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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

Football Belongs: Why the Optus Sport documentary should be watched by all Australians

Football belongs. In the Australian sports landscape and the everyday lives of many Australians, it belongs. But more important, football is vital in forming the fabric of multiculturalism and diversity in Australia.

That last statement is precisely the message I interpreted from watching Optus Sport's recent documentary Football Belongs.

The one-hour exclusive taps into the vast array of different local NPL clubs in Australia and underlines their vital role in allowing multicultural communities to exist and thrive in this country.

These communities are critical cogs in allowing both past and present migrants to find their place in our society without losing their connection to where they were born or raised.

Many of the past migrants speak throughout the documentary about their experience in integrating within the Australian community.

Many people who weren't even involved in football were interviewed, highlighting how this documentary sent the message that football is just a prism that allows diversity to exist.

Craig Foster put it best when he said that as Australians, we should thank football for its role in facilitating the smooth transition of so many migrants into the country.

Foster spoke brilliantly about the relationship between football and diversity in Australia. (Getty Images)

Whether Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Turkish, Croatian, Albanian, Hungarian and so on, football has achieved a level of acceptance of different cultures that no other sport in the country can rival.

The documentary wasn't about showing how good we are as a sport anyway. Still, it is telling that other codes such as the AFL or NRL have not done anywhere near as much in making a range of different cultures feel welcome through their sports.

Those codes have done a lot more regarding the Indigenous community, an area where football can improve.

But we will always have a place in Australia because of our bonds with several diverse communities.

Who knows, the sport could fold eventually due to a lack of funding or become irrelevant in the Australian sports scene due to its general unpopularity compared to other codes.

But this documentary highlighted that so many out there continue to do what is best for their communities by using their local football clubs to make everyone feel welcome.

The challenge now is to ensure that the term 'everyone' literally encompasses people of all cultures.

St Kilda Celts SC, founded by the Irish community in Melbourne, accept players from all different cultures.

Everyone should head down to any local NPL game and not feel like others will judge them based on their heritage.

In recent years, there have been too many instances where fights and riots break out at local football matches because fans actively defend their cultural upbringing.

Three people were injured in a local NSW NPL match back in April this year at Rockdale between Rockdale Ilinden (a club founded by the Macedonian community) and Sydney United (Croatian community).

Supporters from both sides got involved in a huge fight, with both you'd imagine defending their cultures instead of celebrating them together.

That is fundamentally the message of this documentary. Macedonian or Croatian, we are all Australians.

But through football, the term 'Australian' is now defined as including anyone from any cultural background.

You don't have to be born or raised here or even be educated here. If you're coming to this country from somewhere else, then there should be a place for you within the community.

Furthermore, when other countries look at us as a nation, they should see the acceptance of all different cultures, merging into one unified country.

Ange Postecoglou delivers a speech to the Socceroos in the documentary - when he was coaching them at the 2017 Confederations Cup - that encompasses this message to a tee.

Postecoglou talks about how the players should remember the people that 'made' them, meaning those who constantly supported them throughout their careers no matter what.

The inspiring thing about the speech is that Postecoglou was addressing a squad that was primarily the descendant of migrants.

Therefore, he was essentially saying that when they walk out onto that pitch, they represent all the different communities in the country because those communities shaped them into the footballers they are today.

It is a powerful message, and as someone who is a descendant of migrants into this country myself, I would be lying if I didn't shed a tear or two.

This multiculturalism is still present in our Socceroos squad today too.

Think of Milos Degenek (Serbian descent), Martin Boyle (Scottish) and Aziz Behich (Turkish-Cypriot).

Even Mathew Ryan - who doesn't have a particular cultural background to speak of - spent six years of his junior football career amongst the Italian community at the Marconi Stallions.

Past and present Socceroos might have worn green and gold. But they did so whilst representing the cultural community that made them.

The true identity of the national team lies within the local communities of different cultures at the NPL level.

Using this new lens to view the national team gives me a newfound sense of pride for the Socceroos.

But whether you're a football fan or not, this documentary will genuinely open you up to the importance of diversity and the acceptance of different cultures in this nation.

As we all continue to understand the different aspects of the diversity element, I highly recommend every one of us as Australians watch it.


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