“No jokes please, we’re Australian!”

At a point unknown to the rest of us, Football Federation Australia seem to have quietly hired infamous Torquay hotelier Basil Fawlty to conduct its operations.

Media liaisons are now conducted with summary brusqueness, visitors are routinely insulted and the sign has been slung over the doorknob: “No riff-raff!”

How else to explain the extraordinary events of the past week, in which two A-League coaches have been censured for audiciously speaking their minds.

In the first instance, it wasn’t even the normally trigger-happy FFA that cracked down on an outrageous outbreak of free speech that has threatened to tear Australian football apart.

Instead, it was South Australian club Adelaide United who moved quicker than a politburo censor to distance itself from comments made by coach Aurelio Vidmar.

Asked in a post-match press conference if he was “too nice” to his players, Vidmar replied, “What would you like me to do? Chop their heads off? I can do that. We can go to Saudi Arabia and we can do that.”

The ramifications of that off-the-cuff statement were as swift as they were stupid. Vidmar was suspended by his club for two matches – assistant coach Phil Stubbins will now take charge – and the former Australian international was fined £5,500.

All this for demonstrating a surprising degree of cultural awareness in referring to a country that carries out capital punishment by beheading.

Vidmar’s quip was admittedly not the most tasteful, but it’s surely the fact that he has prior form that saw Adelaide administer such a draconian response. He became a cult hero on the terraces for memorably labelling Adelaide a “piss-ant town,” after United were thrashed 4-0 by arch-rivals Melbourne Victory in a semi-final match last February.

Speaking in the aftermath of his latest foot-in-mouth moment, Vidmar admitted that the suspension was “a bit of a kick in the teeth.”

“I think I've had two strikes now, so I'm sure three strikes and you are out,” conceded the beleaguered tactician.

He can at least sympathise with Newcastle Jets coach Branko Culina, who has been summonsed to the FFA over a comment made in the wake of Newcastle’s recent home defeat to Wellington Phoenix. When questioned whether his side could still make the finals, Culina responded with refreshing honesty.

“We're only a finals team because all the teams around us are pretty shit as well,” shrugged the veteran coach.

Apparently that was too much for the FFA to bear, who issued the ever-candid Culina with a notice for breaching their code of conduct.

Forget that Culina had only said what every Australian football fan was already thinking – it’s evidently intolerable for anyone to make even slightly disparaging remarks about the A-League. In a competition crying out for some colour and flair, the FFA have demonstrated a penchant for cracking down on dissent with all the subtlety of a Stalinist stormtrooper.

The irony of both cases was that they received prolonged mainstream media attention. That’s something the A-League desperately requires, but the FFA are threatening to cut off their nose to spite their own face by constantly clamping down on coaches’ comments.

A-League press conferences are boring enough without coaches offering monosyllabic responses to the most inane of questions, but that’s precisely what will occur should the current crackdown continue.

Even  Gold Coast United’s rent-a-quote comedian/coach Miron Bleiberg has been silent of late – although that’s probably because his team have been playing rubbish.

Larrikinism is alive and well in Australia – just don’t expect to find it in the A-League. When it comes to comedy, we’re more Basil Fawlty than Crocodile Dundee.


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