When Brisbane Roar took the lead at Hindmarsh on Friday night, a red-shirted supporter at the back of the southern stand received a few puzzled looks because he stood up and clapped.
I explained myself immediately by saying: “Sorry, I love Brett Holman.”
Inevitably in sport favourite players will line up against your team. The likelihood is particularly high in soccer with many supporters being passionate about both club and country.
Holman wore the green and gold with distinction and he should be a Socceroos hero.
And he is to some Aussie fans, but there are two big reasons why he never received the sort of widespread adulation that several other Socceroos of recent years have enjoyed.
Firstly, though he’d made his international debut before it was played, Holman wasn’t selected for Australia’s most celebrated team: the squad for the 2006 World Cup. He was 22 at the time and there were too many talented and more experienced midfielders available.
The other reason is darker. In the run up to the 2010 World Cup finals, Holman’s selection for qualifying matches was routinely attacked on SBS’ soccer website: The World Game.
Despite the naysayers, Holman played some fine games in green and gold before his heroics in South Africa
The main aggressor was Jesse Fink who wrote several anti-Holman pieces. With this sort of subtlety:
“How Holman continues, time and time again, to be picked ahead of Nicky Carle is one of those unfathomable mysteries of the universe that I rank alongside the presidency of George W. Bush and humanity’s failure to find a cure for the common cold.”
Les Murray also asked “what exactly is the key to the mystery of Brett Holman being deemed an international player” while not hiding his delight in seeing Carle included in a provisional squad for the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
A year later Fink left SBS citing editorial interference on the much graver matter of his questioning of Australia’s bid to host the World Cup. That theme continued in a revealing column he published last year entitled “There’s Something About Les”.
But in 2010 Fink and Murray were on a Holman-out-Carle-in unity ticket. Indeed you could have been forgiven for thinking that there was an editorial policy about Holman when six members of The World Game team chose their own World Cup squads a month before the tournament and only one selected the player who’d go on to star in South Africa.
(The dissenter was a journo called Scott McIntyre. I knew then they’d find an excuse to sack him one day.)
I did wonder if the campaign against Holman was tinged with politics. Among the things you could rely on from The World Game were Anglophobia and a love of all things South American.
And the swarthy Nick Carle had an entertaining playing style that matched his South American heritage. How outrageous that he might be denied while the World Cup squad could include a straggly-haired artisan whose middle name is Trevor.
By the end of June 2010, Brett Holman’s place in Socceroos history was guaranteed. He scored two of Australia’s three goals at that year’s World Cup, including a stunning strike which gave the Aussies a 2-0 lead over Serbia and brief hope of qualifying for the next round.
He and Tim Cahill are the only players to have scored more than one goal for Australia at FIFA World Cup tournaments. And Holman’s tally of 63 caps puts him 13th on the Socceroos’ all time list.
I had already been a fan for years. Despite the naysayers, Holman played some fine games in green and gold before his heroics in South Africa. And he went in to that tournament after a good season with his Dutch club AZ Alkmaar (which included playing in the UEFA Champions League) and improving form in pre-World Cup matches with the Socceroos which featured a well taken goal against New Zealand and an impressive performance against Denmark.
And Holman still made important contributions when he wasn’t scoring or providing goal-scoring opportunities. He was always working hard to dispossess defenders and made intelligent runs that dragged them out of position. While other players would profit from this, critics would focus on a missed chance or errant pass.
Some fans have come around and recognised that you couldn’t achieve what Holman did for the Socceroos – and spend 14 years as a professional overseas – without being a top player.
He still has a lot of detractors (goodness, there was some bile on social media when Brisbane signed him in September) because dynamite won’t budge myopic fans after they’ve made their minds up.
And soccer remains one of the most unfriendly sports for individual player statistics. That makes it easier for supporters to dismiss the ones they’ve already formed a view about.
Holman’s goal at Hindmarsh was his first after his return to league competition in Australia and the long-range effort brought back memories of the famous goal against Serbia.
And although it increased Adelaide United’s early season difficulties, I’m glad it happened at a match I attended.
Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.
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