One of the things I’ve quickly learned about Australian football in my first six months as CEO is that there is no off-season.
Every week of the year, even Christmas week, football is played across the nation. Traditional outdoor, social indoor, school comps, corporate events and kick arounds in the park. Football never sleeps.
The top tier Hyundai A-League is highly visible from October to May, but from April to September the semi-professional and grassroots tiers are in action everywhere.
Even that usual hectic year-round pace is going up a notch this year. Let’s call it ‘Super Winter’. The schedule in front of us is above and beyond anything the game has seen before.
For a start, the four-yearly FIFA World Cup cycle reaches its peak in June. As I write, the Qantas Socceroos are in Saitama preparing for the first of three decisive qualifiers on the road to Brazil.
Playing Japan away from home is tough at the best of times. Japan are the current Asian champions and ranked no. 1 in the AFC.
Not only that, the Japanese are playing for World Cup qualification in Saitama on 4 June. The stakes could hardly be higher.
Holger and the players know it will be hard, but my comfort comes from knowing that the Socceroos are never more dangerous than when their backs are against the wall.
I saw that spirit and character in the fightback against Oman from 2-nil down. Yes, Japan in Saitama is tough, but I reckon the odds against us will galvanise our team. I wish our coach and players the best of luck in this battle.
From there it’s two crucial games on home soil against Jordan in Melbourne and Iraq in Sydney. We must win both to keep our destiny in our own hands.
One very encouraging development in the past few weeks is the way Socceroo supporters have started to rally behind the team for these home games. I hosted an event in Sydney recently where some dedicated fans came together to discuss how to reinvigorate the active supporter area at Socceroos home games.
There was a second gathering in Melbourne this week with the same objectives. This is a work-in-progress, but the initiative is very much in keeping with game’s slogan – ‘We Are Football’. I can see the unity and purpose in what the fans are doing. Their passion and commitment is quite inspiring.
After an online forum debate, the new Socceroo active supporter group has decided on a name – Terrace Australis. I reckon it’s a clever combination of a football term and a geographic reference, as well as reaching back into our land’s ancient history.
If you want to know more, join the Socceroo fan forum.
The three World Cup qualifiers in June will be pivotal for Australian football. I can vividly remember the tension and the euphoria of the Uruguay game in November 2005.
I was there, jumping out of my seat when John Aloisi converted from the spot, before quickly sitting down with my old NRL hat on.
Now I’m looking forward to celebrations with no impediment. These are games that Australian football fans must see. There are good seats still available. Click here for more information.
Elsewhere in June, there are two other national teams with important fixtures.
The Westfield Matildas will play their first international under the new coach Hesterine de Reus. The match in Canberra on 16 June against New Zealand is the start of a new era and I wish Hesterine the very best of luck.
Later in the month, the Matildas will head to Europe for important internationals against the Netherlands and France. These games will help Hesterine prepare the Matildas to defend their AFC Asian Women’s Cup title next year.
On a grander scale, the Matildas are fine ambassadors for the 20 per cent of our participation base who are female. Success in the women’s national team can only help attract more young girls to our game, which is what we want.
In Turkey next month, the Young Socceroos will take to the world stage in the FIFA Under 20 World Cup. Coach Paul Okon has a tough assignment in a group including Colombia, El Salvador and host nation Turkey.
This is our next generation in a crucial phase of their careers. The way they adapt to the technical and tactical challenges, as much as the results they achieve, will be keenly observed by our Technical Department.
Much has been written about the need to regenerate the Socceroos, but a precursor is that our talent pipeline produces quality players. There are several exciting prospects in this Young Socceroos line up and I’m looking forward to a very positive tournament.
While June we’ll be thoroughly fixated with Green and Gold, in July things will largely turn red, but more on that in my next column.
See you at the Socceroos games.