The Sports Factor
with Amanda Smith
The Trouble With Soccer
The Australian-Croatian community responds to this week's tribunal results, dealing with on and off field incidents at a recent Melbourne Knights/Perth Glory finals match. And CHRIS EVANS, Regional Commander with the New South Wales Police, discusses police reponses and strategies to crowd violence, at recent soccer and rugby league matches.
Plus, is it better to play a sport badly, or watch others play it well? JIM YOUNG is a former long-standing D-grade suburban cricketer and author of "Any Old Eleven". SANDY JEFFS plays midweek ladies tennis, an institution she chronicles in a book of poems, "Confessions of a Midweek Lady. They offer their views on the joys of playing badly.
Details or Transcript:
Amanda Smith: It’s community and police responses to crowd violence at recent Australian sporting events on The Sports Factor this week.
Plus, is it better to play a sport badly, or watch others do it well? We’ll hear from two people who’ve been playing badly for years: a mid-week player of ladies’ tennis, and a now-retired D-grade suburban cricketer.
Jim Young: More than any other game I think cricket has spawned a great deal of nonsense about how character-building and how morally uplifting it is. I think on the contrary, that what we enjoyed was the unique insight into human folly that competitive sport affords.
Amanda Smith: That’s Jim Young, and unlike cricketers at the top level of the international game who’ve been playing below their best for bribes, Jim played cricket badly for years, and was never offered money to do so. And we’ll hear more 'Tales of Park Cricket' and 'Confessions of a Mid-week Lady' later in the program.
Before that though, to this week’s National Soccer League Tribunal where the Melbourne Knights Club was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, for crowd violence at their home ground in a finals match against the Perth Glory earlier this month.
The club has been fined $30,000; it has to pay a bond of $50,000 in the event of further crowd violence, and it has to upgrade the safety of its home ground. The Melbourne Knights team is largely supported by the Croatian community, and the crowd violence has been attributed to a playing out of ethnic tensions and Balkan politics.
Well what role does the wider Australian Croatian community see that it can and should play in curbing this soccer violence?
Marijan Bosnjik is a long-time Melbourne Knights supporter, and Croatian community representative in Victoria.
Bosnjik: People must understand that the Melbourne Knights are in this case a victim; they are the victim of a small group of spectators. Now these are people who simply pay an entrance fee, and they come in off the street and the club has virtually no control over them. It’s a law and order issue; the Melbourne Knights ground is a public place, and if people misbehave, or if they break the law in any way, in our view it’s a matter for the police. Now the club is a soccer club, their primary function is to play soccer. It’s very difficult to understand what a soccer club could actually do to prevent a very small number of hotheads or ratbags from misbehaving. I can’t imagine a soccer club having any legal power to for instance use force against people; that is a matter for the police.
Amanda Smith: And also I guess, they’re giving Australian Croatians a bad name?
Bosnjik: Absolutely. Our communities have invested over the last 40, 50 years, millions of dollars into Australian soccer. We have made a huge contribution to the development of soccer, and we feel that we in fact deserve praise and recognition for our contribution, and certainly not the sort of vilification that we’ve had over recent times.
Amanda Smith: Well if the perpetrators of the crowd violence at recent Melbourne Knights matches, both the home match against Perth Glory and last Sunday’s match in Sydney against Sydney Olympic, if that violence can be attributed to young Croatian Australians, do you as a community see yourselves as having a role in trying to modify their behaviour?
Bosnjik: We would like to, but the more relevant question is what can we do about it. Probably the most effective way of dealing with this is 1) to identify those people who actually commit the crime. Once they’re identified, we believe they should be charged by the police. And secondly, we would certainly expect the Melbourne Knights to ban those people that are guilty. But we must not punish people that are not guilty; we must not punish people simply by association, and this is sadly what’s happened to the Melbourne Knights in recent days where the club that is a victim is in fact punished, and they’ve been punished I think by a fine of $30,000 whilst at the same time the League wants them to make certain improvements to the ground. Now where’s the logic in that? Clearly the club would need those $30,000 and more, in order to help prevent future troubles. So I’m afraid the actions of the League here are rather illogical.
Amanda Smith: Well with the upgrade that is required now of the Melbourne Knights stadium in Sunshine in Victoria, will the Australian Croatian community get involved with the club on working on these improvements?
Bosnjik: The Croatian community will of course assist the Melbourne Knights as we have over the last 45 years. Our community has really dug very deep into its pockets every time the club has been in trouble; we’ve put our hand in our pocket very deep and we’ve given generous. I have no doubt at all that our community will again rally around the club, and this is I think support which is really admirable, and which should be recognised, rather than condemned. We’ve seen a number of clubs over recent years go under. These clubs haven’t had solid support like some of the other clubs that are for instance supported by our community, by the Greek community, the Italian community, and so the fact that we still have a number of very strong and very good clubs in Australian soccer, is largely thanks to the support of the ethnic communities. So it is not wise to alienate these communities when at this stage, we have no alternative, we have nothing better, and I would say to people who criticise the involvement of the ethnic communities, I would say to them, ‘Well if you don’t like our involvement, if you don’t like the clubs that we support, please feel free; form your own clubs, put your money where your mouth is, make good strong clubs, show us how it’s done, show us that you can do better, show us that you can contribute more to Australian soccer than we have. And if we reintroduce the principle of promotion and relegation, it will ensure the survival of the best and the fittest. Our so-called ethnic clubs will be then relegated and your successful clubs will be promoted.’ And that is the solution to Australian soccer. But certainly soccer deserves support, it requires support and we would welcome the involvement of everyone, including our critics.
Amanda Smith: Well
Marijan, the Perth Glory player Bobby Despotovski was this week fined $2,000 and given a six-match suspended sentence for a gesture he made at a Melbourne Knights match on May 6th. The penalty there was also for bringing the game into disrepute, but not for inciting violence. What’s your view of the penalty he received?
Bosnjik: Well I really don’t have much of a view. It’s an internal matter for the League; I believe that people should be accountable for their own actions, and in this case the player has admitted making certain gestures which I think in the heat of the moment at other times perhaps he wouldn’t have done. Any gestures he made certainly do not justify any physical assaults after a game by anyone, and the player involved certainly shouldn’t have made those gestures, but he shouldn’t have been attacked as a result. Now should he have been penalised? Yes, he should have, because obviously he admitted doing something as against the Melbourne Knights which actually haven’t done anything themselves. They’ve been penalised for the actions of someone else, of people who simply turned up to the game. I think there’s an important principle of if you do something, yes you should be penalised, but if you don’t, why penalise those who are not guilty?
Amanda Smith: Nevertheless, what does that gesture made by Bobby Despotovski at that match, mean to you?
Bosnjik: Well it’s certainly not a sporting gesture. Gestures tend to mean different things to different people. For instance, if you happen to say, be a Nazi, the Nazi salute would mean something to you. But if you happen to be one of the many victims of Nazism, the Nazi salute would have a totally different meaning to you. One of the gestures that Slobodan Despotovski made during the game, and I understand that another one was a gesture of a sexual nature, but this particular gesture was a gesture of a political nature. It’s a Serbian war salute, it’s a three-fingered war salute, the victory salute. Now the problem we have is that there are many, many migrants in Australia who still have relatives in those countries that have suffered, and they are understandably offended by this gesture. Now whilst this may not be very offensive to Slobodan
Despotovski, but it’s certainly offensive to a lot of people here, and I would say a lot of people around the world; it’s a stupid thing to do. But it’s a wider problem where in sport very competitive people in order to gain the edge over an opponent, would do and say things that they normally wouldn’t, and I actually largely attributed this incident to perhaps over-zealousness by Bobby
Amanda Smith: Melbourne Knights supporter, and Australian-Croatian community representative, Marijan
Now as well as those incidents at the Melbourne Knights-Perth Glory match of May 6th, there was also crowd violence at last Sunday’s Sydney Olympic-Melbourne Knights National Soccer League match played in Sydney. And as we talked about on The Sports Factor a couple of weeks ago, there’s also been crowd violence at National Rugby League matches in Sydney this season.
So is there growing concern within the police about this recent spate of crowd violence at sporting events? New South Wales Police Assistant Commissioner, Chris Evans, is the Commander of the George’s River region, covering the southern and south-western suburbs of Sydney.
Chris Evans: Amanda, I think we need to differentiate between crowd violence and the behaviour of some individuals, and certainly we’ve seen that so far as the Rugby League goes, it is just a handful of individuals that were playing up, and even so far as the problems at the soccer at Parramatta Stadium recently are concerned, again it is not the majority of the crowd that’s involved in the violence, it is but a few individuals. So I think it’s important that we differentiate between what we’ve seen as crowd violence overseas, versus the behaviour of a few individuals at sporting venues.
Amanda Smith: Nevertheless, has this degree of violence among members of sports crowds that’s appeared recently, taken you by surprise?
Chris Evans: To a small extent. There’s been isolated incidents in the past. I mean you’ll recall we had some problems with the cricket, the one-day international cricket matches; that was dealt with. Substantial penalties were put in place to deal with people who insisted upon behaving badly. There’s been the odd occasion when there’s been problems at various codes of football matches, and I suspect there’s probably a little bit of a coincidence that we had the problem with the Rugby League about the same time as the soccer problem. But certainly there’s been a couple more incidents than what we’ve been used to.
Amanda Smith: Has what’s gone on meant that you’ve thought about seeking advice from overseas police agencies, especially in the UK and other parts of Europe, who do have a deal of experience with this sort of crowd problem around sport.
Chris Evans: Yes, and let’s not forget that we sent police overseas prior to the Olympics. They went to the World Cup Soccer, and they went to a number of events around the world including the Olympic Games overseas, so we do have an enormous amount of expertise in the service in relation to that. But again I stipulate, this has been nothing like that, you know, we’re not burning terraces and all the stuff that we’ve seen overseas. You’ve only got to look at – I mean the Australian sports supporters, they’re a fantastic group of people, no matter what code of football, or no matter what other sports that you’re talking about, we Australians are passionate about our sport, and I think that’s fantastic. So I’m sure we’ve not reached anywhere near the stage like overseas.
Amanda Smith: What about the element of ethnic tensions within all this?
Chris Evans: Again, as I said, the majority of the people are passionate supporters of their team. They’ve come from backgrounds where soccer for example has been their national pastime basically. And they’re extraordinarily supportive of it. So again, I really think it’s just supporters supporting their team in the best way they know how, provided they do it lawfully and not to the discomfort of others. The vast number of spectators and the vast number of supporters of the various clubs have got behind their team and have said to these individuals, ‘Look, you are not welcome, you are not one of us, you’re giving us a bad name, we don’t want that, we want to support the team.’ So I commend them for that.
Amanda Smith: So you think that in complement with the police, or above and beyond the police, the clubs themselves have an important role in controlling this sort of behaviour?
Chris Evans: I mean this has been a joint project between us and the clubs. The NRL has served warning notices upon individuals, we’ve supplied the particulars to the
NRL. The ARL has come on board and said if they’re banned from an NRL ground they’ll be banned from the ARL ground. So I mean, it’s a collaborative thing and the clubs themselves are doing things, particularly with the schools. I noticed at the Showground the other day on the big screen during intervals, the players are giving prominent messages across the big screen, and all that’s good. And I mean that just demonstrates that we are all prepared to work together to achieve our aim.
Amanda Smith: Assistant Commissioner Chris Evans, of the New South Wales Police.
Now let’s turn to a lighter side of sport, and to the kind of sport where there’s never any spectator violence, because there are never any spectators; and the idea I posed at the start of the program, that’s it’s better to play a sport badly than watch others play it well.
Jim Young spent twelve seasons playing cricket with a team called The Naughton’s Old Boys. And he’s chronicled the story of that team in a delightful new book called ‘Any Old Eleven’. Jim says that they weren’t the worst bunch of cricketers to ever take to the field, but they were down there with them. Well in these dark days of international cricket, with the damning report on corruption in the game, released this week, Jim Young celebrates the more honest version of the game that he played: park cricket.
Jim Young: Park cricket is the anonymous thousands that you see on grounds scattered all across the suburbs and country towns of Australia. No-one ever watches it, but the 22 players who participate find it of desperate importance.
Amanda Smith: And what level was your team playing at in this park cricket competition?
Jim Young: Pretty much the lowest there is. The competition that we played in was called The Northern Combined Churches, and the grade that we participated in was called D-1, on the basis that it was too humiliating to the participants to call it E grade.
Amanda Smith: So park cricket I suppose sits at the base of the cricket pyramid, Jim, but it’s not really a competition where players are on their way up, is it? Park cricket is not really a breeding ground for Test players.
Jim Young: Not in the least. Anyone who has any ability has been weeded out and dispatched to serious competitions long before they arrive at park cricket. In fact park cricketers are generally broken-down hacks, rather like me, who fell in love with the game as boys and can’t bear to give it up.
Amanda Smith: And yet is it in these kind of anonymous strivings in parks around Australia, that the place of cricket has been consolidated in a way, as much as or even perhaps more than the success of our Test team?
Jim Young: Well I think the fortunes of the Test team wax and wane, but the place that cricket has in the Australian imagination I think goes more to this depth of participation and the passion that people can bring to something that is in any objective terms, of absolutely no importance whatsoever.
Amanda Smith: Well your team, The Naughton’s Old Boys, or NOBS I think, as the team was generally known, was a pub team playing in a church’s competition. Was that in itself in any way an anomaly?
Jim Young: Well we were certainly viewed with suspicion by those in authority, and there was one other pub team that participated briefly, and certainly brought the whole competition into disgrace and disrepute, but we were actually a very civilised and well-behaved team. But it is a sign of the struggle to keep these sorts of associations going, that a pub team should have found itself competing in what was essentially a church competition.
Jim Young: Well it also sounds like your team actually just about kept the association afloat financially in terms of the regularity of fines imposed on you for things like late starts or for not attending association meetings, or for players wearing red socks.
Jim Young: Well the small paraphernalia of the game often eluded us. We were less than punctilious in starting on time, but we were not generally one of the clubs that was fined for threatening to spear the umpire with a spare stump and that sort of thing.
Amanda Smith: And that happened?
Jim Young: Which did go on.
Amanda Smith: Well who made up your team, Jim? How did you recruit players?
Jim Young: Well my own experience was that I was recruited on Friday night in the public bar of Naughton’s Hotel. I’d run into an old friend I hadn’t seen for quite some time who’d played in the team, and they were scratching to make up the Eleven the next day, so I helped.
Amanda Smith: And that was a common experience for recruiting players?
Jim Young: Very common, which meant that a large number of players were not officially registered, and would have to play under false names. We’re a team of ring-ins most of the time.
Amanda Smith: So tell me about that.
Jim Young: Well my own experience was that the game I was close to the end of the season and I was of course not registered, so I was told behind the back of the hand before the game started that for the day’s purposes my name was Craig Price. As it happened, at the end of the day I was one of the not-out batsmen taking off the pads. And a wicket had fallen in the last over, and the new batsman had come in. Whoever was in charge of the score book hadn’t caught up with this small detail, and so the opposing Captain came over to where we were both sitting down taking our pads off and asked us our names. I’d completely forgotten who I was supposed to be, but I’d been in for some time and the other batsman had only come in and faced a couple of balls before the end of play, so his was the missing name. So I waited for him to supply the information. What I wasn’t aware of was that he was also a first gamer playing as a ring-in, and he had no idea who he was supposed to be. So when we were asked our names, neither of us knew, and it’s very difficult to cover that sort of confusion.
Amanda Smith: Well despite being a pretty hopeless and disorganised team, from the sound of it, playing at a level probably not that much above backyard cricket, your team did adopt all the trappings of professional corporatised sport. For example, you had a club owner?
Jim Young: Yes we decided to follow the American pattern. We needed a new set of mats which was going to cost more than we had in the kitty, and the publican, Simon Byrne, said ‘Oh I could throw that in for you’, so we immediately made him club owner. And then we thought we’d set up the full apparatus. Charlie Doherty who drank in the public bar, we made him coach so that we could sack him; that proves that you’re a serious sporting
Amanda Smith: And I believe that Charlie Doherty never actually attended a match?
Jim Young: Oh no, but he would always ask us how we’d gone, and if we ever we able to report that we’d won, his standard response was, ‘What, did they take the bell out of the ball?’ It was a joke that was never lost on Charlie himself.
Amanda Smith: And along with the owner and the coach and various other honorary positions, you had a club philosopher.
Jim Young: This was about the time that serious sporting organisations began to employ sports psychologists. That seemed a bit serious for us, so we appointed a club philosopher who could adjudicate on the finer moral points of the game for us. He was, from time to time, called on for an opinion.
Amanda Smith: In what sort of matters?
Jim Young: Well there was the occasion where one of our team gave another member of the team out leg before wicket when he was on 99.
Amanda Smith: This was when one of your team was umpiring?
Jim Young: Which was the general mode of operation. And so we asked the club philosopher to rule on this extraordinary behaviour, and he decided that the appropriate categorical imperative was that charity begins at home, so the offender would have to buy his own beer for the night.
Amanda Smith: Well now the joy that your team seemed to take in its own incompetence I think is reflected in the statistic that was the most carefully kept in the team score book. Tell me about that, Jim.
Jim Young: After every day in the field, discussion in the bar afterwards would revolve around dropped catches. Frequently, someone in the team would dispute the fact that they’d been guilty of such a sin, but once the accusation was made, it was always sustained. Sometimes it would come to a vote; whether or not an incident counted as a dropped catch, the vote was always carried and usually there was only one dissenting voice.
Amanda Smith: And what was the match record for dropped catches for your team.
Jim Young: We did have one day where we dropped 13.
Amanda Smith: And you also after each match, awarded a Useless Dive of the Day Award.
Jim Young: Well the club found that Patrick O’Connor was particularly fond of the Useless Dive of the Day. Pat comes from Halifax, and speaks with a broad Yorkshire accent, and he particularly liked to analyse the game in terms of ‘ilights and a fieldsman spreadeagled on the ground futilely clasping after the ball particularly amused Pat. He also liked to see batsmen stranded mid-pitch, threatening each other with their bats as the wicket went down, but the Useless Dive was one of his favourites.
Amanda Smith: So what kept the team together for so long? I think you played about 12 seasons?
Jim Young: Well in large part it was the amount of beer that was consumed, but there was a great deal of camaraderie in the team. I think everyone enjoyed more than anything else, watching these humiliations and despair of their colleagues.
Amanda Smith: Now that’s not camaraderie as most of us know it!
Jim Young: Well there are few things more enjoyable than being able to point out to a team-mate exactly the deficiencies in his technique that brought him to earth that particular Saturday.
Amanda Smith: Jim Young, whose account of his years playing park cricket with The Naughton’s Old Boys, a kind of everyman team of no-hopers, is further detailed in his book, ‘Any Old Eleven’.
Now, another long-standing Australian sports institution is that of the Mid-week Ladies’ Tennis Competition. Sandy Jeffs has been playing in the Mid-Week Ladies’ for 20 years, and she’s just published a collection of poems celebrating her years of playing sport badly, called ‘Confessions of a Mid-Week Lady’.
We have been through a lot, the team and I;
The husband's affair!
The bereft, stranded wife, playing her heart out
With the perennial tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.
The tennis-ball becomes an object of hate,
A victim of the revenge she wants to take on the unfaithful cad.
Wham! It is struck with venom.
‘This is John’s head’ resonates around the courts.
How she expels energy with that volley.
And we all know the settlement is not going well.
Jeffs: Well I play Section 9. Now there’s probably about 20 sections in the competition. So it’s middling, middling. We can hit a ball, but the thing is we’re really inconsistent. So we do a fabulous shot one moment, and of course the next three are out or they’re into the net, or they’re off the sideline. And of course if we could play our best game all the time we wouldn’t be Section 9 we’d be Section 1.
Amanda Smith: Is the standard of the competition in some ways irrelevant to the enjoyment of playing, perhaps even in inverse proportion to it?
Jeffs: Look it depends whether you’re competitive or not. There’s two sorts of women who play mid-week tennis: those who are really competitive and love to win and will win at all costs, like me; or those who are there just for the fun of hitting a tennis ball. So I get fussed over people who just laugh and hit and giggle, I’m shocking; I prefer to play a rugged game and I prefer to win, but many people don’t bother about winning, they don’t care. They’re there to have fun and I think they’re also there to get away from the husband, and I think they’re there to have peace from the kids as well.
Amanda Smith: Well then to what extent do mid-week ladies become each other’s confidants? Is the tennis a place where you talk through family or other problems?
Jeffs: Look, sometimes you have a really deep and meaningful discussion and I think I can recall over my 20 years of experience of tennis, probably about three or four conversations that I thought were really worthwhile. Now a lot of the time it’s superficial, I think, and like you’re not there to air dirty linen, people don’t air their abusive husband or their kids out of control, but you hear a lot about the kids at school, a lot about teachers and what’s happening at the school, and I find that endlessly fascinating because there’s a lot of teacher-bashing goes on sometimes. And I think that’s really interesting. But the conversation I think can vary, but if we’re going to give it a tag it would be more superficial than anything else, because you’re there for fun.
Amanda Smith: Now a constant name that crops up in your poem, Sandy, in ‘Confessions of a Mid-Week Lady’ is that of Sara Lee, who is not a player of course, but a brand of cakes. Tell me about the importance of the food and the lunch after play.
Jeffs: Look, the food is the highlight of the day as far as I’m concerned. If they don’t win, they like to at least sit down to a good lunch. So the food is the highlight of the day and a lot of women, and I haven’t done it myself but I’ve seen it happen, get into competitive cooking.
Amanda Smith: Well I was going to ask you is the standard of who provides what to the luncheon is as competitive as the morning’s tennis has been.
Jeffs: Look, it can be, it can be terribly competitive, and of course I don’t cook at home, I’m not a cook. So I really have this terrible thing where I’ve had to rely on Sara Lee, or I have had to have help in making the food, and of course in the book Sara Lee is a bit of fun, it’s fun having Sara Lee as the theme going through it, but I’ve eaten many a Sara Lee at tennis, and I’ve taken many a Sara Lee to tennis.
Amanda Smith: Confessions of a Mid-Week Lady, and Sandy
Jeffs, whose book of poems under that title elaborates the rituals of the Wednesday morning tennis she’s been playing for 20 years.
Michael Shirrefs is the program producer, I’m Amanda Smith. Thanks for joining me here on Radio National.
Guests on this program:
Croatian community representative and supporter of the Melbourne Knights soccer club.
NSW Assistant Police Commissioner and Commander of the George's River region.
Former park cricketer and author of 'Any Old Eleven'.
Recreational tennis player and author of a collection of poems entitled 'Confessions Of A Mid-Week Lady'.
Any Old Eleven
Author: Jim Young
Price: $16.95 (Aus)
Publisher: CapeWeed Press, 2001
PO Box 63 Warburton Victoria 3799
Ph: +61 3 5966 5821
ISBN 1 876677 44 9
Confessions Of A Mid-Week Lady: Tall Tennis Tales
Author: Sandy Jeffs
Price: $16.95 (Aus)
Publisher: Overthefence Press, 2001
PO Box 6 Hurstbridge Victoria 3099
Ph: +61 3 9714 8234
ISBN 0 9578220 2 2