Friday, July 30, 2010

What's driving FFA's reluctance to rally the faithful?

IF any FIFA inspection members paused long enough during their Koala-cuddling whistlestop tour this week to grab a copy of the local edition of English mag FourFourTwo, they would have had to flick a long way back - page 89 of the 92 in fact - to find significant mention of the 2022 World Cup bid.
This is cause for embarrassment, but not on the part of the magazine, which was out a few days before the FIFA team landed in Sydney. Their interview with FFA boss Ben Buckley was so predictably dire the only surprise to me is 442 bothered with it at all. I assume if they had 150 pages, it would have been on 147.
At a time when the non-believers in Australia find excuses why we don't need this tournament Down Under, we require, at the helm of football, an inspirational leader. Someone able, through power of personality, to unify the country behind the game. Or least be bothered enough to have a go at it. Someone with passion. What we need is a suit who talks like a fan. Like John O'Neill perhaps - who saw which way the wind was blowing and gave us Guus Hiddink in 2005. What we have is a suit who talks like a suit, from Vinnies. Who gave us Pim Verbeek.
Buckley's performance at the World Cup itself, when trying to dampen down rumours of Australian team disharmony, but instead turning it into international news, was emblematic. Smiling serenely and avoiding the real questions in text book "look how I've been coached to deal with the media" style he did nothing to make the rumours go away. The only purpose of the whole stage-managed event seemed to be framing Buckley as leader - but it was all style, never about substance. His every word can be found in the management manuals clogging up your local book chain. The jaw is moving but what ever gets said?
I found the 442 reaction to Buckley's latest missed opportunity to raise passions within the heartland interesting. "FourFourTwo spoke to ... Buckley and garnered about as much information as someone with an internet connection and the ability to type 'Australia World Cup' bid into Google." Nice line. Their dissatisfaction seemed to be that Buckley had nothing to say to them. My belief is Buckley just has nothing to say to any of us.
The magazine I edit, Football+, was seeking to do a big feature for our new edition, talking up our World Cup bid with interviews with Buckley and Frank Lowy.
Our Associate Editor, Matthew Hall, requested some face time with the pair in South Africa. When they belatedly responded we were granted, instead, the opportunity to send in some questions via email which they might reply to if they had time. Judging by the fruits of 442's 15-minute hard labour, we made the right decision to decline.
 If the two people charged with spending $40 million of government money couldn't work up the enthusiasm to spruik up their bid and rally hundreds of thousands of committed football fans - those who spent a deal of money buying Football+ and 442 and the other football mags before the World Cup - then why should we be that bothered?
Had they figured that if Bill Clinton was giving interviews about 2022, when not cosying up to Sepp Blatter, there was not really much point wasting their breath?
Soccer Australia, or the FFA as they are now known, have had some, well, colourful people at the helm, and I'm not suggesting Buckley needs to tread down those same dim alleyways. But something more showy, something more alive, something more "Sepp" might not be a bad thing.
I wonder what Blatter makes of Buckley. And our bid. I'd like to ask Buckley about his relationship with Sepp, and plenty more besides. Like what will he do if we lose the bid and the A-League crowds and finances continue to fall this year. But even if he would pick up the phone, I'm not sure he has that much to say.


  1. Unfortunately for football, you're right. The FFA CEO is a dud and he's been found out big time this year. He got rid of the people with passion for the game that were there at senior levels: the former CFO, head of A-League, head of media/public affairs. All lifelong fans and highly professional; all gone.

  2. Hi Tony

    Originally we had planned for the interview to span 5 pages and be a major feature - a rallying call to the converted on the home straight to the December decision. Now the World Cup's over and in the face of increasing negativity from the mainstream media with vested interests in protecting their respective "footy" patches what can the 100,000 Aussie fans who read 442 mag and web site each month do to help bring the World Cup here.

    Instead of the intended interview we got what you read. We discussed not running it at all but then people would be none the wiser that we'd even spoke and could have pointed the finger at us asking what we're doing to help. We tried and have been trying for months to raise the profile of what has to be the lowest key world cup bid I've ever an outsider looking in would you say ordinary Australians appear desperate to bring the World Cup to Australia?

    The indifference with which they continue to treat those who support their game day in day out is baffling especially when you consider the far from solid A-League situation and if they are unsuccesful in their bid for the world cup they're going to need all the friends they can get.

    Looking forward to seeing your second issue - the more quality Australian football media the better as far as I'm concerned.

    All the best

  3. Thanks for the reply and kind words Andy. I agree with your approach, too. They should be brought to task for that interview. Perhaps consider it a sign of their respect for 442 that they put him on the phone while the new mag was offered an email exchange!

  4. Mark from CanberraAugust 2, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    Good article. When is Mr Lowy going to realise all this? How long will he continue to allow FFA to go backwards under Mr Buckley?

  5. Hmmm, I'm a bit torn here.

    I reckon FFA is facing a huge battle with fairly limited resources to get the Cup, so have to be a bit clever with how those resources are used.

    Let's be honest, the 100,000 readers of 442 and 99% of the readers of blogs like this one are backing the bid anyway.

    The real challenge is to convert those who believe every self-interested announcement from idiots like Andrew Demetriou, thus the efforts need to be directed at getting inches in newspapers (News Limited and Fairfax).

    P.S. I'm not disputing that Buckley is as boring as bat-s**t, or that a decent interview in 442 would have been good!

  6. Thanks Kristian
    More than $11 million of $40m tax payer money has gone on consultants. They have the resources for billboards and consultants. There is one important resource which is free and completely unused in this case: personality.
    With millions on the table the AFL and RL were never going to roll over. The FFA has failed to deal with them and failed to raise the passions for this event in mainstream non-football-core Australia. I see the point if they ignore the football media and are doing a great job in the wider media - I just don't think they are.

  7. Why is this sport treated like some exotic animal, getting fans onside,true believers, reaching out to mainstreem sports fans.I might just remind some this is the highest organised participated sport in the country and has been for the past 20 years, yes afl participation rates are higher in melbourne and tasmania and south aus but the rest of the country it puts other codes to shame. What do i have to do as a football supporter throw myself under Buckleys and Blatters car to show im passionate about the sport. One of the great problems is there is a general belief in the mainstreem sports media that 1500 people follow this sport in each state and territory. Where unlike other footballing codes football is wathched and played australia wide its somehting others cant boast.Football in this nation will always be talked down to, there is no soccer australia, there are no soccer clubs if you join a supposed soccer club its called a football club australia wide [google it] whether you be a junior, male or female.

  8. To be honest isn't your post slightly hypercritical. You don't know if we've won or lost the bid, and if anything your trying to destabilize the organization which has any variable control over whether we win it or not.

    I'm slightly less pessimistic. Australia has the infrastructure commitment, the stability and security in climate, politics and economy and a proven track record with a nation of sports lovers. On paper it's a great bid - why wouldn't anybody see that?

    Football in Australia has a serious complex. Hopefully people can start celebrating the achievements it has made over the past few years, instead of destroying itself again with self loathing decision making. Who would have thought that 40 million dollars could be something to be complained about.