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A review of Football Belongs – Australia’s football history

Football Belongs is an exploration into the passion of the people who make up the World Game within Australia. Featuring interviews with football aficionados, players and coaches, the documentary is an excellent reminder of how the immigrant communities have contributed to the success and survival of football in Australia, but also to the national identity as well.

The strength of the documentary lays in its vast catalogue of interviews. Countless legends of the game describe how football clubs and the communities that underpin them have contributed to their lives. The insight from these interviews – over 150 in total – reveal how these football clubs became bastions of their respective ethnic communities. “It’s not about football, it’s about getting people together” is the quote that most perfectly encapsulates the heart of this film.

One of the greatest successes of Football Belongs is its authenticity. Anybody who has spent time around a football club in Australia, particularly any ethnic club, will feel instant nostalgia. The culture these clubs create, the memories they form, and the players they develop can’t be ignored. Nobody ever forgets the feasts these football clubs put on after (and during) a game.

Rarely will you see a production on Australian football that has so much respect for the rich achievements of Australian football pre-2006 World Cup. From coaches and players from Australia’s first-ever World Cup in 1974 to mainstays from clubs that haven’t been on the national stage since the National Soccer League, the documentary shows reverence to an often-overlooked history.

A common sentiment from the countless people interviewed is that their lives would not have been as rich, or their careers as successful, without the clubs that form the Australian football community. Socceroos coach Graham Arnold talks about the impact that Sydney United, and its Croatian community, had on him after the loss of his mother. Mark Bresciano, John Aloisi, and Sasa Ognenovski – great servants to the game in Australia – discuss their upbringing in the game and the careers that followed. Others describe how football allowed them to experience different cultures and experiences, for their betterment.

While watching Football Belongs, it was an ecstatic surprise to see a young Jackson Irvine scoring goals for Ringwood City, wearing the same kit that I played in as a 13-year-old boy. Seeing a club I spent so many hours of my formative years at, having played there from under 14s through to the senior team, in such an important time of Australian football history was a beautiful moment.

One of its most impactful moments comes in the finale, when Indigenous footballer and artist John Moriarty is interviewed. He describes how he was accepted through football in a point in history where he had no rights in his own country, after experiencing the direct impacts of being a part of the Stolen Generation. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to highlight the multiculturalism that sustains the world game in Australia.

This review barely covers the countless number of interviews within Football Belongs. The team behind it has delved deep into footballing history while highlighting the roots that were formed in the past that remain today. Football Belongs is a love letter to the multiculturalism that has helped not just the world game, but Australia as a whole. It is without doubt essential viewing for those who love football, and it is truly a part of Australian footballing history.

Football Belongs can be viewed on Optus Sport. You can also read more about the making of the documentary here.

10 ViacomCBS Executive Producer Geoff Bullock: Bringing a fan-first approach

Fans

10 ViacomCBS’ concerted efforts to aid in the revitalisation of Australian football over the last few months has stirred a largely positive response from the passionate Australian fanbase. The extensive coverage seen across Channel 10’s news networks and various social media channels speaks volumes of the broadcaster’s dedication to help football reach its lofty potential.

The clarity provided by a primary broadcaster who is aligned in its passion for the game, coupled with the governing bodies, is undeniably promising for football going forward.

Geoff Bullock has been a vital part of our collective matchday experience of Australian football since his beginnings at Fox Sports as a Producer for for football in 2006. Bullock has certainly ridden all of the highs and lows that have come with being an adherent of the game like the rest of us.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, the current Executive Producer for football at ViacomCBS gave us insight into the strategic direction, plans and thinking behind the new broadcasting home.

Football home

What has it been like taking on this project of 10 ViacomCBS being the home of all things Australian football? Have you always had an interest in football?

Geoff Bullock: I’ve been involved in football since I was about four, playing for the Gosford City Dragons with my dad as the coach. So, it’s always been my number one sport for the past 15 years as I’ve been lucky enough to be working on the broadcast of Australian football. And now to get to do it at Channel 10 for a new era is really exciting.

It’s just good to be involved when there’s a fresh start for football on the horizon. And I’m just excited about the role that we can play to hopefully energise football in Australia.

How is the 10 ViacomCBS production team looking to differentiate how football will be presented in comparison to any previous broadcaster’s time in charge of Australian football?

Geoff Bullock: What we want to do is provide a fan-first approach to broadcasting football here. And with the two platforms in Channel 10 and Paramount+ it gives us – in addition to the live broadcast – the opportunity to offer replays on-demand, mini matches and highlights for A-League Men and Women’s. That includes the Socceroos and Matildas internationals, which we’ve been broadcasting on 10 and 10 Bold and putting mini-matches on 10 Play.

I think it allows viewers to digest football in different ways to what they maybe traditionally have. We’ll also preview and review all of the games with our team as well. Each game will have a preview and review show attached, which allows our experts to dive in and give viewers a deeper look. And we’ll do some magazine shows and podcasts through the week as well to provide extra content.

The other thing I’m excited about is that we’re looking to do a deeper stats dive than we’ve done before. So, there’ll be greater insights on potential players and matches that we’ll be able to get from the deeper stats dive.

Traditionally, for the domestic game whilst they have been comprehensive in terms of milestones and players, we’ve never really taken the leap to include expected goals, pass mapping and possession mapping. That’s the territory I’m hoping we can get into for the A-League which will take it to a new level.

AL

Within the envisioned coverage, what areas of football are being focused on as its key points of difference in comparison to other sporting codes? How valuable do you believe embracing active support is?

Geoff Bullock: I think COVID-19 has shown how important it is to have fans at the game. Whether we’re in the stands or watching on TV, we know what we’re missing when the atmosphere isn’t there. It’s just a massive game-changer at the venue and on TV to have that buzz of the crowd at the games. I can’t wait to have that back.

And I think it’s even more important with football than other sports because of the unique nature of active support. It provides a soundtrack for the game that we’ve missed. The interesting contrast is probably the Euros where we finally got some crowds back at games and it was a massive lift.

That’s so important for us to take advantage of, that active support. We’re trying to provide a fan-friendly experience as well. We’ve worked hard with the APL to provide two fan-friendly Saturday 7:45pm timeslots, so that fans are able to get to more games that are on at a better time.

We’re looking forward to covering active support in the broadcast as well when we can. It’s no doubt been a while since we’ve seen a massive Wanderers march to the stadium which was always huge in the broadcast. Seeing that amount of people marching to the ground definitely provides a sense of occasion and anticipation before the game. It makes people want to stick around and watch.

March to stadium

We’ve seen football over the last few months covered extensively on Channel 10’s news and socials. What are some examples of the strategies being taken to entice younger social media savvy modern audiences?

Geoff Bullock: Quite a few strategies are in place, like our Saturday night coverage is going to be built around a multi-screen experience with those two simultaneous matches that I mentioned on Channel 10 and Paramount+. This is being done with the younger fans in mind.

Football fans, as we know, are accustomed to basically consuming their content on multiple devices. I believe a lot of people in that under-30 age bracket very rarely watch any kind of TV or stream without their phone in their hand.

So, we’re going to build the Saturday night around that multi-screen experience where you’ll be able to watch a game on 10 and on your device with Paramount+. It’ll be a chance for those fans to be across all the highlights and talking points from two games live as it happens.

We’re also exploring a few solutions that might allow us to scale up a separate coverage on a Saturday night that will deliver alternate commentary across the split-screen experience of those two games. That’s something that we’re going to work towards as the season unfolds, and also potentially a social media or influencer-driven commentary stream which we’ll look to do.

With the deep-dive stats that I mentioned earlier they’ll be going out on our social media platforms as well. That’s something that will allow those younger fans to engage in more analytical discussions around football. When you talk to young football fans, you find that there’s not much about the game that they aren’t across, and I think this will give them more of an opportunity to talk more in-depth about Australian football rather than the default of European football.

I think that’s one of our big challenges, to try and engage football fans in Australian football in the same way that they’re engaging with European football. And I’m hoping that if we can bring our level of detail up to the same sort of standards that fans are seeing overseas, then hopefully that will help them to switch on to the local game.

MVC

In terms of coverage beyond matchdays, are there plans to produce content that dives deeper into Australian football and its various stakeholders (clubs, fans, players)?

Geoff Bullock: Definitely. I think part of the strategy that we’ve been talking about is not taking Australian football fans for granted. Basically, bringing our coverage up to the standard that they’d expect. We want to give them the experience that they deserve based off their level of intellectual buy-in to the game.

Young fans here in Australia commit very heavily. You just look at the hours they have to stay up at night to watch these teams overseas. They’re committed to learning about these teams that aren’t even on their doorstep.

I think we need to match that in our level of commitment to them to be able to deliver that. With the APL we’ll be delivering features and exclusive content across broadcast, digital and social media platforms that will give them that detail of the local game – both the A-League Men’s and Women’s – that will allow them to basically have that same sort of intellectual connection that they should have. Because these are the clubs that are actually here and that means they can support them in the stands week-in week-out.

Fans here in Australia can get so much closer to the stars of these teams, like they’re far more accessible than they are in any other league. The access for these fans is so much different to what it is for some stars overseas and that’s what we want to encourage. We want fans to know that they’re amongst their heroes at these clubs.

World Cup qualifiers

Australian football has undoubtedly seen some rollercoaster times in recent years. Why do you believe now is a critical time for 10 Viacom CBS to get involved in football?

Geoff Bullock: It’s ridden a few waves that’s for sure. We all know it’s had its ups and downs based on national team performance and marquee players in the league, but it’s never really had a long-term sustained period of growth. Particularly over the last couple of years the popularity of the competitions has dropped off.

So, I think the timing of a longer-term broadcast deal with free-to-air exposure really couldn’t have come at a better time. And the fact that that deal has come along at the same time as the unbundling of the A-League from Football Australia (FA), it should provide clubs with a bit of confidence to invest further in the game and hopefully that’ll provide a better, more marketable product. Not only whistle-to-whistle but off the pitch as well.

I think there’s now an opportunity, like there never really has before, for the clubs to back themselves and have a crack. And maybe we’re starting to see that with Perth Glory getting Daniel Sturridge on board, which is a huge boost.

There’s always a bit of a knock-on effect when you’ve got these big stars signing for a club and suddenly there’s clubs looking over their shoulder not wanting to be left behind. The building blocks are there for a really exciting season, and with a number of clubs with spots to fill hopefully they follow the lead that the Glory have taken and they have a go.

Daniel Sturridge

How can 10 Viacom CBS help to capitalise on interest and grow women’s football leading into and following the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Geoff Bullock: It’s exceptionally exciting. The World Cup is going to be massive here in Australia. But the one thing we always know in Australia about having a tournament on home soil is that people get behind it. We saw how Australia embraced the Asian Cup back in 2015. Particularly with a lot of Asian teams we don’t traditionally get behind. So with a World Cup it’s going to be even bigger.

The women’s game is really important to us. I think everybody is aware in Australia it is the fastest growing asset within football. And we’re going to treat A-League Women’s exactly the same as we treat the Men’s. The same sort of program will be structured around each game. Our best commentators and experts will work across both competitions, so you’ll hear Simon Hill calling A-League Women’s matches as well as A-League Men’s.

We’re massively excited about the Matildas returning to play some games on home soil in October. But we’ll also be tracking it because we’ve got the Women’s Asian Cup starting in January early next year. And we’ll have programming around those games and that competition which will be hosted in India, so the kick-off times will be pretty decent for an Australian audience. So, it might really work well with the A-League still going on here. In that period, it will be a frenzy of football which is pretty exciting.

WWC 2023

Lalor United FC to receive multi-million dollar makeover at HR Uren Reserve

Lalor United FC are set to benefit from a multi-million dollar facility upgrade at HR Uren Reserve, the club’s home ground in Thomastown.

Under the upgrade plans, the club will receive a new synthetic pitch, a new pavilion – which will include a multi-purpose social space and a notable carpark extension.

Lalor have been pushing for these upgrades for a number of years – according to vice president of the club Emil Atanasov, with the local Whittlesea City Council providing significant support which included funding for the project.

Speaking to Soccerscene, Atanasov explained the timeline for the implementation of the upgrades.

“Stage One of the project is to put in a brand-new artificial FIFA approved pitch,” he said.

“The pitch that is currently there now hasn’t been touched since 1979. Construction on that will start any day now – when more of the construction workers get back to work and will be ready by March of next year.

“As soon as that’s done in March, the works for the pavilion should begin.

“The brand-new pavilion will have a social space for the club and local communities. The tender process for that should be going out shortly, but it should be assigned and ready to go in March.

“Finally with the carpark, works could possibly begin the same time as the pavilion, or they are going to wait for the pavilion to get completed to get going on it.”

Atanasov believes the much-needed changes to the facility will bring in a range of benefits for the club, but also to the local community.

“It’s huge for the club, as now you will be able to play all weather football,” he said.

“That pitch used to flood all the time, if there was a bit of rain you couldn’t train on it. Now, there will be no problem for any type of weather.

“We are also expecting a bit of an influx of players to the club because the facilities upgrade is huge for the area.

“With the pavilion, lots of community groups have already said they want to use it, for example dancing groups and pensioner groups.

“We have never had a social space at the club, it’s always been the changerooms converted into a makeshift dining room. So now, finally the club is getting a social space where members can sit down and enjoy themselves with great company.

“That carpark at the moment has around 50 spaces or so and at night it is prone to accidents. With the upgrades they will develop a one-way entrance and exit and there will be triple the amount of space.”

The club itself was established over 40 years ago and has a historic presence in the Thomastown area.

When initially created, Lalor United was inspired by a vision for a broad-based community team, celebrating cultural diversity and sporting passion through football, according to a statement on the club’s website.

Atanasov stated that the club’s core mission is to provide “a safe, fun, football environment for anyone who wants to play the game.”

This type of motto has led to Lalor becoming one of the largest clubs in the City of Whittlesea municipality, with more than 300 members signed up across a wide range of teams.

The club has ambitions for further upgrades in the future, which will look to hopefully grow their culturally diverse membership base even further.

“Look upgrades wise, we’d like our lights updated eventually so we can play night matches and attract a few more teams at the club,” Atanasov said.

“But for now, we are focusing on the current upgrades and once they are done, we will be all set and ready to go.”

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