It's not too late to jump on the Australian football bandwagon, writes Jesse Fink.
My redoubtable boss here at SBS Sport, Toby Forage, sent me a link today to a radio interview in which 2GB radio announcer Alan Jones, aka "The Parrot", excoriates Neil Breen, the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, for the story his paper carried on its front page on the weekend: "SOCCEROOS COVER-UP".
I probably don't need to tell you it carried allegations that Tim Cahill, the star Australia midfielder, had been thrown out of a Kings Cross nightclub called Trademark in the wee hours of Friday morning after the Australian Football Awards ceremony on Thursday.
It's been the talk of football circles for the past few days and Cahill, apparently, is considering taking legal action against News Limited, the publisher of the Sunday Telegraph.
"A blind drunk Tim Cahill has shamed Australian soccer on its biggest day by getting kicked out of a Kings Cross nightclub after a fracas with bouncers," the paper thundered.
"Several witnesses told The Sunday Telegraph Cahill got into an altercation at Trademark when he was told to leave because he was 'so drunk he couldn't even stand up'.
"Cahill's disgrace soured the most important fortnight for the game in Australia which is trying to secure either the 2018 or 2022 World Cupâ¦ [the incident] is an unwanted blemish on football's reputation in Australia, where it has largely escaped the nightclub dramas associated with league and Australian Rules in recent years."
Football Federation Australia quickly cleared Cahill of any wrongdoing. The Kings Cross police did not have any issue with what was alleged to have occurred. So Jones, rightly, gives Breen a massive dose of his mind on the issue, ostensibly calling up the editor for his and his reporters' failure to name the names of witnesses to the event quoted in the story.
I won't quote the exchange but it's well worth listening to and doesn't offer much comfort to anyone who might one day get on the wrong side of the Sunday Telegraph.
Breen's defence for his reporters' tactics, which included knocking on the door of Cahill's sister in the middle of the night, and the decision to not name witnesses quoted in the story, is that it was "usual journalistic practice".
Well, god help Australian journalism.
I have expounded on the issue of declining standards in Australian journalism, especially in regard to the Matthew Johns affair, and this is just confirmation that it is getting worse.
Cahill broke no laws. He did not get involved in a fight. He did not piss out a window. He was, according to reliable accounts, asked to leave along with everyone else in the club. He may or may not have been over the limit â who can really say if he was not breathalysed? â but most people are in a pub or bar at any given time.
I live just near Trademark. People are asked to leave the premises at closing time every single night it's open for business. So what is the public interest in the story and why is the Sunday Telegraph reporting it?
The answers are there is none and they should not be. As far as I can see, the Telegraph has impinged on the privacy of a private citizen and essentially defamed him and his sport with no real evidence to support the allegations made against him.
I'm not the only person to have noticed the barrage of invective directed at Australian football that has come out of News Limited in the past seven days. Indeed I wrote about it last week in my column for The Roar.
And when they're not dishing out bile against football they're writing, well, nothing about it at all. I picked up the Daily Telegraph the other day to read with my morning coffee and was hoping to find some coverage of the FIFA Confederations Cup, the massive football tournament that is taking place in South Africa at the moment and which I am writing daily columns on for ESPN in Asia, such is the interest in the tournament in our region.
Not one word.
What exactly is News Limited's problem with football? Is it because they have so much money invested in rugby league, a game that is falling apart? Is it because their executive sports editor, Phil Rothfield, hates football? (I do not know if he does or not, but from the tenor of his recent comments about the game he doesn't seem to like it an awful lot.) Or is it because it's a game they simply can't get their heads around through their own ignorance of its history and its geographical and economic reach?
Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for the campaign it appears to have been waging against football, a campaign that has now ensnared one of Australia's biggest stars, Cahill.
Football is open to everyone: men, women and children of all ages, colour and creed. It is a celebration of the richness of our world and the people who inhabit it. If News Limited didn't have such a closed view of that world, it might appreciate its beauty, too, and share in the joy that comes from being a part of this wonderful global sport.
Instead it keeps its head in the proverbial sand, only to occasionally emerge to snipe and complain about something it knows absolutely nothing about.
The football family will still welcome you with open arms, News Limited, but the goodwill is starting to fade.
:: For more Fink musings on the big issues in football, check out Half-time Orange on The World Game.