National Soccer League great Andy Harper believes Australian football’s identity crisis stems from a failure to recognise its true origin story.
Speaking on FNR’s If You Know Your History, Harper criticises the second of Football Federation Australia’s XI Principles for not looking deeper and acknowledging the game’s British roots in Australia.
The document, instead, alludes to football being born out of ‘multicultural origins’, something Harper disagrees with.
“My point was that the XI Principles are often quoted with this line that Australian football’s origins are multicultural and they’re not,” Harper said.
“The make-up is intensely, broadly multicultural. In fact, the game needs to re-engage the full breadth of that better than it has.
“Football, when it was transplanted. was purely British in its intent and putting it into a colony like Australia was a British colonial thing. It was to celebrate British culture and played by British and Irish people and it was to promote that world view.
‘’The governing body is now looking for a fresh start, starting a new story, and the starting point for the new story is wrong.”
While the post-war migration out of Europe brought significant value to the game, Harper believes acknowledging the game’s history before this provides a better understanding of its negligence by the powers of the time as an elite sport in Australia
According to Harper, this identity crisis and ignorance has resulted in a longstanding civil war – which finds itself in constant need of a “fresh start” – with people castigating the ‘’last people running football’’ rather asking why the game was left behind in the first place.
“Because of this identity crisis, everyone is in this blame game situation. Firstly, the game wasn’t British enough, and then it was too British. Then post 1950s migration came and it was too European, and more recently we have to get the Europeans out and make it more British, to now where we’re seeming to have this recidivist attitude where we need to get the Anglos out and the exclusive ethnicity back in,’’ Harper said.
“We’ve always said the problem with the game was the last people who were running it and it’s not. The game was ostracised by the colonial power brokers who said this game was not part of the ordained British brotherhood around the world.
“Then when it becomes even more entrenched in the working class, it drives the wedge deeper and further, and in Australia it had no institutional network. Rugby League had the catholic schools, rugby had the private schools and soccer was only there in the protestant churches, which up until recently didn’t have a schools network. This is where the game came unstuck. It’s not a function of someone’s skin colour or language, the wogs [sic] didn’t make it, nor did they ruin it.
“When the NSL was running around with bad politics and no money, it wasn’t their fault. Soccer didn’t fail because it was ethnic, it failed because it was run badly. It’s not a hard case to prosecute.’’
If You Know Your History airs every Thursday from midday on FNR Football Nation Radio.
Listen to the full interview with Andy Harper below (begins at 22:30):