the largest or one of the two largest sporting organisations in the world, but even you could have told me that one.

He's Swiss . . . isn't he? He's been a highly influential person on the world stage. And I think he made some general comments about the standard of refereeing at the World Cup.

Do you know who Arnie is?

Yes, I've spoken to (Australian coach) Graham (Arnold). I rang him before the game against Ghana to wish him all the best. Told him I was looking forward to meeting him when I get on deck.

Will you be targeting people you have worked closely with in football, as John O'Neill did when he made the move from rugby?

Genuinely haven't given that any great consideration. In my brief time with people at the FFA, I think they have a fantastic team.

Did you follow the World Cup closely?

Yep. Jack, my son, and I would watch the condensed highlights every night on SBS. The whole family got up to watch every time Australia played.

I knew the game had actually captured the psyche of the nation after a game with Jack's under-9 AFL team, where I'm the assistant coach.

When they won the grand final, they all ripped off their shirts and ran round the ground emulating John Aloisi when he scored the penalty against Uruguay to qualify, which I found quite amazing.

A bunch of under-9 kids playing Aussie Rules in a local (Sandringham) suburban comp taking off John Aloisi. At that moment, I thought . . . sometimes you can underestimate the impact those big global events can have.

Were you mindful, maybe even scared, of the stories that Frank (Lowy) is a dictator and runs the show?

I think you need to have a very strong partnership with the chairman of any organisation. A CEO needs to work hand in glove with the chairman and the board, and it needs to be a genuine partnership in which the CEO and the management team are challenged by the board and debate issues with the board.

Likewise, the CEO and the management team need to be able to challenge the board and say this is the direction we want to go.

Inherent in that, there's always going to be some good, positive tension and you need to harness that. I'm very comfortable with that approach.

What happens when he wants to go in one direction and you believe you should be going the opposite way, who will win?

Like any good relationship, you discuss the issues and you reach a consensus position.

You're seen as a consensus person?

I think it's my style, my approach, to try to get people to work towards a common goal. I search for common ground to reach a united position. That's how you generate the best outcomes.

That doesn't mean everyone agrees throughout the process, but once you reach a common goal, then everyone unites behind it, whether you agreed or disagreed. That's always been my approach in commercial life.

On any major issue, will you be prepared to stand your ground?

I always argue my case in any issue.

If all the rumours are true, Lowy won't be much different to your old boss?

Contrary to the popular perception about Andrew, he really does seek input and likes a lot of robust debate.

I think the wonderful thing about working with Andrew is that he does seek input from his team, he gets it, then once we agree on a position, we have been united in that decision.

I try to find common ground, but there are times when you have to make hard decisions that will be unpopular. I could give you 100 examples.

Give me one?

Doing the fixture, for example. Doing a TV agreement. You just can't satisfy the interests of all parties; you have to make some pretty hard decisions. I take the time to listen to people, get their input, get their views, try to understand what their position is, then make the decision based on all the information.

What do you see as your legacy to football?

I don't see a personal legacy because I've been part of a great team, and I don't roll that out as a cliche. Each one of those guys on the AFL executive has made their contribution. We've operated very effectively as a team and we've operated well with the commission and, in more recent times, we've operated well with the clubs.

In my seven years, I think the AFL has done things as professionally as any organisation at the highest end of commercial life in Australia.

Personal highlights?

Clearly, the two television agreements were great highlights.

Did you actually drive those? (Demetriou describes Buckley's work on the TV agreements as brilliant).

I might have project-led the team. We drew on a lot of people internally and externally. I guess my job was to bring those resources together, and I think that worked really well.

You have two kids and one coming. It's going to be a tough balancing act?

Yeah. First year in a high-profile job, new city, new sport, new industry, new baby; it will be a big year. I suspect it will be challenging on both fronts, personally and professionally. Having said that, I've moved cities, countries, before. I moved from Melbourne to Tokyo (1996-99) with a six-month old baby and had another baby up there, and Tokyo is a lot further away than Sydney.

Did Sarah need convincing?

Sarah's an adventurous spirit. Her only nervousness was having her first baby (March) away from the family structure. We both have friends and family in Sydney.

When you told the kids, what did they say?

They were nervous about leaving their friends, leaving their school, but they're also excited about a new life.

What did Jack say about switching codes?

He said: "Dad, finally I'll be able to play soccer."

I reckon you made that up. Anyway, what will you take from the AFL to the FFA?

Despite public appearances from time to time, there has been a collective approach within the AFL industry. Everyone seems to have brought into a plan, into a vision. There are often challenges to some of the detail, but they do see working together to be of great benefit. I sense that now is the approach being adopted by the A-League clubs and all the stakeholders.

Have you any fears for the future of the AFL?

No, because I think the two can co-exist. The AFL has such a strong history, so many resources at its disposal, and is so well entrenched at community level. That strength won't get eroded.

Are you going to target the next generation of Judds and Riewoldts?

The big challenge for all sports, the football codes, cricket and tennis, is to get the next best athletes. The world game offers the chance to walk the world stage.

What will you miss most about the chapter of your life that's just ended?

The friends, the colleagues. It's a very collegial industry. Despite the often public debates, brawls, disputes, you make some great friends on all sides.

It's a family industry in a lot of respects. You get to know people, their families, you socialise a lot together; it becomes a very tight circle.

Having gone through tough personal circumstances (Buckley's wife Kim died from cancer in 2004), the people in the football world were so supportive. Not just to me, but to the kids. It really did highlight that, despite the differences, how close people are.

Will you still go to the football?

One of the bonuses of going to Sydney is I'll be able to cheer for the Kangaroos.

I can go and enjoy it for pure enjoyment and not think about it in terms of work.

Talking of the Kangaroos, should they go to Queensland full-time?

That's a decision for the Kangaroos, but I think there's enormous opportunity for them in Queensland. For any club in Queensland.

Where are you going to live in Sydney?

Don't know yet, but I have more sympathy for the Swans' argument about the cost of living now than I did six months ago.

Sorry to be leaving?

I know this sounds horribly cliched, but I do look at life as a journey. You have to take opportunities when they come along and set yourself new horizons, new challenges. Try to experience as much as you can in life because it's relatively short. Life should be interesting.

It will be.

The Buckley file

Born: June 29, 1967

Lives with: Partner Sarah McDonald and his two children Tess, 11 in January, and Jack, 8.

Playing career: North Melbourne, 1986-93

(74 games). Vice-captain 1990-91. Worked in a variety of sales and marketing roles with Nike before becoming director of marketing in Australia in 1994. Became Nike's director of marketing in Japan in 1996. Joined the AFL in 1999.
 
Mike, as we know, this sort of agenda-based stuff has been going on forever. As Andy Harper would say, the dinosaurs are disappearing, but keep up the good work in bringing them to account.
 
Thanks for posting, Anonymous.

Quite sickening, isn't it. Would football be the object of such sustained, petty vitriol anywhere else in the world?
 
Mike would say his tongue was planted firmly where it should be. But all the same, its the tone of betraying the church.
 
i agree this type of article is drivel but surely you agree that its hardly a one way street against football.

now i love afl and football equally and i wont choose between them no matter what but how many times while watching sbs or fox have we heard "this is the real football" or "the other sports are quaking in the boots" guff. you simply dont get that on afl shows.

also i seem to remember johnny warren labelling afl among others as rubbish sports. why on earth would you say something like that if you want to attract fans of those sports to football?

bottom line is that yes sheehan is a fool but he's not the only one with a negative agenda.
 
hey anonymous can please you post the correct interview? That one is just a parody that you made up... isn't it?
 
...i agree this type of article is drivel but surely you agree that its hardly a one way street against football.

now i love afl and football equally and i wont choose between them no matter what but how many times while watching sbs or fox have we heard "this is the real football" or "the other sports are quaking in the boots" guff. you simply dont get that on afl shows.

also i seem to remember johnny warren labelling afl among others as rubbish sports. why on earth would you say something like that if you want to attract fans of those sports to football?

bottom line is that yes sheehan is a fool but he's not the only one with a negative agenda....

Sorry, I can't fully agree. Plenty of sports writers and commentators big-note their own sports, but it is the freely-expressed deprecation of football that irks me. There are plenty of lengthy criticisms of football itself in the Oz media which would never be tolerated were they directed at other sports as a whole (as opposed to elements or individuals within them). There's a difference between building yourself up and putting others down.

Incidentally, there's also a difference between what a commentator says on the spur of the moment and what a journalist writes after (hopefully) mature reflection and a sufficient editorial process.

Do you have a link anywhere to that quote from Warren? I'm not saying he couldn't have said it, just that I don't remember anything like it.
 
Do you have a link anywhere to that quote from Warren? I'm not saying he couldn't have said it, just that I don't remember anything like it.

no sorry i dont have a link but he did say it. i think it was in the mid-late 90s when south africa came out here for 1-2 matches. maybe we were playing them in cricket at the same time?

anyway jw then informed us all that football is the biggest sport by far in south africa, not rugby, cricket or any other rubbish sport.

im pretty sure that was the context it was said in.
 
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