Thursday, August 30, 2007


NSL and All That

"Old soccer" has been rather a hot topic recently. Following on from Richard Hinds's comments about the old competition, there was a furiously polemical editorial in this week's Australian British Soccer Weekly, in response to Geoff Lord's rather arrogant dismissal of the idea of a second Melbourne team.

Joe Russo, the ABSW man, seized upon Lord's "riots" remark (not without reason), and subsequently penned what amounted to a robust defence of the NSL. Although Lord may have been implicitly referring to events at the Melbourne Victory v. South Melbourne friendly earlier this year, it should again be pointed out that the trouble at that game was not, by all accounts, instigated by South fans.

Perhaps a little excursus on the NSL, its failures and its modest successes, is timely.

The persistent perception of the old competition as a xenophobic enclave of ethnic clubs is, as I've mentioned before, a false one. Plenty of broad-based clubs sprang up in the final decade of the competition; it should be added that all of them, bar Perth Glory, failed for one reason or another.

But was it the possibility of "riots" that kept the fans away from these non-aligned newcomers? Hardly. The story of the competition's slow demise was more about the lack of television coverage (thanks again, Channel 7), pitiful administration and boardroom infighting than any ethnically-related terrace trouble.

The majority of the players in the A-League's first season came straight out of the NSL. Some of the coaches did as well. So why the idea that suddenly, everything was different?

It was a carefully orchestrated brand placement, and it generally succeeded. There are plenty of younger fans who seem to see the A-League as a competition severed cleanly from the NSL in every respect, and their confusion is understandable. It's all about perception.

The reaction of Sydney FC fans to the recent replacement of Edmund Capon as club chairman by Andrew Kemeny, a former chairman of NSL club Sydney City, has been fairly indifferent on the whole. Kemeny is a close associate of Frank Lowy, whose obvious conflict of interest as FFA chairman and majority owner by proxy of Sydney FC has been smothered by the "new football" propaganda. Some would argue that it's a necessary evil.

Others, like a friend of mine who knows the Australian football landscape well, claim that Lowy has managed to exclude the "ethnic" NSL clubs who are now subtly demonized, but has managed to slip Sydney City into the new competition via the boardroom (while carefully preventing his old club from being tarred with the usual NSL brush).

Although I don't entirely agree with him, it's an issue that deserves a mention. Ethnically specific clubs have been excluded from the new competition for the best of reasons, and there is good cause to think that this policy can - and should - be maintained once the league begins to expand.

But this doesn't mean that the NSL clubs (or the competition as a whole) deserve unequivocal ridicule or contempt. That way dangerous revisionism and present-day misjudgements lie.

I'm English, grown up on the 'Derby' games, so it would be very exciting for myself to hear about (i couldn't possibly watch from UK) about a big Melbourne derby.
I suppose modelling new entries along the MLS line of say LA Galaxy and Chivas, a big derby in one state as such, but two clubs with different objectives, one for the ethnic Mexicans and one for everyone else.

Would be good to see in my opinion, but i don't know too much about Aus football and the politics involved...
The biggest irony of the kind of celebration over "new football" that dismisses/demonises much of the past is that it's biggest success (World Cup qualification and a successful World Cup) was achieved with an ageing team mostly nurtured by "old soccer". And while there was the Guus factor, there were a lot of similarities in the running of the NT in the lead-up to qualification for Germany 2006 to that of France 1998, IMHO - particularly in terms of the appointment of a new coach and the scheduling.
...The biggest irony of the kind of celebration over "new football" that dismisses/demonises much of the past is that it's biggest success (World Cup qualification and a successful World Cup) was achieved with an ageing team mostly nurtured by "old soccer"....

Ya know, I was going to make this very point in the piece but decided that would be gilding the lily a bit. But, of course, it's 100% true.
yep players produced from the old soccer system, but with the direction of a new, experienced coach that got them playing a style that more suited their game...
I don't think anyone disputes the quality of talent and football in the NSL. But it was badly mismanaged, rife with incompetence and generally unattractive to many in Australia (including me), and ethnic clubs were one of the major reasons for that. The NSL shouldn't be glorified or denigrated. It was simply a chapter in the history of our game that had to be closed.
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