Thursday, July 26, 2007


Seling the Asian Cup Final

Take the goal of the tournament. The match of the tournament. Throw in the most exciting moment or indeed the most heartbreaking moment of the tournament, add the gooey inside story of the tournament and stir. What you end up is Saudi Arabia v Iraq. Looking at the names on the respective teamsheets and you're looking at a mouth watering clash between a couple of teams who play in one direction. Forward. The game should be a sell out?

Not a hope. I've been talking to people at work and they're not interested. Some might have gone had South Korea, the goal machine from the Korean peninsula, reached the final. More would have gone had Takahara been more lethal in the box against the Saudis. But Saudi and Iraq? Thanks, but no thanks.

I see where people are coming from. Remember here people support something because it's famous. Fame is associated with success and they want to be linked with success as if some of that success shines on them by association. The subtleties of the game are overlooked as people seek the glamour they see in the media. South Korea, Japan, they are successful. They are sexy. They are known. The J League is shown live here, I don't know what kind of figures it gets, and there is fleeting coverage in the local media but for most the spotlight shines on the players who grace foreign leagues. Park playing for Manchester United creates a minor awareness of Korean football.

Saudi and Iraq are not sexy. There is no glamour in teams where people don't recognise names, or brands. Forget the fact that Malek's second goal against Japan was as good as anything you're gonna see this year. He plays for Al Alhi but no one out of Saudi or the Gulf area has a scooby who they are. Al Qahtani's finish for their first was a classic poacher's finish but who cares? He plays for Al Hilal which is pretty much an anagram of Malek's club and who supports anagrams?

Local football fans go week in week out to support their local team be it Persita Tangerang or Persiter Ternate. Mostly from lower income backgrounds they identify with their team. Their country. The wealthier middle class look down on local football, they seek the status of following a team on a distant shore that has frequent success. They aren't in the habit of attending football matches unless they head off to England or Italy. The local stuff is beneath them. Nowhere is there a culture of people going to watch a football match from the neutral standpoint. The middle class perceive the local game to be full of riots and disorder so they have no opportunity to get into the habit of watching football. Their knowledge comes from what they read and see about their favourite foreign club. They assume because Chelsea have won a couple of trophies they are famous. They assume because they have never heard of Al Alhi they are a waste of time. Even when they see with their own eyes end to end football with plenty of goal mouth action, great saves and wonderful goals it doesn't matter. They'd rather stay home and watch a rerun of the 2007 FA Cup Final yawn fest because it's familiar to them and the teams are famous.

This surely has to be the challenge for the AFC and the National FA's across the region. How to entice the armchair fan away from the comfort of their living room and onto the terraces and enjoy the spectacle of football as it should be. Live, in the flesh. Before the tournament started surely people knew sme games would be poorly attended. God, I highlighted it here more than once, surely the organisers must have known. Saudi and Bahrain had 500 people in Palembang! 500 people at a crucial international football match?! Why wasn't this type of scenario foreseen? I appreciate the FA's make what profit they can from gate receipts but surely something could have been done about those empty seats? They make the stadium an eyesore and the lack of atmosphere detracts from the game as a spectacle. Football needs fans, it needs to create a culture where going to a match is as normal as going to a local warung for a feed and to get people in the habit of going to football we need to start them young. Children. How many schools are there in and around the Palembang stadium? Approach the schools, lay on transport and fill some seats. Get kids used to the stadium and the game as a live experience. Enthused kids grow old and start blogs (!) and encourage others to get down the stadium. Sunday's final I'm going with half a dozen people who never set foot inside a stadium. Start with the kids and maybe one day we'll have a generation of football fans who will, like me, be looking forward to a gung ho match between two sides packed with quality players who play the game in the right spirit (mostly! we'll forget about the Saudi keeper and his breakdancing fish impression) and will be excited by previously unknown players showing their wares on the global stage.


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