FansVoice: ‘Whether it be his passion for stadiums, the Socceroos or the most bizzare stadium foods locally and across the globe…Les will give you an insight. A dedicated fan who has traversed the world following the Socceroos. From China to Honduras any many places in between, Les has been part of a small group of supporters you can find in the most out of the way places.’ Hear his story…
The Early years…
I grew up in Melbourne. Lived in Sydney on and off for just under ten years and have since returned to Melbourne. I initially grew up as a fanatical Australian rules fan. In my early teenage years, I started a gradual code hop until my total disconnection with the AFL in 1999.
The football flame was first lit during the 1990 World Cup. I grew up in a very monocultural area where soccer wasn’t even part of the conversation. But as this tournament had a game live on TV first thing in the morning, this saw boys from my grade in primary school play on an asphalt netball court during recess and lunch with a tennis ball suddenly pretending they were Gary Lineker or Chris Waddle. Creatively christened ‘wog ball’, these playground games stopped immediately after West Germany lifted the cup, but it wet the appetite for things to come.
The two pivotal moments I can pinpoint were the release of the Futera NSL trading cards circa 1994 and the Bruce Grobbelaar match fixing scandal of the same period.
I used to always watch On the Ball and the midweek NSL highlights show on SBS, even taping on VHS sometimes, but never had anyone to take me to games so I was just a TV fan. When those cards came out my interest in the league was piqued even though it would still be a few years until I started going to games.
Same goes for watching the Premier League highlights show where I had developed a liking for Southampton through the exploits of Matt Le Tissier and their kit of that era which I thought was a standout. The extra attention on the club with TV cameramen perched in trees taking secret footage during the Grobbelaar revelations sort of solidified my support for that club.
My earliest memory is the 1985 Intercontinental Play-Off between the Socceroos and Scotland. However, for some reason, I cannot remember the 1986 World Cup at all.
The other early memories are a Newcastle vs Southampton game from the mid-80s when ABC had the rights, and an NSL game from Gabbie Stadium between Blacktown and someone, and Sunshine George Cross against someone from Chaplin Reserve. I can still remember Ossie Latif playing but nobody else!
A combination of SBS losing TV rights and the advent of the A-League during the same 12-months has since seen my interest in overseas football drop to record low levels.
TRAVELLING FOR FOOTBALL
The greatest thing about travelling is getting to see different places through the medium of football. The first time I travelled was when I was 18. I went to the UK by myself just to watch Southampton play.
Before the days of one or no-stop travel from Australia to the UK, my torturous route to England went Melbourne, Adelaide, Denpasar, Jakarta, Bangkok, Frankfurt and finally London Gatwick. My arrival was about six hours late and the journey took close to 40 hours. It was ridiculous even for someone like myself who likes offbeat travel.
On the sector between Bangkok and London, I was seated next to a family from Liverpool who had gone to Perth for a holiday. Turns out a family friend they visited was Paul Strudwick who played for Perth Glory and they went to a few NSL games in Perth.
When I got the customary grilling from UK immigration I was too embarrassed to say that I was over just to watch football, so I made up a story about escaping chronic hay fever in Australia even though I had travelled in January/February…
When I was in London, remembering this was even before the days of net cafes, I somehow concocted a day on public transport where I tried to see at a minimum the light towers of every Premier and Football League ground going in a clockwise circle. The only grounds I missed were Millwall and Barnet.
My first ever Premier League game was Liverpool at Anfield and Southampton won 3-2. Even though Saints won, to say I was underwhelmed by the talked up Anfield matchday experience was an understatement.
But perhaps the biggest story of this experience was that I unknowingly brought a bag of knives into Anfield. For some reason, I travelled with a small zip-up attaché that had something akin to a Swiss Amy knife with all sorts of detachable blades and survival goodies inside but didn’t realise it was in my backpack that I took to the game until after I picked up my main luggage at Lime Street Station that evening.
Other games I went to on that trip were against Coventry and Blackburn Rovers at The Dell and Plymouth Argyle versus York City. It was interesting to note during the Coventry City game I was told off by match stewards for taking photos of the game. Imagine that happening now. It would be an outrage!
I was on a long hiatus until the mid-2000s as life wasn’t all lollies and chocolates during that period but since then I really haven’t stopped.
MOST MEMORABLE PLACE
Tajikistan and Honduras are the clubhouse leaders out of a very close bunch
Most bizarre experience was in Kunming, China. A group of us entered a nightclub, then within a few minutes every female suddenly exited the building and the only remaining patrons were male. Then they came up to us with pieces of paper, napkins, books etc and asked for autographs. They thought we were the Socceroos! Some of the guys were signing as Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill etc whereas I signed as myself.
A personal passion in stadiums has become a major interest.
It all started with drawing football grounds when I was younger on reams of computer paper and jotters, and it stemmed from that. Much talk is about doing the 92 stadiums in England, but I’ve done the Australian and NZ equivalent of sorts which is the 116 grounds used so far for NSL and A-League. Some grounds no longer exist so in those instances I’ve been to the location. As I’m the only person to do it, I have liberty to create my own rules on how I interpret visiting grounds.
I skirted on the fringes of the academic world for several years and I’m now writing a book on the 116 grounds with a projected publication date of 2020.
My most memorable stadium would have to be the old Wembley. It had an aura about it even though facility wise it was a tip. I did a stadium tour the day after I landed in England on that very first trip. Also has significance as my late uncle was a professional speedway rider and later team manager who was there on many occasions.
THE FUTURE OF THE A-LEAGUE
One of the biggest issues is that Australia has the cartel discipline sports model, because it’s backed up by sporting organisations and their clubs over the course of history wanting to keep the power for themselves.
One change I would like to see is more regional round games and more Asian players in the league.
WHATS NEXT ?
I’ve decided to do the semi-final and final of the Asian Cup. Knowing my luck, the Socceroos will be already out by then….(FansVoice: Well called Les…)