Sports

Bandwagon Nation is a loving nation that loves Graham Arnold, old mate, thingy, ory.

Arnold is a sporty analogue of Anthony Albanese: as fashionable as Lowe’s chinos, ground into a hard pebble by years of walking, an unexpectedly good fit for the here and now.

Handling so many relative unknowns was a perceived weakness that Arnold turned into a strength. In anonymity there is unity. Compare these Socceroos with the Golden Generation of 2006, which had many stars, many egos. The current group is more of a Copper Generation, cheaper but functional.

Even the commentators at the first Test in Perth are talking about the world game.Credit:Getty

The contrast to the atmospheric vacuum in which Australia’s cricketers play in Perth is so stark that Arnold’s claim that the Socceroos are our national team seems less like a motivational tool and more like a wind vane. A key moment in the week’s cricket was when the commentators finally gave up on the match they were being paid to watch and started chatting about how much they were enjoying the football.

Some might see that as a form of gatecrashing, exploiting another sport that suddenly garners more attention than theirs. I saw it as the great Australian ecumenical love of sport, pushing its boundaries and bringing everyone in.

It can sometimes be hard to believe, but sport belongs to people and most people just like good sport. They have little interest in those tiresome pee matches between the suits. The NRL and the AFL go head-to-head… zzzzz… If I want something to fall asleep to, I’d rather take an afternoon nap after a night of watching the Socceroos.

It’s not that football needs a successful World Cup campaign to win the battle for entry. Soccer has been winning that game for many years with or without the Socceroos. And in the long run it knows it will be the winner because a generation from now it will still be an ongoing business when concussion becomes a relic, like boxing, of a less informed past. It’s not a question of if, but when.

The atmosphere around today’s Socceroos reminds me of when athletes like Michelle Ford, Debbie Flintoff, Dean Lukin and the Mean Machine won Olympic gold medals for Australia. Few had heard of them before, but they became a household name overnight because a gold medal in the Olympics was so rare and seemed so unattainable.

Everyone Loves A Winner. And There'S Nothing Wrong With That.

Everyone loves a winner. And there’s nothing wrong with that.Credit:Getty

Bandwagon jumping? Sure, when can we continue? Global sports give us perspective by reducing us to our proper size and making the great achievements that much more precious.

When Duncan Armstrong won the 200m freestyle in Seoul in 1988, it was 16 years since an Australian won a gold medal in an Olympic Games attended by all major nations. It mattered, and you feel the Socceroos matter in Qatar in the same way.

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Australians may look inward most of the year, but we have a deep curiosity about our place in the world, a curiosity that can only be satisfied through participation in global competition. The wheels of the bandwagon will come off again, as they always do, but for now it shows genuine appreciation for the achievement of getting anywhere near the top of a global sporting event.

Of course, those who already had posters of Milos Degenek and Aziz Behich on their walls deserve VIP access, whether in Qatar or in Federation Square. They were first with the Socceroos and will be last. But the spirit that Graham Arnold has nurtured is that no one is left out, even those who can’t tell one end of a football from the other. It was a joyful surprise, this ride, and there are 25 million seats.

Watch every game of the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League on Stan Sports. Returns for the Round of 16 in February 2023, with all matches ad-free, live and on demand.

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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