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Soccer’s glittering new era can still learn from the past

If Football Federation Australia’s chief executive Ben Buckley heard mention of the South Melbourne Football club he may, given his AFL background, have thought of the team that relocated to Sydney nearly 30 years ago to become the Swans.
At least he might have before Monday night, when he attended the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Alex Tobin Medal at the Crown Palladium.
After hearing a litany of speakers extol the virtues of the old National Soccer League and the crucial role Australia’s migrant communities have played in developing the sport, Buckley would have been left in no doubt of the primacy of the round ball code’s South Melbourne.
The A-League was launched in August 2005 on the premise that it was ”new football”, not ”old soccer”.
New football was a shiny product played in flashy first-class stadiums by brand new teams designed to attract a new mainstream audience.
Old soccer was that ethnically divided sport with ”community clubs” playing in ramshackle stadiums, the sort of venues that would turn off the broad-based supporters that the new game would need to attract.
Yet each award or commendation recipient spoke glowingly of the impact ”old soccer” had had on them as they grew up.
Ange Postecoglou, the coach of the year for his success with Brisbane Roar, said that as a young migrant to Australia he had found his sense of purpose in going to watch – and dream – of playing for South Melbourne. The Socceroos weren’t in it, said Postecoglou, for him, and thousands of kids like him, kicking a soccer ball for their ethnic club was all that mattered, although he did win four Socceroos caps.
But his sentiments were echoed by a more famous figure, Mark Viduka, the ex-national team captain and Premier League goalscorer.
Despite the heights Viduka reached, such as leading the Socceroos in the World Cup and playing for big clubs in England, it was the Melbourne Knights, the team he played for as a teenager, which remained the club he enjoyed the most.
Cynics might suggest that an evening of nostalgia, a night when people looked fondly back, did no one any good. It was nostalgic but it was also a night celebrating the game’s present.
It was clear from the most successful of its present practitioners that the time was right to acknowledge the importance of the past and the role it can play in building a successful future.
FFA’s powerbrokers could do worse than listen.
Michael Lynch

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