I recently made the eight hour trip to watch Real Madrid vs AS Roma. After the disaster of buying the wrong bus ticket, Grace and I finally go to the MCG and found our seats to what should have been a fantastic spectacle. Two years ago, I watched Liverpool play Melbourne Victory at the very same stadium. I imagined how all the stars of Real Madrid would dazzle and amaze. I was finally there!
But how wrong I was.
Despite a promising first ten minutes, the game descended into a training match for both teams. Roma put on a great demonstration of parking the bus (with the occasional run by an standout Gervinho) while the Los Blancos probably decided it was too cold to try. While they displayed fantastic possession and ability to bring a ball down, the game was “aburrido” (or “noioso” for the Roma fans).
Thirty minutes in, the legend Francesco Totti came off. Fair enough. He was probably the oldest on the pitch and the MCG was a bit chilly. I’m hoping someone had a cappuccino on hand for him.
Ronaldo entertained with some stepovers and one-twos with Marcelo but the world’s best player wasn’t exactly at his best. However, the biggest insult was at half time. The announcer either forgot or feareda mass exodus. Ronaldo was not on the pitch at half time.
Gasps and whispers could be heard around the MCG.
“I paid eighty bucks and caught a bus to this hipster town to watch Ronaldo do step overs for forty five minutes?!”
Well, that’s what I was saying.
Five minutes later, Bale was off. The Norwegian wizard kid Odegaard also came off. The highlights for the rest of the game consisted of people trying to fly paper airplanes on the pitch. Rightfully so, both teams were booed off the pitch. Both teams were on their way out before being reminded there was meant to be a penalty shootout. I’m thankful that there wasn’t going to be extra time played.
Roma were marginally better than the superstars of Madrid in the shootout. Grace and I went to find that Ramen place so the trip wasn’t a complete waste of time.
So what went wrong? How could one of the world’s biggest football clubs in one of the world’s greatest stadiums fail to entertain a healthy crowd of eighty thousand? There could be a million reasons but I reckon they can be summarised with one short statement.
Both clubs expected the Australian crowds to be as loud and passionate as the ones in Europe.
Big mistake. It almost seemed like both clubs expected that a Melbournian crowd to suddenly turn up with flags and shirts (fair enough, they tried to sell some before the game) because you know, it’s Real Madrid after all? Did the club think that they were so big that they could fly to the other side of the world without active support team or any strategy to get the atmosphere going? Granted, the crowd (which I accept, was part of) was shit but a billion dollar company should be able to remedy that.
Compare to Liverpool’s and Chelsea’s recent (and ongoing) adventure to Australia. Both teams didn’t assume the brand following and both teams did all they could to get people excited. People turned up in blue for the Chelsea-Sydney FC game in Sydney while Brisbane and Adelaide were painted red for Liverpool. Songs were taught and an atmosphere was created, not assumed. Great atmosphere, still an average game, but you don’t see the Sydney Morning Herald coming up with this headline for those games:
Either the Italian and Spanish clubs are too broke to afford proper a PR strategy or just plain stupid and ignorant when it comes to traveling. Showing up with your half assed players might work in China where the pinnacle of sporting entertainment is when the best looking boy in the village can kick a ball, but in Australia, football is not even second best so don’t expect people to be swooning over nothing. In China, Ronaldo could defecate on the field and still get man of the match by the Chinese commentators. But in Australia, there are too many different sports and games that the people love for football to assume that everyone is going to love the game and get passionate for people halfway across the world.
If any of the clubs did their research (or had the budget for it), they would have realised that we are in the middle of the NRL and AFL season. As it pains me to say it, even a game between second place of the Spanish league and second place of the Italian league isn’t going to be more appealing that a local derby matches that were on offer during that week. Then There’s the Ashes going on at the moment in England, with Australia and England one apiece. There’s also the Tour De France with Tasmanian Richie Porte supporting the loveable Chris Froome.
It’s so sad that Melbourne was subjected to the flop that was on Saturday. Australian football has been on a high after a great A League season and a very successful locally hosted Asian Cup. It doesn’t shame me to say that, Qatar vs UAE in Canberra was far more exciting and engaging than Saturday’s game (granted that a competitive fixture will always be more exciting than a friendly). Australians know football can do better but when you charge a least eighty dollars for people to watch superstars flop around, peopel can forget quite quickly what football is all about.
What’s my concluding point? When you have a game that is as forgettable and mundane as that in the MCG on Saturday, people will compare it to what else is going on. When that happens, football once again gets ridiculed for being boring and irrelavant. Cue Simpsons quote.