Almost 160,000 football fans crammed the ANZ Stadium on two freezing Sydney nights – 72,000 against the touring Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and 83,000 on a cold Tuesday evening against EPL premiers Chelsea.
What is it with Chelsea shirts, anyway? Unlike their Liverpool or Manchester United counterparts, the only place one can spot a Chelsea shirt is outside the backpackers hostel at Coogee Beach in summertime. So where have all the Chelsea shirts, so prominent at ANZ Stadium on Tuesday night, come from?
Australian sports fans have always had something of an affinity with the English game. Put it down to a shared language and similar culture as well as a crash-bang-wallop style of football that asks little of the non-football fan with a side interest in the world game. Each May, Aussie sports fans who wouldn’t know their Antonis from their Jedinak will ask, “Who do you think will win the FA Cup?”
So what is it that brings people out of their homes for a meaningless friendly on a cold, wintry night?
And wouldn’t fans rather turn up to watch a fully competitive A-League match with some of the loudest, best coordinated and most creative sports fans in the country over a glorified kickaround against a visiting team doing its best to protect its expensive legs and can’t wait for its own version of Mad Monday after the full time whistle?
The numbers clearly say NO.
Who are these fans, then?
It is hard not to be a little disparaging of Shane Warne, who suddenly confesses a 30-year-long love affair with Chelsea but wouldn’t be seen dead at a Melbourne Victory game. He isn’t alone - plenty of Australian celebrities have come leaping out of their closets in recent seasons to declare their undying love for Liverpool, Spurs or Manchester United.
As someone who refused to be party to the David Beckham circus in 2007, the best banner in the packed ANZ Stadium that night came from Sydney FC’s Cove and it simply said “We Play Every Week”.
So, in the immortal words of Lara Bingle, “Where the bloody hell are ya?”
If at least half of Sydney’s regular fan base of 20,000 made the trek to ANZ last night, and perhaps another 10,000 WSW fans bought tickets, I can’t help but wonder…
Who are the other 60,000?
1) There is a curious breed of football fan that A-League followers have dubbed the “Eurosnob”. Mostly migrants from major footballing nations, the Eurosnob has a tendency to look down his or her nose at the A-League, viewing it as an inferior product. They avoid the A-League like the plague but will drop everything to watch a touring European side on a cold Tuesday night in the beer stained shirt they pulled out the bottom of their cupboard.
Their motto – “I wouldn’t watch a game at a level I used to play at”.
Was Sunday League really that good?
2) Another group are referred to as “theatre goers”. These people will go to any big event – NRL or AFL Grand Final, Rugby League State of Origin or a touring baseball or NFL extravaganza, complete with hotdogs.
Their motto – “I am an absolutely MASSIVE fan of Harry Kane/Wayne Rooney/John Terry, do you think he is better than Ronaldo?”
They are great for merchandising sales and are usually seen in spotless football shirts and scarves at the stadium, often with tag still attached. They also tend to leave at the 80th minute mark to beat the traffic, irrespective of the score.
3) The third category is the NRL or AFL fan with a passing interest in the world game. He identifies with a European club because it’s trendy and his kids play FIFA on their consoles. He is disparaging of the local game as he is worried it will one day overtake his sport of choice.
His motto – “I’d watch the A-League if the standard was better”. He hasn’t seen a game since he last got a free ticket in 2008.
4) The fourth and final group is the non-committed fan:
· Has kids who play or have played the game;
· Involved or has been involved with a local club;
· Loves the game, watches on TV but only attends a few games a year due to time and/or financial constraints.
Graham Arnold said in praise of Sydney FC’s excellent display against Chelsea, “Maybe we need to hire a crowd so they can perform like that every week”.
Rent-a-crowd? Perhaps that’s a tad harsh. Should we continue to invite foreign marquee clubs to our shores? Absolutely!
· Inject much needed cash into local clubs and FFA coffers;
· Showcase Australian football to a new audience, here and abroad;
· Offer a chance for A-League players to improve by playing superior teams;
· Extend the woefully short A-League season;
· Give A-League club fans more matches to attend or watch in preference to the gimmicky All-Star concept that, one hopes, is dead and buried;
· Show the young kids playing the game that this is the level they need to get to if Australia is to one day lift the World Cup;
· Do wonders for TV rights deals that underpin the game’s improving financial clout;
· Remind the occasionally-still-insular local sports fan of football’s enormity when compared with the “oval ball games”.
And yes, drag the non-A-League football fan and Johnny-Come-Lately out on a cold Tuesday night to watch the world game.
Because Eurosnobs are people too.