Avoiding the other 'F' word


Asian Cup 2015 winners website pic

I have friends who still sometimes pull me up when I use the word 'soccer' to describe the round ball game. 'Our football is the one where you use your feet', they say. 

My main issue with their argument is that any use of the word 'football' in modern Australia is inevitably followed up by a second question – 'which code?' – and a nauseating discussion about who has the right to use the term. 

So in the interests of my own sanity, and as peace gesture, I have given up using the word 'football' for any code. I now almost exclusively use the terms soccer, Aussie rules (or 'footy' if I'm with the fellow faithful), rugby (union) or league to describe the various games that have captured the imaginations of generations of sporting fans in Australia. 

If the popularity of the Asian Cup – which the Socceroos won last weekend – is anything to go by, it seems that many other Australian fans of different football codes are also finding ways to make peace with the round ball game these days. 

A sell-out crowd of more than 76,000 watched the final against Korea last Saturday night in Sydney, with nearly three million watching the game on television. This followed sell-out crowds at Socceroos matches in Melbourne, Brisbane and Newcastle. In total, around 650,000 fans attended matches across the tournament. 

In the aftermath of the tournament, the football code wars are very much heating up between the various Australian sporting administration bodies. 

One commentator joked before the Asian Cup final that soccer's organising body, Football Federation Australia, seemed more excited at the TV ratings the Asian Cup was generating than in the Socceroos' results. But Football Federation Australia has every right to bask in the success of the tournament, particularly after it had been dismissed before it even started as a 'lemon' by AFL heavyweight Eddie McGuire. 

The crowd and ratings figures from the Asian Cup vindicate their belief in the game's ability to capture the attention of Australians. That success may now help the A League achieve the sort of commercial free-to-air exposure that cricket's Big Bash League has profited from this season. A similar commercial TV arrangement for the A League would make that competition even more of a fixture on the summer sporting calendar. 

Yet while administrators will continue to snipe at each other as they seek a commercial advantage for their sport, it's interesting to note that many of the same people taking to Twitter to follow the Socceroos were also tweeting about the latest BBL match and the Australian Open tennis – and that both the BBL and the Australian Open achieved record crowds this summer. Soccer has claimed its place in the consciousness of the Australian public, but it's yet to be – as  its advocates may have hoped and detractors may have feared – at the expense of any other sport.  

The football code wars might make sense in the board rooms and the minds of die-hard tragics who want more opportunities to watch the sport they love, but they make little sense to newer fans of the sport like me. I started to follow the Socceroos ahead of the 2006 World Cup, and my interest in them has grown to the point that I travelled interstate to watch them play in Sydney and Brisbane at the Asian Cup. Yet I also watched the BBL and the tennis, and will be following the Australians at the cricket World Cup. I'll also continue to follow the Richmond Football Club in the AFL, no matter how much it might pain me at times. 

To me, what matters is not the shape of the ball, but whether a sport can provide great stories and spectacles on the field. Soccer, with its heroes such as Tim Cahill and Massimo Luongo shining on an international stage, provides that in spades. Right now, it has my – and Australia's – attention. 

Michael McVeigh is the editor of Australian Catholics magazine and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.


Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, football, soccer, rugby, Aussie Rules, sport, culture



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Existing comments

It seems that the code we bonded to early in life can, and often does, become bondage, and we tend to think it is 'the only one'.. I can't help seeing a resemblance with the religion we bond to in early life. With closer encounters with those 'others', perhaps we will all come to see that there are many paths up the Mountain of God. I can't
Robert Liddy | 04 February 2015

I noticed on last Sunday morning's "Offsiders" program every single member of the panel referred to soccer as football. Obviously, like most of us, they were ecstatic at our team's Asian Cup triumph. Although I am a Rugby Union tragic I can see the draw the universal football code has. Australian Soccer has superb leadership: Frank Lowy, David Gallop and Ange Postecoglu. As far as I am concerned, no other Australian sporting body can match this top level of proven leadership. It is only when you have a superb and competitive local as national coach that you can say a sport has really arrived. I have a feeling that soccer is well on its way to being the leading national football code.
Edward Fido | 04 February 2015

Nice try but we have our own great game, Australian Rules Football. That's football. And footy. The rest is soccer, scrum, Sydney and beyond.
Peter Goers | 04 February 2015

Skilful game but too many cheats on the field and in the top line administration!
john frawley | 04 February 2015

'To me, what matters is not the shape of the ball, but whether a sport can provide great stories and spectacles on the field.' Wonderfully said, Michael. Sport and its great stories give us a deeper insight into ourselves and our society than we are prepared to admit. That's why Australia's Bishops chose that topic for their Social Justice Statement in 2014-15.
DavidB | 04 February 2015

I don`t care what you call the lesser sports, as long as you place RUGBY first! Where it naturally belongs.
Eugene | 04 February 2015

We truly live in a lucky country, when we can easily afford the time and money to enjoy such an array of sports as participants and spectators.
Lucan | 04 February 2015

'Our football is the one where you use your feet', they say.... All the codes use feet. Perhaps the round ball game should be called 'Headball', since it's the only one that promotes the use of the head.
Robert Liddy | 04 February 2015

I would like to claim that all foot ball games evolved from 'soccer'. Rugby Union from Rugby School where one boy had the idea of playing chasey with a soccer ball so that more boys could participate. Rugby League from Rugby Union so that the impoverished workers could play for money. Grid Iron from Rugby Union. AFL from VFL from Rugby Union when two Irishmen in Victoria wanted bigger teams and a bigger scoring target. Then there is Gaelic Football which tried to remove the thuggery from Rugby Union. The International hybrid games between Australia and Ireland re-introduced biffo to some extent. But soccer stands above the other five codes as a true foot game. Only the goal keeper is allowed to handle the ball , and even this is curtailed to the area of the penalty box. I still think AFL is the most spectacular game of football. It requires a great variety of skills and the generous width between the goal and behind posts allows for a match score that keeps (for most games) ticking over. Glad to see Michael has pinned his black and yellow colours to the mast. Carn The Tiges!
Uncle Pat | 04 February 2015

I look forward to Michael's comments on the World Cup in Canada this year. Which seems not to be on free-to-air TV at all.
Penelope | 05 February 2015

There are always those that are to willing to bag the round ball fame. Unfortuneately they always seem to come from those sports that have no international focus or play in a world of 10 teams or less. Yes I am talking you AFL and NRL fans. Champions in their own lunch boxes.
Ross | 05 February 2015

If Uncle Tom does his research he will find that all modern football codes in the world including Soccer derive from the same sources in various English public schools early in the 19th Century. Some codified rules were drawn up Winchester’s rules emphasising kicking. Rugby’s rules put the emphasis on pushing and running. From the late 1850s in the Australia and UK agreed sets of rules were drawn up. From the rules emphasising kicking Soccer emerged. From the rules emphasising running Rugby emerged as did Australian football. American football in 1876, Irish Football in 1887 and Rugby League in 1895 later arose out of variants on Rugby rules. Australian Football celebrated the 150th Anniversary in 2009 The Football Association, set up in the UK on 26 Oct 1863 adopted rules on 8 December 1863. It allowed marks but not running with the ball. They later prohibited any handling of the ball except by the goal keeper. Because of the running ban Rugby clubs left the Association and played each other under Rugby type rules. In 1871 a meeting of Metropolitan Clubs in the UK set up the Rugby Football Union adopting a uniform set of rules.
David Goss | 06 February 2015


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