2015 was an interesting year in football and even though I have not touched on everything that happened, I have tried to touch on many of the highs and of course lows.
The year started off very slowly and prior to the 2015 Asian Cup the Socceroos had won 1 match in 12, lost to Qatar and Japan and the Socceroos were at the mercy of a disillusioned public.
The beginning of January marked the arrival of the best teams in Asia for the Asian Cup. If you remember there was the intrigue and mystery over the arrival of Korea DPR who failed to notify anybody of their whereabouts. Their camp location was kept a secret and we were later to find out that their coach Yun Jong-Su was banned for a year because of an outburst directed at AFC officials at the Asian Games.
Later that month we were introduced to Ange Postecoglou’s new look Socceroos, at the time ranked 79th in the world, who defeated an under strength Kuwait (4-1) in a dubious sell-out crowd in Melbourne. Having lost their previous few matches and conceding 19 goals, it was pleasing to see the Australians come away with a win, but more importantly it was pleasing to see the rise of Massimo Luongo among others, much to the disappointment of some regular long time team members.
The critics, including Interviewer Eddie Maguire referred to Australia hosting the 2015 AFC Asian Cup as a possible 'lemon’, suggesting that Football Federation Australia and it’s organising committee were incompetent.
There were the reports that Foxtel were not broadcasting poor refereeing decisions and reports of inflated crowd numbers for some matches, but after the debacle of the 2022 World Cup bid it was time that the FFA and the organising committee got one right and this they did. The 2015 Asian Cup, by all accounts, was a success!
The Socceroos started their 2015 Asian Cup campaign and Postecoglou kept to his word with regard to playing an exciting attack minded football and reinstated his 4-3-2-1 and it was exciting football to watch.
Contrary to what the AFC Asian Cup organising committee had us believe, the AFC Asian Cup didn’t go unscathed from controversy. Before the tournament even started there were allegations of corrupt dealings with regard to FIFA and the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid, highlighted in Michael Garcia’s report.
At times it felt like Sydney was Iran’s home ground with almost 23,000 Iranian Australian citizens supporting Team Melli in the AFC Asian Cup.
The atmosphere was tremendous and Iranian player Ashkan Dejagah, described the environment as “just like Tehran”.
However, true to the Australian way we embraced the colour, culture and atmosphere as something truly special and sitting up in the press box watching the spectacle develop before my eyes was a treat.
At one point it was reported that Football Federation Australia and the AFC Oraganising Committee enticed fans to purchase tickets quickly as there were only 10,000 seats left for the Melbourne opener against Kuwait, when in actual fact the stadium only held 30,000, so one third was still available.
Alan Perrin, the coach of China, slammed competition organisers for the condition of the pitch at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane after it had recently been relayed and Japan’s manager, Javier Aguirre, was named by Spain’s anti-corruption prosecutor about his role in a Spanish match fixing inquiry. Needless to say, Aguirre didn't hold his position for long after that, even though the power brokers in Japan said were fully supportive of him.
A 12 year-old boy, sitting behind the goal at the China-Saudi Arabia match, told the Chinese keeper to dive left, keeper, Wang Delei did so, saving the penalty and ensuring a 1-0 victory for China. Wang Delei took his shirt and gave it to the boy after the match.
Finally, the Socceroos were proudly crowned kings of Asia after so much criticism from the Australian public and Postecoglou had finally silenced his critics.
The Matildas were ranked tenth in the world, and where other nations websites and newspapers were full of news of the upcoming World Cup, the Australian press were shamefully silent.
It was reported that coverage of women’s sport had actually gone backwards in the previous 4 years and a report by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) reported that in Australia, women’s sport accounted for only 7 percent of total television coverage and 6 percent of written news coverage; this was compounded by the ABC’s forthcoming axing of the W-League. It was reported by the Women in sport Broadcasting Analysis that horse racing received more television air time than women’s sport.
In February, the Matildas played in a tri mini-series against trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and DPR Korea in Auckland. The Australians started off their preparations with a solid performance against DPR Korea defeating them 2-1 in a fast paced, frantic midfield battle.
Stajcic kept an open mind with his squad selections bringing youngsters like 19 year old Larissa Crummer and 16 year old Alex Chidiac into the fold. In March, they flew to Europe for the Cyprus Cup, an unsanctioned FIFA invitational event, to provide the Australians with the much needed match fitness prior to the Women’s World Cup. Sam Kerr was not available for the tournament because of knee rehabilitation after an injury picked up in the W-League Finals.
Stagcic had been in and around the Matildas for some time, so it was pleasing to see him get the nod over 50 applicants for the top job and especially former England Women’s coach Hope Powell for the position.
The feeling in the Matildas camp was a positive one with most of the players having been coached by Stajcic at club or with the Young Matildas previously. Stajcic went about building a solid foundation and a positive culture in the squad.
In April Perth Glory’s CEO Jason Brewer was asked to resign after Football Federation Australia issued the club with its second show-cause notice for salary cap breaches.
A-League chief Damien De Bohun said that investigations taking place since February had revealed serious concerns about Glory’s compliance with the salary cap and the amount of the alleged breaches placed the Glory significantly over the $2.55 million cap.
In an unprecedented move an Iranian Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports official announced that women and their families would be allowed to attend football stadiums in Iran in the future. The decision to lift the ban however, had to be confirmed by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, but due to the international condemnation and whispers of boycotting Iran matches, the issue would be considered.
In April the government of China announced an overall plan to boost the popularity and development of football within its borders. First and foremost was is its plan to remove the Chinese Football Association (CFA) from the National Sports Bureau to eliminate bureaucracy from Chinese football. The reform involved change at all levels of the sport including professional leagues, national teams and grass roots. Grass roots development became one of the most important priorities and was to become part of the school curriculum at over 20 thousand primary and secondary schools around China.
In May, despite the dawn raids and the arrest of a number of FIFA officials on charges of bribery, money laundering and corruption Sepp Blatter defied the scandal to win a fifth term as President of FIFA. Football Federation Australia (FFA) voted for Sepp Blatter’s rival Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein after the corruption scandal despite being caught up in alleged bribery allegations themselves.
Sepp Blatter resigned as president of FIFA amid a mounting corruption scandal that engulfed the world football's governing body. He was later banned for eight years and fined 50,000 Franks, but has vowed to appeal.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) announced its Whole of Football Plan (WOFP), a vision shared by Frank Lowy and David Gallop in an effort to guide revenue, development and entice fans to the game. As part of the Whole of Football Plan the FFA hoped to increase its ‘football community’ to 15 million or approximately 50 percent of the population by 2035.
The number of qualifiers increased from 16 to 24, including eight from Europe in the 2015 Women's World Cup. The Australian Matildas were grouped with the USA, Sweden and Nigeria in Group D labelled as the ‘Group of Death’ by the wold’s media, but they proved to be tenacious dispensing with Nigeria, Sweden and then 7th ranked Brazil, in the knockout stage, to go through to the quarter-finals, only to finally lose to Japan 1-0 in the semi-finals.
The tournament favourites the USA finally won the Women's World Cup convincingly defeating Japan 5-2 in the final.
In June the Pararoos, Australia’s Paralympic Football team, were defeated by Paralympic gold medallists Russia, and as a consequence were eliminated from the knock-out stages of the CP World Football Championships in England.
Eighteen months previously the Pararoo’s funding had been demolished by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and Football Federation Australia under the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) ‘Winning Edge’ policy, but after a public outcry and support from a number of media outlets like Channel 10’s, The Project, Football Federation Australia were coerced into revitalising the program. Long time Assistant Coach Kai Lammert was appointed to the Head Coaches position.
In July FIFA vice President Jeffrey Webb agreed to be extradited to the US and taken into custody by the FBI and escorted to New York where he was brought before a judge in Brooklyn.
Webb, a citizen of the Cayman Islands, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. He had been provisionally banned from his posts at FIFA and CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association.
Fairfax reported former FFA corporate affairs manager Bonita Mersiades was flown to the United States to speak confidentially with FIFA investigator Michael Garcia about how Australia sought to win votes during the World Cup bidding process.
The focus of Garcia's investigation into Australia's bid centred on FFA's interaction with disgraced FIFA officials Jack Warner and Reynald Temarii. It was reported that Australia had delivered the money into a Caribbean bank account controlled by Warner to upgrade a stadium in his native Trinidad and Tobago.
In November, the Matildas took strike action against the FFA and refused to travel to play against the US national team, demanding a pay increase. With the support of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) the FFA gave into demands increasing the base pay to $41,000 per year.
In November Steven Lowy succeeded his father Frank Lowy, as Chairman of Football Federation Australia despite some club officials critising the Board for allegedly overlooking a number of other suitable candidates.
Finally, at the beginning of December the FFA banned fans from A-League matches with no right of appeal. 198 fans were named and shamed after a News Corp leak causing members to boycott matches. After a four hour meeting with supporters groups the FFA agreed to change its policy and make evidence available to fans through an independent appeals process.
Happy New Year!
By Paul Brown
Do you have football news? Contact Paul Brown firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Paul on Twitter @Brown9Paul