PETER FITZSIMONS – SMH – RIDDLE ME THIS: IT HAS A ROUND BALL

By Peter FitzSimons

<em>Illustration: John Shakespeare</em>

Illustration: John Shakespeare

HOW many things do I not get about soccer? So many that, just on the events of this week, I have had to put another man on, simply to keep track. Let’s start with the mass of Wanderers hooligans, creating mayhem at a Parramatta outdoor restaurant on Sunday afternoon as they made their way to the local derby against Sydney FC. What on earth was that all about?

Like, where is the joy, what is the point, in doing something like that? You have a sport which is suddenly seriously on the way up, attracting attention, getting respect, and you’re backing a club only formed six months ago which is suddenly all the noise, and you still think this is the right thing to do? And how can soccer fans begin to defend it?

In what other sport have we ever seen that behaviour? Anyone seen anything like that from cricket, league, Aussie rules, netball, union or ten-pin bowling fans? Yes, yes, yes, accuse me of soccer-bashing, but also answer the question, because it is a serious one. Why do they do that? The next thing I don’t understand concerns the Socceroos match against Oman on Tuesday night. I mean, there our blokes were, playing in a World Cup qualifier, with entry into the sport’s pinnacle competition in the balance, and yet in the first half they played with all the spirit of day-old fairy floss.

Dozens of deft passes back and forth, but most of them back, and yet no thrust, no oomph, no guts, no gumption, no nuttin’! How can they perform like that in such an important game, particularly when they were causing such carnage among their opponents? I’m talking about the red-stretcher. Dozens of the men from Oman carried off, so grievously wounded they couldn’t play on.

Yet, time and again, before our very eyes, they no sooner got to the sidelines then they jumped to their feet and were ready to go. As a reader pointed out, in other sports it is a point of honour to walk off if you possibly can, in soccer it seems a stretcher is the transport of choice even for the most minor afflictions. Why is it so? I really want to know. Fire at will. In such replies, you can move beyond me being a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal with a stupid red hanky on his noggin, who fell out of the ugly tree and got hit by every branch on the way down. I concede all that, so you needn’t go into it again. See if you can provide some genuine answers, not written in crayon.

LESSONS LEARNT

Since TFF has been ranting on about the dangers of staying on the field after concussion, and of playing the following week, several readers have pointed out the fact that after I was knocked out by Philippe Sella in the first Test against the French in 1990, I not only stayed on the field but also played in the weeks thereafter. I know, but it gets worse. Back in 1961 when my parents took me home from the hospital, I was just on my mother’s lap, and didn’t have a seat belt on. On the farm, we would sometimes play with asbestos. In the late ’80s, myself and other players would frequently have blood all over us, as we played on. As late as the mid-’90s I not only worked in a smoky environment, but frequently contributed to it. In all cases, it was because the dangers of what we were doing simply weren’t properly understood. Mandatory seat belts, banning of asbestos, the blood bin, and enforced anti-smoking laws were all simple measures that made the world safer, now that the dangers are understood. Ditto with concussion. Only now, as an epidemic of early dementia, and worse, is emerging among those who have repeated heavy head-knocks over long careers – and I used those words advisedly – is it screamingly obvious that all sports have to address it and bring in a minimum of four weeks on the sideline for those who have been concussed. This includes rugby union, where two weeks ago Waratahs prop Benn Robinson was clearly badly concussed against the Cheetahs, but has – outrageously, and dangerously for his health – taken his place in the side since. It will not be long before we look back on such disregard for players’ brains, the way we now look back on playing with asbestos and having the blood of another player smeared upon you.

HIGH STAKES

Movement at the station. The whole issue of the ubiquity of gambling advertising in televised sport is starting to take off. The hearing before federal parliament’s gambling reform committee began this week. Tom Waterhouse declined to appear, but Greens senator Richard di Natale said it proud, speaking for many: ”Young kids can’t tell the difference between a bookie and a commentator when they’re all standing there together. Tom Waterhouse has been a lightning rod for the anger that’s brewing about the constant bombardment of betting odds on TV, often when kids are watching.” And here is Stephen Jones, Labor member for Throsby: ”I think I am in union with most average football fans when I say: enough is enough. I have spoken to many people within my electorate, many other sports fans and many other parents on this matter, and they just about explode when you raise the issue with them … they complain their kids can now quote the odds on their team winning or losing.” In response, Channel Nine and the NRL announced on Wednesday Waterhouse will no longer be a part of the commentary team, and that is a good start. But the problem remains that while it is against the law to advertise gambling companies during G-rated periods … an exception is made for sport. Is that exception more frightening for its stupidity or venality? Discuss. Meanwhile, there was, alas, some problem with the link TFF provided last week for the petition organised by a Fitzphile asking these same politicians to freaking well do something. So here it is again: www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/the-australian-senate-ban-sports-betting-information-from-broadcast-during-live-sporting-events. Maintain the rage and spread the word.

WHAT THEY SAID

Fitzphile Matt McGoldrick tweets as @goldust02: “[Australia] World Champ cricketers; netball, basketball and football world finalists – and all women.”

Socceroo Mark Bresciano on trying to qualify for Brazil: “So if I can finish my career knowing I’ve played three World Cups, I can go to bed every night and have a very good sleep!”

Fox commentator Rod Kafer to Auckland Blues captain Ali Williams, after their narrow loss to the Tahs last weekend: “A game of two halves mate.” Williams interrupts: “That old cliche …!”

Lara Bingle reminisces about her brief affair with former England and Rebels five-eighth Danny Cipriani: “He dropped me so hard my bum cheeks are still hurting.”

Titans coach John Cartwright after Ashley Harrison was carried off unconscious following a shoulder charge by Richard Fa’aoso: “He’s had 250 games. He’s been knocked out before. He’ll be right.” Completely staggering. And unforgivable.

Mark Webber after Sebastian Vettel disobeyed team orders at the Malaysian Grand Prix to overtake him and win: “In the end Seb made his own decisions today. He will have protection as usual, and that’s the way it goes.”

Vettel: “I cannot say much more than I did a mistake, I’m not proud I did it. If I had the chance to do it again I would do it differently. When I came back I saw the team’s reaction and I had a short word with Mark, it hit me quite hard that I f—ed up.”

Ravi Shastri on the Delhi pitch: “Put this pitch in a beauty contest, it would come last.”

Academic James Connor on gambling research that showed those over 18 who said they supported an NRL club were 72 per cent more likely than non-league supporters to have gambled in the past three months: “I’m not surprised in the least. The ads for betting have been completely normalised as part of the commentary. It’s what you do now if you’re engaged in rugby league. It’s the most insidious change we’ve seen in the last decade.”

Geoff Huegill on where Australian swimming finds itself: “The upsetting part is [the damage] to the sport we spent so much time building and creating, not only the culture but the brand the sport represents. When I speak to the guys I used to swim with in 2000 and 2004, that’s the part where we all shake our heads and say, ‘What the bloody hell is going on?'”

Huegill again: “The kids today, and the management, and the coaches, have destroyed what was built and the credibility and the hard work that was built from that era.”

Sepp Blatter on the 2022 World Cup being in Qatar: “Then all of a sudden people have realised that when playing in summer it will be very difficult because it is very hot.” Hey, I think he is on to something!

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Narbonne. The French rugby club now owned and run by an Australian consortium of rugby identities, including Bob Dwyer, with former Waratahs manager Dave Gibson as manager and Wallaby Justin Harrison as coach, is doing notably well in the Championnat, beating Brive 28-17, and juggernaut Lyons 32-21.

Drummoyne Water Polo Club. Last weekend in the 2012-13 Sydney competition grand finals, 16 competitions were decided. Drummoyne played in 10 of 16, and won eight of them.

Sam Figg. In three years, the 20-year-old has gone from playing Suburban Rugby to making his international Sevens debut for Australia.

Sydney University Football Club. Is having a swish dinner on Saturday, April 13, at Uni to mark its 150th anniversary. Google and go-go.

Australian cricket team. Won the toss against India 4-0. Let’s not talk about the other. (Just quietly though, it was only the second clean-sweep series defeat for Australia, after their 4-0 rout in South Africa in 1969-70.)

Shane Lowry. Originally from Perth and now plays soccer for Millwall. Scored a fantastic goal from a free kick against Charlton Athletic, and will head to Wembley as they take on Wigan in an FA Cup semi-final. Perhaps he should be in the Socceroos?

Waratahs. From disappoint-Tahs to delight-Tahs in a few minutes. Salvaged their season with a three-point win over the Blues after being down by 14 points in the second half.

Joe Weider. The self-made fitness and bodybuilding guru, who built a magazine empire that included more than a dozen popular publications, such as Muscle & FitnessShape and Men’s Fitness, died at the age of 93.

Heath Jamieson, Seamus Donaghue and Scott Warby. Servicemen who have been injured during the Afghanistan conflict and have been training in Iceland for a coming race to the South Pole representing a Commonwealth team against teams from England and America. Check out their website walkingwiththewounded.org.uk

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/the-fitz-files/riddle-me-this-it-has-a-round-ball-20130329-2gzf3.html#ixzz2PGb8OGg3

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