JAMES Michael Owen and Max Demain made news on opposite sides of the globe this week. Both are six-year-old boys. One, James, will not be going to football matches in Britain; the other will not be overly keen on going to football matches in Australia.
James Michael Owen is the son of Michael James Owen, the former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United and Manchester United footballer. Owen said he would not take his son, or his three daughters, to the football in his own country. ”Like it or not, a football ground isn’t the most pleasant of places in the world,” Owen said. ”I certainly wouldn’t take my kids to watch a match.”
Max Demain experienced some of that unpleasantness this week.
He was about to take the field for the Mt Annan Mustangs under-6s at half-time during a trial between Sydney FC and Macarthur Rams at Campbelltown, when he was hit by a projectile thrown during a fight between spectators.
What followed was slightly predictable, but still perplexing.
Running parallel to the discussion about the violence was the debate about the media’s portrayal of it. Many expressed outrage at the actions of the spectators involved in the fight. Some, though, claimed it was a ”beat-up”, which is not only an unfortunate double-entendre but also an unfortunate reaction.
For while football in England and elsewhere can still prosper without James Michael Owen or many other children at their games, the A-League can’t afford too many young fans or young families deciding the sport many children play because it is less violent on the field than its rugby cousins is too violent to watch as a spectator.
Football is the biggest sport in the world by some stretch, but it can be a rather odd thing in this country: insular and with an inferiority complex to rival that of Doug Pitt, the brother of Brad.
Some months ago, when I expressed reservations about the timing of the Western Sydney franchise’s entry into the A-League, some bemoaned the fact that someone who is not one of ”our own” was writing about the sport.
Surely the more people discussing a sport the better.
That depends to some extent on the subject, which brings us to this week’s negative headlines.
In the days after the match, revered journalist George Negus said the media needed to ”show a bit of perspective” in its reporting of Tuesday’s trial, calling it an ”opportunity to put violence and soccer in the same headline”. His comments were echoed elsewhere. Yet in claiming some sections of the media needed to show some perspective, he lost some perspective. A six-year-old boy was hit in the head.
To be fair, he deserves some perspective himself to his comments; Negus would have seen football being tarnished by newsrooms across the country before, during the bad old days when violence was far more widespread.
He not only has first-hand knowledge of the media’s obsession with violence in football but also is a passionate football man. He would have seen other sports treated differently, and the headlines of this week would no doubt have hurt him. But diverting the focus from the real issue is counterproductive.
Other sports and organisations have been victimised and have complained loudly, such as the NRL’s Bulldogs, after small sections of the club’s supporter base was intent on causing trouble on trains and in the grandstands. Some of the coverage was sensationalised, while some was more measured. But it was not until the club focused on eliminating the problem element that they were rewarded.
Racism and violence at one-day cricket has been the controversy du jour before.
Thankfully, A-League officials seem intent not on blaming the media for blowing the incident out of proportion, but on ensuring that the negative press is not repeated.
”I thought this sort of stuff had been eliminated long ago,” Sydney FC’s chief executive, Tony Pignata, said. ”It’s just not acceptable. We have mums and kids going to our games. We have to stamp this sort of behaviour out and stamp it out now.”
Any assertion that this was not a serious incident is surely not helpful. Isolated, certainly, but insignificant? Directing the debate towards the media’s role is an own goal with far more dire consequences than the one by Socceroos debutant Jason Davidson.
The Socceroos have helped lift the profile of football significantly in recent years. The A-League has done similarly. But with an unfortunate incident marring, at least briefly, the work that the game has done to sweep the violence out of the grandstands, football needs to be careful that it doesn’t sweep the real issue under the carpet, thinking it has been victimised once again.
A six-year-old boy has every right to feel he was a victim here, but football itself? Just as some supporters need to grow up, so does the sport itself. When that happens, our game can become everyone’s game.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.