Stand to reason

The resilience of Australian fans and some English satire catch Ian Plenderleith's attention this month, but it’s a site campaigning to give fans the right to leave their seats that really has him applauding

Enter the poetic world of the Wollongong Wolves, the Blackdown City Demons and (my favourite) Manly United at Back Of The Net!, a site devoted to Australian football. The above teams all play in the New South Wales Premier League (current leaders: the Bonnyrigg White Eagles) and this is the web location to find out how Manly’s Orhan Dincer recently scored past “a grasping Matthew Trott”. You feel the description of the goal must sound better than it actually looked.

The Australian game is in flux, with the National Soccer League having collapsed, but it will be replaced later this year by the eight-team Hyundai A League in a curtailed season. “Football in Australia is like dandelions – no matter how hard and how determined the effort to get rid of it,” says the site’s fluent resident columnist, The Eternal Football Optimist, “it never goes away. At most it shifts its base of operations.” Other BOTN writers share his gritty cheerfulness that the new league, with a Fox TV deal, can finally rescue Oz football from the doldrums.

It was instructive to read that the country’s women are known as the Qantas Matildas, a name that manages to combine a corporate sell-out and both national and sexual stereotyping in a two-word moniker. Again, though, it does sound more phonetically pleasant than “the Australian women’s national team”.

As unwieldy names go, Footballing World is a slightly long-winded title for a website, and its awkwardness on the tongue is reflected in the sprawling nature of the site. There’s a lot of content and the quality is uneven, but there’s some good stuff if you’re prepared to surf around, covering all levels of the game in an at times refreshingly feral fashion.

One doughty columnist writes a vintage fanzine rant about the passion of lower-league fans compared with armchair spectators watching “your not-so-local team on your Sky TVs”. You can just picture him in his parka, clutching a Bovril and sticking his chin out defiantly at the falling rain on a Tuesday night at Barnstaple Town Reserves. Lower league players are “honest professionals with honest lives, no paparazzi, no magazine cover shoots, and no flash lifestyles”. Although he fails to mention that they shall inherit the earth.

Another writer attacks cheating, claiming that he too would be happy to act up on a football pitch for several thousand pounds a week: “I can throw myself to the ground in stupid ways, I can swear at the ref with the next bloke and how hard is it to pull a shirt?” he asks, pointing out that if cheating was really what fans paid 20 quid and more for, “there would be a moaning league set up and the franchise behind it would make millions”.

One of the best pieces is full of short satires aimed at targets such as referee Mark Halsey, awarding a goal for a shot that went 45 yards wide after he saw two players celebrate, and Patrick Kluivert lamenting the poor wage structure at Newcastle: “At the moment I only receive £10,000 per touch of the ball, £25,000 for a pass, £50,000 for a completed pass and £200,000 for a shot off target.”

Those who feel aggrieved at financing Patrick’s pay while all they get in return is grief from a steward for not sitting down may wish to log on to Stand Up Sit Down, a campaigning website aiming “to achieve a common sense solution to the issue of standing, for the benefit of all… whilst maintaining a balance between safety and individual freedom.”

The site campaigns for the rights of all fans – those wanting to stand in front of their seats during the game, all game, and those wanting to avoid having their view obscured by The Fat Bloke In Front who won’t sit down. Both sets of fans should have their own designated areas in the ground, argues the group.

The manifesto is so fair and sensible that you find yourself nodding in agreement as you go through the site and the “we’re-all-reasonable-people” tone of flexibility and compromise leads you to think that surely clubs, fans and footballing bodies can work together on this problem with ease and harmony.

However, the site’s straight account of SUSD’s meeting with the Football Licensing Authority demonstrates that sanity and good reasoning will get you nowhere. The FLA simply refuses to countenance the idea that supporters can stand and watch a game of football without entering the realms of some fantastical but hypothetical danger whereby they cascade forward like dominos and fall en masse over a high ledge. Or something.

To the good people at SUSD – just so you don’t feel that life is one long, tiresome battle with a dense, obstructive steward – please accept the WSC Website of the Month award for May.

From WSC 219 May 2005. What was happening this month