Another sunny Monday, it’s nice to be alive Exercising every day, but keeping 1.5 We’re out there on our rusty bikes and many walkers too For much of our society, this is something new
The bikers in the main, are on their best behave Not trying hard to send themselves, to an early grave We’re all in this together, the Sco man tells us all To fight coronavirus, before we kick a ball
The kids can leave at home the iPads, other gadgets too And replicate what we did in nineteen sixty two Our sport has been postponed, our beaches out of bounds But canine sympathisers, are free to walk their hounds
And one day we’ll be through with this, we’ll celebrate with glee A beer or two down at the pub, for some a G & T We must hang on, we’re doing well and flattening the curve We’re all in this together, it’s time to keep our nerve
J Karyannis 14 mins. G McCulloch 87 mins E Campbell 21 mins
Half time 1-1 Crowd 18,180
In 1968, the world was in turmoil. Already that year, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Senator Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, American forces in Vietnam were reeling under the Tet Offensive and on 20th August 1968, Soviet Russian forces had invaded Czechoslovakia. Two days earlier on 18th August 1968, far away from the world trouble spots I saw what I consider to be one of the most exciting football matches I have watched in my lifetime. It was not in Serie A, La Liga nor the English first division but was played between two NSW Soccer Federation teams, Pan Hellenic and APIA Leichhardt.
The match was played at Wentworth Park in Glebe, Sydney, a venue that was primarily a greyhound track but in the late 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s became the “spiritual” home of New South Wales football. I had just turned fifteen and as had been customary for many years, accompanied by father, a football journalist to the game.
It was a lovely sunny afternoon and having collected our passenger Tony “Hotspur” Horstead, the Daily Mirror football writer, we headed to Wentworth Park. Even in 1968, parking was scarce around Wentworth Park and as usual my father called upon Johnny Thompson, NSW Soccer Federation treasurer and later Sydney Olympic identity, to sneak his cream 1966 Ford Falcon station wagon into the ground.
With just three games left in the season proper, Pan Hellenic were joint top of the table on twenty nine points with a very strong Hakoah side, four points clear of their opponents that day, third placed arch rivals APIA Leichhardt.
Wentworth Park was not ideal for the footballing spectator. Although the playing surface was always well grassed, the dog track, gates, barriers and lowly hung racing lights hindered the view of the distant football pitch. Upon arriving, we were entertained by the reserve teams of the respective clubs, always a more entertaining distraction than today’s practice of watching a 45 minute warm up.
On paper APIA had the better line up. Cliff van Blerk, Stan Ackerley, Pat Hughes and Archie Blue had all represented Australia, Fil Bottalico was a tough as nails defender and the talented Argentinian Ricardo Campana and Italian born Johnny Giacometti were both exceptional attacking players. APIA also boasted an 18 year old Ernie Campbell, who had spent time at Chelsea and later was to play twenty four times for Australia.
Their opposition, Pan Hellenic had a string of UK born players as was the fashion in the late 1960’s. Among them a Welshman, goalkeeper Horrie Clarke, three Scotsmen, Davey Johnston, John Cole and George McCulloch, skillful English born winger Roy Blitz, his compatriot Alan Westwater plus Liverpudlian defender, Alan Hignett. These were supplemented with Hellenic heritage in the form of strikers Sot Patrinos and John Karyannis and their talisman, former Greek international and fan idol, Takis Loukanidis.
These two clubs consistently drew good crowds but with Pan Hellenic within reach of a maiden minor premiership and with the now well acclimatised Loukanidis in their ranks, every milk bar in Sydney was closed that afternoon. More than eighteen thousand spectators crammed into the home of NSW greyhound racing as packets of peanuts and the popular publication the green “New Soccer Vurld” registered record sales.
Pan Hellenic started brightly and took the lead in the fourteenth minute through their slender striker John Karyannis. The lead was short lived however as APIA struck back seven minutes later, courtesy of their red headed teenager Ernie Campbell. The game ebbed and flowed infused by the vibrant crowd as the Pan Hellenic fans took first half points in the noise stakes. Pan Hellenic had two goals disallowed for offside, much to the dismay of their enthusiastic supporters. Both claims were declined demonstratively as was his manner, by FIFA accredited referee the ebullient Tony Boskovic. The sides went to half time at 1-1 and it was time to enjoy that Wentworth Park delicacy, a Sargent’s meat pie and a cup of coffee.
The second half continued with APIA having the better of the early exchanges. The Leichhardt based outfit received a set back however when their former Manchester United left back Stan Ackerley was sent off. Rather than buckle, the sending off lifted APIA. Campana and Campbell both went close for APIA but in the eighty seventh minute, Pan Hellenic’s busy midfielder George McCulloch won the ball just inside the APIA half drove forward and from thirty five metres lashed a tremendous right foot shot past Brian Taylor in the APIA goal.
Wentworth Park erupted as thousands of delirious fans chanted “Pan Hellenios, Pan Hellenios.” It was a magnificent goal to settle such an important match and Pan Hellenic hung on for a memorable 2-1 victory, remaining on top of the competition table on goal average. The majority of the crowd celebrated jubilantly as they went home, most probably via the Hellenic Club in Elizabeth Street Sydney.
Sadly for Pan Hellenic supporters, a couple of weeks later, their club was pipped for the title by a very strong Hakoah side but those fans of both teams who attended Wentworth Park on that sunny Sydney afternoon had witnessed a wonderful football spectacle.
Driving home, my dad, Tony Horstead and myself agreed that if we could witness the excitement of that match on a regular basis, Australian soccer would surely become the foremost football code in the country.
As I headed for my regular walk along the beach, on a grassy area in the distance a dozen figures were kicking a round ball to each other across a 25 metre diameter circle. As I got closer, I realized that those kicking the ball were all girls. As I stepped on to the beach, I saw three teenage boys, showing exceptional skill keeping a tennis ball airborne with their feet and head. Returning past the grassed area, half an hour later, a group of boys aged from eight upwards had a small sided game underway, displaying some real football talent.
These scenes were so different from how they would have looked when I arrived in Australia in 1967. If a ball was seen on the beach then, most likely it would have been of oval shape. You certainly would not have seen a bunch of girls kicking a ball around in a park and if young children had organized a football game, in New South Wales there is no doubt it would have been “touch footy” (rugby league).
It can’t be denied that today throughout the country, there are more Australians playing our brand of football than any other version. The women, led by Sam Kerr have put the Matildas well and truly on the football map and this much loved national team ranks well globally. Our male player representation however is minimal in the top leagues of world football and the performances of our national youth, Under 23’s and full international teams over the last couple of years, could be at best described as workmanlike. Australian football hit a purple patch with the so called “Golden Generation” and the very creditable performance in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals. Why then when there are now record numbers playing the round ball game, are only a sprinkling of our locally produced men impressing on the world stage and why are our national teams struggling ?
If player registration numbers were declining the reduction in the number of local grown stars could be partially explained. However of our rival footballing codes, rugby league is in terminal recession at junior level and the traditional rugby union game has its’ own participation problems. Furthermore, I don’t believe that Australian Rules football, a sport requiring a totally different skillset to football is stealing too many potential stars from the “world game”. Clearly a lack of football participants in the national playing pool is not a contributing factor and in no particular order, I offer these suggestions for the hiatus in our production of standout male footballers ;
1. EUROPEAN IMMIGRATION DOWNTURN
The influence of football loving migrants has dissipated. Although soccer has been played in this country for over 100 years, the catalyst for increasing the game’s popularity and playing standard was the post World War 11 immigration from Europe. Not only did European migrants add skill and excitement to the local game but their progeny were imbued with a love of football and continued this love of Association Football. The Golden Generation of Australian football and the players of the previous generation were raised on their parents’ and grandparents’ football culture. Since the early 1960’s the Australian men’s national team has included many wonderful footballers, sons of European migrants such as Attila Abonyi, Billy Vojtek, Eddie Krncevic, Mark Bosnich, Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and scores more. However, as the number of European migrants has diminished considerably over the last 25 years or so, the inherent footballing spirit of their descendants likewise would appear to have been diluted.
2. PLAYER REGISTRATION COSTS
While the cost of grassroots player registration at local club level compares reasonably with the other footballing codes, it is at the elite junior level of National Premier League clubs that the cost soars. The registration fee for junior representative football in the Skill Acquisition Program (“SAP”) can range between $2,500 – $3,000 per season. With SAP, there is then the expectancy that young players will train three times weekly for forty weeks. This itself, incurs a huge obligation for a parent having to transport their child to training and matches. There is never a shortage of young players aspiring to play representative football, but could many potential stars be slipping through the cracks because parents can’t afford the financial cost and the time expense necessary to advance their children’s football career?
3. THE MODERN WORLD
As an English youngster long before any coaching “kicked in”, I would football in the street, park, schoolyard or anywhere that my friends and I could find space to set up a couple of makeshift goals. We weren’t coached but we developed our skills by learniing on the pitch what worked and what didn’t. Through park and street football, the pressures of coaches or parental sideline interference, we learned to play by being inventive and imaginative. These formative years were vital in my football development and that of my contemporaries. Unfortunately, it is not easy today to find a street where there is no passing traffic and parents are loathto let their children play at the park without supervision. Consequently, learning to play football today has become more rigid, less imaginative and a less frequent recreation. Entertainment wise, Australian children now have a wide range of options. Aside from the variety of sports and activities on offer, there are distractions in the form of electronic devices (iPads, computers, video games etc.). As budding footballers, we didn’t have these entertainment choices which, in 2020 can significantly restrict the time available for children to play football.
4. ELITE COMPETITIONS – THE A LEAGUE & W LEAGUE
We desperately need to develop and improve the standard of our premier national competitions, the A League and W League, although this is much easier said than done. Initially, if the salary cap was abolished this would benefit both the local player and attract a better quality of overseas player. Abolition of the cap would also allow clubs to retain the best Australian talent, which would drive up the standard of the competition.
To entice young Australians to covet a local professional football career, we need to provide an exciting match day experience in the A League and W League. Critically, games need to be played in smaller stadiums, preferably rectangular in configuration bringing spectators closer to the action. This would help to generate atmosphere and enhance the excitement of the occasion. Free entry to A League & W League games for children would also be a worthwhile initiative.
The A League does not provide enough opportunities for local Australian footballers. The league’s governing body must seriously restrict the number of run of the mill overseas “visa” players cluttering up the A League clubs. Currently, A League clubs can have five contracted overseas players – far too many. For every imported player of the outstanding quality of a Thomas Broich, the A League has presented scores of Alex Meiers, Mario Jardels and Michael Mifsuds who have effectively used our national competition as a retirement home. We have more than enough local youngsters willing and able to take their place if given the opportunity.
If there were more opportunities for local players and increased income, playing full time professional football in Australia would have more appeal for our talented youth. Furthermore, playing alongside a better calibre of overseas imports would no doubt enhance the quality of the Australian player and therefore the standard of Australian football.
5. LACK OF CLEAR PATHWAY FOR YOUTH FOOTBALLERS
In addition to the visa player issue, the current set up of our senior football competitions is stifling the progress of young players. The A League is currently a closed shop. Clubs are “the untouchables” with no fear of being relegated. This itself is a major impediment to the qualtity of the matches, particularly towards the end of the season. At the other end of the scale, the lack of promotion also dulls the ambition and the potential of a large number of NPL clubs. Sadly, A League clubs have no direct relationship with longstanding Australian football clubs such as Sydney Olympic, Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne or Apia Leichhardt nor with the large number of local district football associations throughout the country. As such, there can be no seamless transition from local club football through the National Premier Leagues to the A League. There is also no A League reserve competition that would allow promising young players to challenge their skills regularly with more experienced players. Although the A League youth teams compete in a truncated competition, in a normal season, these players would play less than half the number of matches than would their overseas counterparts.
Outstanding 16 and 17 year old players need to be playing consistently at the top local level with more senior players. Football history is littered with great players who made their senior debut at 17 (Pele when he was 15 !). The glut of overseas players and the reluctance of many cautious A League coaches to persevere with young players, is setting back the development of our youth players at a critical stage of their careers. The FFA board have indicated that implementation of both a second division and A League promotion and relegation is in their sights but for the good of Australian football, these modifications can’t happen soon enough.
A further problem is that of the promising young player who is encouraged to go overseas too early in their development. The goal is usually to play at “the next level” but what is the next level? Playing in the second division in Switzerland or Denmark or in Saudi Arabia? It is possible that the money may be better in the Middle East but it is debatable whether the playing standard in these leagues is higher than the A League. Is the cost of a disjointed spell overseas, often with mandatory language adjustments and limited game time, worthwhile?
For a long time, there has been a mentality that the overseas football grass is always greener. I challenge this and believe that many players would be far better off pursuing their career locally than wasting their time playing irregularly in average overseas competitions. The disruption to their careers by a failed overseas excursion can be irreparable.
Last but not least in my search for the reason for the dearth of quality Australian players, is coaching. Are the quality and methods of our local coaches to blame for the reduction in exceptional players coming out of Australia? Never before has this country had so many qualified coaches and football academies. We also have a national coaching curriculum to help us along our way, but nevertheless, the playing standard of our national teams is slipping further behind that of a number of Asian nations.
I don’t believe that a lack of funds for our youth development is an excuse. Many football associations have excellent training facilities to offer junior players and just by building more facilities, we are not going to be able to teach the skill of dribbling, passing or shooting any better. Are we becoming hung up with coaching tactics and playing systems rather than the game itself? Are our players being “overcoached” and missing out on the enjoyment I found in my schoolyard football?
From a very early age our football is structured. Under 6 teams have a coach, quite often willing, but sometimes not able to demonstrate football skills at this critical stage of the player’s development. Are our coaches emphasizing the physical rather than the technical aspects of being a footballer and where will we find the next Harry Kewell or Mark Viduka? We have long relied on our athleticism and physical strength to overcome Asian opponents but it has been clear for some time that athleticism is no longer sufficient.
I firmly believe that our coaches place far too much emphasis on “possession football.” More and more young players are coached to retain possession but not encouraged to attack once possession has been obtained. Possession football discourages dribbling, a critical skill in breaking down defences. We need to develop players who are able to attack defenders down the flanks. We need midfielders and defenders to relinquish their obsession with square and backward passes and look to go forward consistently. It is time for all those responsible for youth development to allow players to express themselves, to be adventurous and to rediscover the art of dribbling. Coaches should also step back and let young players experiment and enjoy some free form football on their own. Set them tasks to go home and practice. Trapping a ball, dribbling and juggling the ball. Most importantly, it is crucial that coaches make every training session interesting, not tedious and done with a sense of urgency. Above all else, the coaches must ensure that training is enjoyable.
In this country there has always been an abundance of raw material primed to be developed into top quality footballers. With a handful of talented youngsters now playing consistently in the A League, including Riley McGree, Nathaniel Atkinson, Reno Piscopo and Chris Ikonomidis, we are on the right track. Additionally, we have the exciting Daniel Arzani soon to return with Glasgow Celtic from knee surgery so there is reason for optimism. Issues need to be addressed however to steer the Australian football ship in the right direction. Hopefully the FFA board and its’ new CEO James Johnson will have the understanding and the wisdom to make it happen.
Modern day young footballers may not be able to throw down makeshift goalposts on the busy streets of Australian cities. If, however we can provide our young players with the opportunity for a prosperous football career in Australia and ensure that coaches and their training sessions emphasize skill and football invention rather than the athletic aspect of the game, Australian football may start to lay some more golden generation eggs.
In July 1969, two historic events took place. On the twenty first of the month American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. “One small step for man”….etc. The second “happening” to quote a hippie buzz word, was the Aquarius Music & Arts Festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s farm at Bethel, Woodstock, New York State between 15th – 18th July 1969. To this teenage music fanatic and babe of the counter culture, there was no doubt which occurence had the greater impact.
The Woodstock festival was unique and the three days of peace, love, music and lots of mud was a career “stimulant” for numerous artists who performed at the festival. One such artist was a fresh faced 21 year old Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary folk and country artist, Woody Guthrie.
To this day Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles” remains my favourite track on the Woodstock album which was originally a three record set. When 50 years later Arlo Guthrie was booked to perform at the City Recital Hall Sydney, it was a chance to shorten my bucket list.
Travelling to events in Sydney can be challenging but being only a half hour bus trip and a two minute walk from the venue, I was obligated to relive my memories of 1969. Arriving in good time, I waited excitedly, enjoying my Young Henry beer as the throng of white and grey haired former hippies shuffled to their seats.
The show was scheduled to start at 7.30 p.m. and as Arlo and his four piece band were tardy coming on stage, I wondered if the 71 year old might have nodded off in the green room.
When the band took the stage, they launched into an up tempo though truncated rendition of The Motor Cycle Song. The sound mix was fine and not too loud for the aged audience but Guthrie’s voice now shares the croakiness of Dylan and at times lyrics were lost between microphone and audience.
Politically and on a social conscience front, the 2019 Arlo Guthrie appears a decaffeinated version of the double shot expresso Guthrie of 1969, who stopped mid song to berate the Woodstock crowd for not joining him in Dylan’s Walking Down The Line.In a week in which an Australian, Julian Assange was arrested for exposing American War Crimes, a passing reference at least by Guthrie, author of the latently anti war anthem Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, might have been expected. This however is a contented Arlo Guthrie, maybe tired of political activism, who clearly enjoys touring and being part of a large musical family.
The opening set continued with Gates of Eden, a very competent homage to Bob Dylan. The influence of Dylan has always been present which is not surprising as Dylan himself was a disciple of Arlo’s father, Woody. The first set lasted a little over 45 minutes which didn’t displease those in the audience, in need of a toilet break. The opening part of the show had been pleasant, without being invigorating and we could comfort ourselves knowing that a number of Guthrie’s better known songs must follow.
We weren’t disappointed as the second set included the Alice’s Restaurant tome, the delightful City of New Orleans and Coming Into Los Angeles. Unlike the now reticent Dylan, Guthrie is more than happy to share his musings with the audience and his recounting of when he first played Woody’s This Land Is Your Land was fascinating.
The band was more than competent – not overbearing but they knew their place and contributed to an enjoyable performance. Arlo Guthrie’s social conscience and rebellious instincts may have been submerged below several layers of contentedness but he can still deliver an enjoyable show.
Last Friday night I went down (up really from Dee Why) to the crossroads, not the Mississippi Delta location made famous by the legendary blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, but the Elenora variety – where Kalang Road meets Powderworks Road. Specifically, The Racquet Bar, where Anything Goes, comprising, Steve, Bruce, Ernie and Marty entertained an appreciate throng of AG fans and anyone else living within two hundred metres of this Mecca of Elenora night time entertainment. Regular bassist Fred was a notable absentee having been invited to the United Kingdom to perform as a special guest at the prestigious London Bass Guitar Show.
I was able to park my vintage Ford Fairmont pleasingly close to the venue and as I opened the car door, the pulsating familiar chord progression of the even more vintage Ben E King’s Stand By Me, reverberated around the Elenora “CBD”. I had missed the early part of the set with multi instrumentalist Steve on rhythm guitar, but was assured later (by Steve) that before switching to the bass, his six string acoustic work was faultless.
Next up was J J Cale’s After Midnight. Admittedly, the band had got their timing awry as my watch only reflected 7.54 p.m. but this had to be squeezed in early, as most Elenora locals are in bed by 9.30 p.m. Mark Knopfler’s So Far Away and Fastball’s cookie one hit wonder The Way, featured superb stick work by Bruce Neill on the skins with lead vocalist Marty and stand in bassman Steve, chiming in with great effect on the chorus of the Fastball number (Whatever happened to Fastball?).
The set concluded with a rocking version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising. As a I closed my eyes and massaged a pure blonde (beer), lead guitarist Ernie’s precision double stop licks evoked thoughts of my sitting on the banks of a Louisiana bayou exchanging memories of gigs gone by with CCR’s John Fogerty. It should be said that Fogerty had a good few more memories than me!
While Steve, Bruce and Ernie took a well earned break, we were treated to a return to musical modernity with Shallow from “A Star is Born.” Backed by her father Marty on acoustic guitar, Ishara offered a delightful rendition of both Bradley Cooper’s and Lady Ga Ga’s parts from the popular hit. To tactfully avoid overshadowing his daughter’s flawless act, Marty refrained from the interpreting the Bradley Cooper slice of the Academy Award winning song. Although, if I am to be blunt, the only resemblance between Marty and Ga Ga’s partner in song, Cooper, would be their three day growth and that both are male.
Back to the main event and Ernie’s Fender Stratocaster was in top form on Black Magic Woman, merging songwriter Peter Green’s original Fleetwood Mac take with the silky Carlos Santana Tex Mex blues feel. It was fitting that with the Jimmy Barnes look alike, Steve on stage (though I must add that I consider Steve is more handsome than the Working Class Man), the band should rip through Cold Chisel’s My Baby and then Cry In Shame, made popular by Jimmy Barnes’s brother in law (and therefore Steve’s by default), Johnny Diesel.
As the set unfolded, Anything Goes powered through classic pop / rock as we were treated to the late Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down, The Box Tops’ The Letter and of course Robert Johnson’s Crossroads with Ernie’s Mesa Boogie amp cranked up to “11” in true Spinal Tap fashion. No doubt those Kalang Road residents still awake, were enjoying rock history being played out in their own front yards. The Clash may have rocked the Casbah but on this particular night, Anything Goes were rocking The Racquet Bar.
Bruce Neill, starved of his beloved microphone, more than compensated for the cutting of his umbilical vocal chord with additional verve in his drumming. Marty too, had expended so much vocal energy that he saw fit to revive his larynx, with an oversized bowl of the best hot chips you could find in Elenora on a balmy Friday evening in March.
As the heat continued to rise in the sweaty rock cauldron, many patrons would have gladly swapped their Carlton Draughts, for a cool Carlton draught blowing up from the Melbourne suburb of the same name. The band had to wind down relatively early as Steve had to get up for “proper work” at 6.00 a.m. the following morning (the Racquet Bar is no cash cow!). We still had time though, to enjoy Steve Miller’s The Joker, where the lyric “I’m a midnight toker” seemed a little unlikely in sleepy Elenora. There were also very plausible versions of the ever present (did I say monotonous?) Brown Eyed Girl and a crunching performance of the Marvin Gaye hit I Heard it Through The Grapevine. Classic Aussie rock in the form of the The Sunnyboys Alone With You and The Angels No Secrets reminded this listener of 6.00 p.m. Sunday nights watching the bumbling Molly Meldrum on Countdown and the golden age of local music. Both tracks were presented by Anything Goes as more than competent replicas of the original tracks.
To close the show, this reviewer was offered the chance to accompany Bruce, Marty, Steve and Ernie on Chuck Berry’s classic Johnny Be Goode. Marty kindly offered me his acoustic six string and immediately I could tell that this guitar had special musical lineage. The amount of liquid paper on the guitar neck, clearly indicated that this instrument had spent considerable time in the home of Monkee Mike Nesmith’s family home in Dallas, Texas (some readers might need to Google “liquid paper” to understand).
The musical magic of the band was complemented by the dance performance of Ishara’s mum, Niro. Celebrating her birthday, Niro ripped up the dance floor, accompanied by her little sidekick, the pocket dynamo Liliarna. Lily, of very tender years but extraordinary feet, dazzled the crowd and made the John Travolta of Saturday Night Fever, look like an arthritic eighty year old who had forgotten to take his anti inflammatories. You can bet that the recently toured front man of Artic Monkeys Alex Turner, would have remarked that the dancing duo did in fact “look (very) good on the dance floor.”
I managed to negotiate the entire three chord challenge of the Chuck Berry song without embarrassing myself as the curtain came down on a very enjoyable evening. It was 10.30 p.m. and although those neighbours still awake in Kalang and Powderworks Roads clamoured for an encore, by then Bruce, Marty and Ernie had settled into the inevitable signing of autographs and the taking of selfies with the Anything Goes faithful. Steve was on his way to work.
Anything Goes perform on the second Friday of each month at The Racquet Bar, Kalang Road, Elanora.
I turned on the television recently and watched a sport that reminded me a lot of cricket. Two teams competing with a bat and ball but the ball was white, unlike the player’s attire, which was multicoloured and emblazoned with corporate sponsors logos. One of the “batters” (as described by the commentator), was given out LBW but amazingly, the umpire was advised by a voice in his Sony earphones that he had made a mistake. The LBW decision was incorrect and the batter could continue his innings. This however, would not be for too long as in this particular match, each team could only bat for a total of 10 overs – good heavens, neither Geoffrey Boycott nor Bill Lawry would have time to get off the mark !
Apparently, this is a form of cricket, known as the Big Bash League. Although I had no idea where the players came from, I could only assume that they played grade cricket on the weekends and if successful with their local club, they might get picked for the Sheffield Shield competition (does it still exist?).
If you sense that I am slightly disenchanted with modern cricket you are not wrong. My disenchantment however, did not arrive with technicolour Big Bash cricket but had its’ seeds sewn back in the late 1970’s with the advent of World Series Cricket. The behaviour of Australian cricketers was starting to deteriorate and hit a new low in February 1981 with the underarm bowling incident. Many argue that Ian Chappell was the father of the “ugly Australian cricketer” but Chappell the elder, did have an inherent sense of fair play. His brother Greg however, by ordering Chappell son No. 3 Trevor to bowl underarm against New Zealand in February 1981, set the sportsmanship bar at a new low.
By the time of the Glenn McGrath / Shane Warne era, Australia had become cricket’s “sledging” champions. Sledging is a by product of cricket that runs concurrently with the game itself. Sledging gives players a chance to act like schoolyard bullies and express their machismo, hoping that their childlike behavior gives them some kind of advantage over an opponent. Those who engage in sledging, prefer to call it by the less offensive term of “banter” but whatever you call it, the practice is most unsportsmanlike. Sledging and a decided lack of respect for Australia’s opponents, was the root cause of my cricketing marriage breakdown.
For Australian cricket, unsporting behavior peaked in South Africa in March 2018. The ball tampering affair that found Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft guilty, severed any remaining affection that I might have had for cricket as I knew it. Even though I have fallen out of love with the game of cricket, Paul Simon once sang “preserve your memories, that’s all that’s left you”. These are my cricket memories.
Born in England and growing up in Wilmslow, Cheshire, I fell in love with cricket. Like football, our backyard cricket matches were only punctuated when the ball was hoisted over the fence and into a neighbor’s garden. The penalty of “6 and out” was miniscule compared to the fearful exercise of knocking on the neighbor’s front door, expecting to be confronted by Harper Lee’s Boo Radley or Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in full rage.
I first recall listening to an Ashes test series in 1961 on my Dad’s car radio. The BBC provided commentary from the soothing southern England country tone of John Arlott coupled with the very posh delivery of Eton and Oxford educated Brian (“Johnners”) Johnston. These and the other BBC commentators could keep me entertained for hours on end – even more so when the English rain would inevitably stop play. Johnston in particular, had a sharp sense of humour and among his classical utterings was, “the bowler’s Holding, the batsman’sWilley.” In 1961 I could not understand how an England team led by the dashing Lord Ted Dexter and boasting fast bowling royalty in F S Trueman and J B Statham had lost a home Ashes series to a bunch of colonials.
Living in Wilmslow, 12 miles south of Manchester, ensured that I was a Lancashire County Cricket club fan. I spent many hours at the Old Trafford cricket ground, watching Lancashire heroes Brian Statham, Peter Lever, Bob Barber and Tommy Greenhough, a leg spinner whose bounce and long, almost comical jaunty run up, has never had an equal in the history of the game.
Skip forward a couple of years and I had the misfortune as a Lancashire fan, of travelling to Bramhall Lane, Sheffield on the June long weekend in 1963. The occasion was the Yorkshire v Lancashire, “Roses” fixture and Lancashire were skittled to be all out for not too many, just after lunch on the first day. Yorkshire quickly lost three early wickets but then a bespectacled young man named Geoffrey Boycott and his colleague, W B (Bryan) Stott defied the Lancashire attack for the next two days adding 249 runs for the 4th wicket. I had witnessed Boycott’s maiden county century for Yorkshire and though Boycott’s hundred had probably only taken around four hours, to this nine year old Lancashire supporter, it seemed like a lifetime.
Later that month, England held on for a dramatic draw in the second test match against the West Indies at Lords. A match forever remembered for the aristocratic English batsmen, M C (Colin) Cowdrey, coming out with a broken arm at nine wickets down in the last over of the game, to try and save the test match. Cowdrey ultimately, did not have to face the last two balls from the rampant West Indian speedster, Wesley Winfield Hall, but the memory and excitement of that final over will remain with me forever. I loved cricket.
1967 and my father decided that he and mother Rose should emigrate to Australia with the seven Jack children in tow. How could this happen? How could I be going to live in a country where they didn’t play football (so I thought) and I would be subject to watching the cricketing enemy – Australia ? Those Aussies won’t win me over, I’m a loyal Englishman who will always support Colin Cowdrey, Geoffrey Boycott, John Snow and the like.
But win me over they did and it was possibly the brilliance of Kevin Douglas Walters that struck me on my road to Damascus. Living at Fairlight in Sydney in February 1969, I fondly remember listening to commentary of the Australia v West Indies test match on my father’s National Panasonic transistor radio, complete with removeable brown leather case. Doug Walters was batting with Ian Redpath at the Sydney Cricket Ground and it seemed that every time Walters faced Lance Gibbs, the ageing West Indian offspinner’s deliveries were smashed to the cover boundary fence. Walters ended up scoring 242 in that innings and completed another century (103) in the second innings, the first cricketer to have scored a century and double century in the same test match. I thought, this is the way to bat, this is my country – Australia !
The “Poms” (as I could now call them) came to Australia in 1970-71 and I had to rethink my allegiance when Ray Illingworth, with a lot of help from fast bowler John Snow, led England to a 2-0 series win. There were seven test matches in that series (the third in Melbourne was abandoned without a ball being bowled) and although four tests were drawn, there was always drama and excitement to enjoy. This was cricket. In that same series, the first ever one day international was played. Australia won but the teams were identical to the test match teams, wore the traditional creams with not an advertising logo in sight and played with a red cricket ball. For me, this was still cricket.
In 1971-72, when Apartheid caused cancellation of the South African tour, Australia entertained a very strong Rest of the World outfit. Though not a contest between traditional rivals, the series produced some sublime cricket – Dennis Lillee, flowing black mane and at the height of his bowling powers, destroyed the Rest of the World team in Perth. Lillee, with his delightfully smooth fast bowling action took 8 wickets for 29 runs in the first innings in Perth and the World eleven skipper, West Indian Garfield St. Aubrun Sobers scored a magnificent 254 in Melbourne. The innings of Sobers was the best batting performance that I have ever witnessed, an opinion shared by the great Sir Donald Bradman. The West Indian all rounder consistently square cut all bowlers with grace and venom to the boundary fence and 95% of those 254 runs must have come in boundaries. I loved cricket.
My fondness for cricket peaked with the 1974-75 Ashes series played in Australia. I must have watched every minute of that series. There was the erratic brutality of Jeff Thomson’s bowling, Tony Greig’s arrogant defiance, the supreme elegancy of Greg Chappell’s batting and a paunchy forty one year old Colin Cowdrey, trying to defy the pace attack of Dennis Lillee and the frightening Jeffrey Robert Thomson.
The high point of the series for me, was Doug Walters’ century in the session between tea and stumps in the second test at Perth. On that Saturday, I ended up being very late for a bank Christmas party, unable to drag myself away from the television. Robert George Dylan (“Bob”) Willis was bowling the last ball of the day to Walters who was on 97 and needing 6 runs to score a century in the final session.
In 2019, a batsman would be content to see out the last ball and maybe collect three singles on the following day to complete his hundred. “Caution” however, did not form part of the Doug Walter’s vocabulary. The six foot seven inch wiry haired Willis, who officially added Dylan to his name in tribute to the legendary singer / songwriter, hurled the ball in short to Walters. The one time Australian army conscript swiveled and hooked the ball somewhere in the direction of heaven’s door. These were the days of black and white television, one camera and certainly no high definition. As the ball disappeared off the face of Walter’s bat, TV viewers could only hope that it would clear the boundary rope. The ball did clear the rope by some margin and immediately hundreds of fans also cleared the rope in the other direction, to mob Kevin Douglas Walters. There may have been better technical batsmen than Walters, more prolific run scorers, but as an Australian cricketing folk hero, none have come close to matching the boy from the NSW town of Dungog.
Cricket continued to be a major part of my life through the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I enjoyed the production line of superb West Indian fast bowlers and the imperious batting of Isaac Vivian Alexander (“Viv”) Richards. The Australians ultimately gained the upper hand over the calypso kings but despite the looming storm clouds of the World Series Cricket revolution, there was still a marvelous centenary test to be played in Melbourne against England in 1977. Among the many highlights of this game, was the plucky performance of one time Rural Bank of NSW colleague, Rick McCosker. The Australian opening batsman had his jaw broken in the first innings but batted at number 11 in the second innings, wired and bandaged up, to add a valuable 54 runs with Rodney Marsh for the last wicket.
Later that year, following the cricketing implosion created by Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, I remained loyal to the cricketing establishment. I discovered new heroes in the volatile fast bowler Rodney Hogg, dashing batsmen Peter Toohey and Kim Hughes and a forty one year old cricketing relic, Bobby Simpson. Simpson shrugged off ten years of retirement, returning to captain the “official” Australian team in a home series against India.
In the early 1980’s, the divide that was Australian cricket was eventually merged, but for me the damage to the game had been done. One day internationals of just fifty overs per team, had become an equal attraction to Test cricket for the public. Creams had given way to coloured clothing, bad light would not stop play as floodlights took over and the one hundred year old tradition of a cherry red cricket ball had been replaced by a white version that within ten overs was scuffed and discoloured. The behaviour of Australian cricketers continued to deteriorate and my love of cricket was on the decline.
Three or four month tours by the major cricket playing nations, including tussles with county or state teams were becoming rare. There was an abundance of one day 50 over matches, aimed at generating revenue, but these once exciting contests, had started to follow a predictable format. Too many meaningless matches staged and too many obscure, hastily named trophies offered. Many a one day international game had become boring between the 15th and 40th overs. Eventually, the authorities “fixed” this by creating 20/20 cricket, cutting out the tedium of the middle period, but we still had to suffer the never ending 50 over “ODI’s” to satisfy programming demands of the broadcasters and sponsors.
The first international Twenty 20 match was played in 2005 and then the cricket follower had the “luxury” of three different versions to watch. Eventually a pink ball would be added for night cricket, so that one of three different coloured balls might be used. The different forms of the game required a different skill set and upward of 40 players would now represent Australia in any particular summer. Frankly, it became impossible to know who was in what team, which format of the game was being played and for what trophy. As quickly as some of the 20/20 players were capped by their country, they would disappear into cricketing oblivion. My disillusionment continued.
Test match cricket has continued to be popular with the general public but with only passing interest for me. Although the Ashes series remained mostly five match affairs, too many two, three and four match tournaments have evolved. The drama, twists and turns generated during a home test series stretching from late November to early March, are no longer. In 2018 -19 Australia hosted India in a whistle stop four match test series that spanned just one month and one day. Then Sri Lanka arrived for a two test “series.” No sooner had we settled into this two match challenge, than the Sri Lankans were on the plane home. What was the point?
For me, Test cricket was the real attraction, the focal point of the game. There would be meaningful five day contests between bat and ball where there could be enterprising batting but if a two hour occupation of the crease was needed, the batsmen had the technique and the grit to hold on for an honourable draw. Batsmen would preserve their wicket with the tenacity of the 300 Spartans defying the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. Yes, we might have had to endure “barnacle” Bill Lawry batting all day to score a half century, but this was Test cricket, a unique sporting experience.
I apologise for wallowing in nostalgia but I do miss the cracking cover drive of a gum chewing Doug Walters and the stubborn defence of a Geoffrey Boycott. Where is Jeff Thomson unleashing the unexpected beamer at an unsuspecting (English) batsmen’s head and the one time roly poly Rodney Marsh, completing yet another “caught Marsh bowled Lillee” dismissal ? What happened to batting technique ? We now have batsmen (no Steve Smith, I won’t call them “batters”) playing improvised 20/20 shots in test cricket, often sacrificing their wicket. Bowlers don’t have to prise out batsmen’s wickets anymore. The backyard taught us that we could all slog, but who today can stroke a ball along the ground between mid wicket and mid on in the vein of Greg Chappell or square cut like Sir Garfield Sobers ? Where are the off spinners who can bowl 8 straight maidens like England’s Fred Titmus or the fast bowlers such as West Indians Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, bowlers with an almost casual run up but deadly delivery ?
And I might ask, where are the delicious names that have been sprinkled throughout cricketing history – instead of Arthur Theodore Wallace (“Wally”) Grout or Frederick Sewards Trueman or Sir Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, we now have Shane Robert Watson and Glenn James Maxwell. Come on Mr. & Mrs. Watson, Mr. & Mrs. Maxwell, how can your sons be true cricketers being named Shane or Glenn?
To keep the 20/20 cricket follower entertained, we have bowlers serving up fodder for the batsmen’s slogfest. There are endless reviews of contentious appeals, sponsored by an American chicken fast food purveyor and if you need more than 20 runs an over to keep you awake, clichéd anthems will regularly blare out of the P.A. system -“Another One Bites The Dust”, “Eye of The Tiger” and of course,”Howzat ?”
To some, the evolution of cricket may be seen as being positive. There is no doubt that a player hitting a six in the last over to win a 20/20 match can be very exciting or a run out on the last ball to claim victory, but when I look back and compare my cricketing memories with the game as it is in 2019, the modern variety “is just not cricket.”
As I sit here at midnight on a February evening in the stifling heat and humidity of suburban Sydney, I feel most uncomfortable. Sweat is dripping off my brow and the last thing I would want to do at the moment, is chase a ball around a football pitch. If however I was an A League or W League professional footballer, this would be my lot for the greater part of my football season and not in the comparative cool of midnight.
Back in 1984, crowds attending the Australian National Soccer League (NSL) were on the decline. Desperate times called for desperate measures. When the switch from playing football in winter to the warmer summer months was mooted that same year, then NSL General Manager, Stefan Kamasz, stated that the push to change to a summer season (which didn’t materialise until 1989), related entirely to the diminishing NSL crowds. The proposed switch to a summer soccer season was completely driven by negativity – a fear of competition from the other football variants.
During an SBS televised debate in 1984, Eddie Thompson, the former Australian national team coach said that playing in summer, would mean that soccer would only have to compete with cricket for spectators and media coverage. Thompson also said that “cricket was not everybody’s cup of tea,” although I would have expected no less a comment from a Scotsman.
No longer does soccer have competition solely from cricket and a couple of tennis tournaments. Without leaving our living rooms, we can now watch a range of sports from all around the world, including cricket’s Big Bash League, baseball, NBA, UFC and various forms of racing. When newspaper coverage of National Rugby League and Australian Rules Football can exceed four pages in their non playing months of November, December and January, the battle for print media exposure is still clearly evident.
Now in 2019, attendances at our national league matches are again on a worrying downward slide and TV viewing audiences are not holding up any better. Eddie Cochran in 1958 sang that “there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” As far as our current attendance blues are concerned, my partial cure would be to revert to playing our football primarily in the winter months, a far more favourable climate for the world game.
Playing Australia’s foremost men’s and women’s football competitions, the A League and W League in the summer months when heat and humidity will sap the energy of even the fittest of professional players, does not make sense. U.S. WW2 General George Patten said “fatigue makes cowards of us all” and there is no doubt that the often oppressive conditions in summer, detract from the player’s energy and performance. Players make elementary errors simply due to fatigue. To improve crowds, we need to provide a better product that will thrill and excite the crowds. Playing matches in excessive heat will not increase the speed nor intensity of the games, basic skill levels drop and consequently the match as a spectacle will suffer. The essential drink’s breaks in extreme conditions also creates an unwelcome disruption to the traditional flow of the game.
The original intention with summer soccer was for all games to be played in the evenings when it was expected that the temperatures would be more moderate. This has not been the case however, with late afternoon kick offs commonplace and the Women’s League starting even earlier. A recent A League fixture between Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar kicked off at 7.30 p.m. and yet the temperature was still thirty one degrees Celsius. Global warming is a fact that we cannot ignore. In NSW in January 2019, average day and night time temperatures in thirty two centres, were the highest ever recorded. If we continue to play professional football matches in the increasingly hot Australian summers, the health risks for our players could be dire.
The summer soccer protagonists claimed that football fans wouldn’t want to go out at night in the winter months. The Australian winter in the major cities /football centres is not harsh, in fact it is quite mild during most months other than July and August. Football spectators in the colder climates in Europe have coped successfully with winter seasons for over 100 years and if local fans have to wear a coat and scarf to go out and watch a football match, that should not deter them.
Former NSL General Manager, Stefan Kamasz and many proponents of a summer soccer season also contended that the game was competing for spectators with itself in winter. The thinking was that grassroots players – men, women and children would not be playing in the summer, and would therefore be able to attend the senior professional competition games. This is true to an extent, however I would suggest that when the youngsters themselves are in season and playing in the morning or early afternoon, they would be more likely to be in the mood to attend an A League or W League game. When temperatures exceed thirty degrees Celsius in summer and the children’s football boots are gathering dust in the bottom of their wardrobe, I would say that the beach or a swimming pool would be theirs and their parent’s first consideration.
The availability of grounds from March to November should not be insurmountable with the current push towards “boutique”/ smaller grounds. If rugby and AFL competition at the major venues was an issue, there would be a number of smaller suburban stadia that could accommodate crowds of 15,000 – 20,000 people. Australian soccer cannot presently command crowds of 30,000 spectators consistently, so large capacity arenas are not necessary at the moment.
Our “winter” football season should extend from early March to mid November with no break. This would align us with the seasons of our Asian Football Confederation colleagues and would provide for an off season of around three and a half months, far more practical than the current five month layoff. The popular Football Federation Australia (FFA) Cup could take place during the season with the final taking place at season’s end. Currently the timing of the FFA Cup finale is anticlimactic, taking place very early in the A League season. Both National Premier League (NPL) and A League clubs would then have equitable preparation for the cup competition, unlike the present situation.Also, any Australian club progressing to the latter stages of the Asian Champions League would not be disadvantaged, by playing an Asian opponent, when they are out of season. Furthermore, overseas teams visiting Australia on their fundraising, replica shirt selling, “An Evening with Joe Bloggs” junkets, could expect sterner competition from season hardened local opponents, rather than a disjointed rabble of match shy players, who clearly would prefer to be at Bondi Beach.
Association football has thrived throughout the world for 140 years. In Australia, it’s time for us to stop worrying about competition, cease consistently looking over our shoulders and take all the steps necessary to focus on advancing our game in this country. It’s time to admit that the summer soccer experiment has not worked. Reverting to a winter football season for our men’s and women’s premier competitions would help raise the the standard and intensity of matches, improve player comfort and safety and bring our national leagues’ season into alignment with the rest of the football community, both in Australia and in Asia.
With the breaking news that the FFA is considering a shortened 2019-20 season to cater for the A League expansion, this would present an ideal opportunity for the launch of winter football for our male and female professional leagues in March 2020. Australian football, as Paul McCartney once sang of Jo Jo, needs to get back to where it once belonged – winter.
‘Twas not the night before the Christmas, in fact not even close, 57 nights before to be precise, but don’t let that get in the way of a good Christmas story. It was 30th October 2004 and on this day crowds had come from near and far to celebrate the wedding of Kylie (not Minogue) and Dean (not James) but despite the absence of Hollywood royalty, it was as grand an occasion as Dee Why had witnessed for at least two and a half weeks.
An English born finance broker / band manager (let’s call him “David”) had been secured by the groom to perform a dual role at the wedding. Dean thought that he would engage David as chauffeur on this day as, for one crazy year of his life, David drove a Jaguar. Dean also asked David if he could get some of his friends to create some melodic (sometimes) noises on musical instruments at the wedding feast because, if nothing else they were very cheap.
Now David shared one character trait with the infamous hussy, Fanny Hill. He could not say “no” and although his vocabulary could be voluminous, the one word that was missing was “no”. David accepted the chauffeur and musician role, only telling Dean the night before the wedding that he did in fact no longer drive a burgundy Jaguar but a 1994 blue Ford Fairmont with no air conditioning.
Back to the Christmas story. The ceremony in the Dee Why church was considered a necessary evil before the dutiful guests could toddle off to the Grand (exaggerated for effect) Cromer Gold Club for beers and champagne. This was to be their reward for enduring the church ceremony.
St. John’s Church Dee Why
Just when the guests in the back row of the church were nodding off and those in the front row wished they were in the back row so they could nod off too, a fair young lady stood up amongst the crowd like the bright star rising in the east (Christmas reference). Without having to contend with the traditional discordant sound of a church organ, the fair young lady sang out in a manner so melodic, so clear, so beautiful that even those in the back row stumbled to attention.
David, the footballer / finance broker / chauffeur / entrepreneur was enraptured by the beauty of this voice and thought that he could possibly use this fair young lady in one of his enterprises and it wouldn’t be as chauffeur’s assistant !
Cromer Golf Club – site of the birth of another union
After the nuptials were confirmed, the fair young lady and her mother joined the motorcade in a ticker tape parade, through elated crowds on the streets of Dee Why, eventually arriving at the Grand Cromer Golf Club. But for many an hour, David sat on the dock of a bay called Long Reef waiting for the ecstatic Kylie and Dean to have 100 gigabytes of pictures taken on the seashore. This place is called Long Reef because if you go there with bridal parties to have pictures taken, you don’t leave the reef for a Long (Long) time.
David eventually arrived late at the Grand Cromer Golf Club, setting a poor example for his fellow musicians who have honourably mimicked his tardiness to this very day.
The evening passed without incident until Dean, a garrulous Kiwi and sad to say, a relation of mine, decided on that day that they would each break the Guinness World Record for the longest and most mind numbing speeches in the history of wedding receptions. The speeches only ceased when paramedics arrived to treat a number of guests for extreme dehydration (no drinks had been served for 3 hours) and utter boredom.
Amanda with guitar, feeling quite at home
Normal alcohol service eventually resumed and the band played songs that would remain popular (with them at least ) to the present day.
David then cast his mind back to the church and the beautiful voice of the fair young lady. Being from a Catholic upbringing and having been starved of female companionship at school for nine long years, David approached the young lady cautiously. David discovered that the lady with the beautiful voice was called Amanda. At first David wondered whether Amanda’s parents were an unimaginative couple because in 1970’s, the first name in the Book of Girl Baby Names was always “Amanda” but upon meeting them some time later, it became clear that in fact they were both quite intuitive.
But I digress. David asked Amanda (not, if she would marry him because he had already used that line with another Amanda) but if she would like to sing a song or two with the band. Amanda’s mother encouraged her daughter to accept the offer or at least turn the water into wine as they were still suffering from dehydration, but Amanda calmly said to her mum, “my time has not yet come” (biblical reference). When David asked the question, Amanda’s first thought was “yes, if you give me $1,000” but she relented and said “yes” to the man who couldn’t say “no”
BackBeat in full flight some time later
That evening at the Cromer Golf Club, Amanda sang in that self same melodic, clear and beautiful voice that she had exhibited in the Dee Why church. Even today, I can still visualise Amanda singing in the church, calm and composed, that very bright star in the east (final Christmas reference). The 30th October 2004 was a day on which a precious union of music and friendship was born. It was indeed a special day, not just for Dean & Kylie Miller but for me.
“For you, ( I hope) there’ll be no more crying,
For you, (I hope ) the sun will (always) be shining,”