Saturday, September 17, 2005

Emotions high as Australians join Asian Confed

Les Murray, doyen of Australian football writers, describes the emotional entry of the Football Federation Australia, lead by its chairman, Frank Lowry, into the Asian Football Confederation:

"That afternoon the AFC had an extraordinary congress, a full gathering of its numerous members, a rainbow of copious cultures and races, spanning the Red Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its main event was the formal and ceremonial acceptance of Australia, its first member with a predominantly European culture, as one of its own.

"The AFC president, Mohamed Bin Hammam, made Australia’s northward migration the focal point of his introductory speech, welcoming Australia to the Asian football family. It was football as a force in uniting cultures violently at work.

"Sepp Blatter, with typical wit, made the point that World Cup 2006 may have as many as six participants from Asia: Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran (all of whom have already qualified), Uzbekistan or Bahrain, and Australia (which by then will be an AFC member). That would give Asia a bigger representation than any other confederation except Europe.

"When the question was put there was not one dissention to the proposal. The AFC executive’s recommendation to add Australia to its membership was unanimously accepted.

"The Australian flag was raised and Advance Australia Fair was played. An FFA-prepared video rolled, espousing what Australia might bring to Asia and why the marriage might be a rosy one for both spouses.

"Bin Hammam asked Lowy to the stage and the FFA chief, one of the world’s larger and more unflappable business icons, looked as emotional as I have ever seen him in response, almost choking as he spoke of the fulfilment of a dream he had long had for Australia.

"Lowy, of course, is a genuinely attached football fan and, as he spoke, I thought of another, Johnny Warren, quietly wondering what he would have made of all this. At the evening dinner Lowy took his place at the AFC’s top table, at the side of Bin Hammam. A mission had been accomplished, one of the many for which Warren had preached for all those years.

"Another immortal track on that Crosby, Stills and Nash album is titled Helplessly Hoping, opening with the words: ‘Helplessly hoping, her harlequin hovers nearby, awaiting a word. Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit he runs, wishing he could fly, only to trip at the sound of goodbye.’

"The 40-year experience of forlorn dreams for Australia to find a worldly place in football through Oceania is now over. And there is no going back from Marrakesh. We now hope, helplessly, for a new dawn. The future is Asia, says the slogan, and, real or not, we are now part of it."

See also: Australia's parting gift to Oceania Confed (10 Sept)

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