THE newly launched Socceroos active support group has just over three weeks to create an imposing fortress for the first of the final two World Cup qualifiers on home soil.
Terrace Australis will try to turn the tide on falling crowds and lacklustre home end support ahead of the crucial clash with Jordan in Melbourne (June 11) and Iraq in Sydney (June 18).
Football Federation Australia and fans were stung into action after what was described as a “morgue-like” atmosphere at Sydney’s Oman qualifier in March last year.
The game marked a low point for the off-field action when a dispirited crowd of less than 35,000 watched Australia clawback two goals to rescue a point at Stadium Australia.
It marks a remarkable shift in the game’s popularity base with the Socceroos, once the jewel in the FFA crown, now coming a poor second to the rapid rise of the A-League.
With the national team’s quest to make the 2014 World Cup in Brazil resting on a knife’s edge, football fans across the country are being urged to throw their support behind the fledgling group
A forum has been launched and the nuts and bolts of creating tifos and chants are already underway.
On Thursday, fans met in Sydney to discuss a way forward with FFA CEO David Gallop, Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill and former national team great, now Fox Sports commentator, Mark Bosnich.
A similar meeting is planned for Victoria with an eye on the upcoming qualifier, while long term plans include the establishment of state branches.
Marcus Ehrlich offered to help resuscitate the home end after the issue was raised at a fan forum late last year.
Ehrlich who followed the Socceroos journey from the historic qualifier against Uruguay in 2005 to the heroics of Germany in 2006 said there was no sugar coating the dip in fan support.
The Oman match, he said, was a “million miles away” from what he experienced in Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern.
“It was so far from the ideal that I don’t know if it could have got any worse for football,” he said.
“The message (from the FFA) was that this is a clean slate and that they would do whatever they could to assist fans in developing, organically, a national supporters’ group.”
The birth of Terrace Australis has seen the Green and Gold Army (GGA) relinquish its role as a hub for active support. The organisation opened discussions with the FFA about six months and released a statement saying it backed the new group.
Over the past 12 years the GGA has “evolved into a supporters’ network that organises places to meet before and after games, at live venues across Australia and overseas travel”, the statement read.
Adding: “We see this as a great opportunity for all the new active fans who have come into the game to bring the A-League passion and experience to the Australian Home End.”
The new group asked fans to leave their “club colours at the door” and for the most part the response from across the nation has been overwhelmingly positive.
But it has raised the question why the once rapturous support for the Socceroos has fallen so low and the potential long-term implications for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
Fan Sean Herrett said the FFA was warned of the turning tide when supporters let loose on the Socceroos style of play and the cavernous venues chosen for matches which diluted the efforts of home support.
That’s unlikely to improve anytime soon with next month’s qualifiers held at the 55,000 capacity Etihad and 83,000-plus ANZ stadiums, leaving Terrace Australis with an uphill battle to make an impact.
But Herrett said a heartfelt plea by skipper Neill reminded everyone exactly what was at stake.
“He was very passionate – probably the most passionate I’ve ever seen him to be honest,” he said “I think he realises the importance of the fans and having good support.
"He spoke about Kaiserslautern and when we played Croatia and how everything was green and gold – we owned the area and what a buzz and a lift the players got from that.
“It was really quite heartening to hear him and he was saying, guys we really need your help – if you can find it in yourselves to help out.”
The Socceroos' bid to make it three World Cups in a row hangs in the balance, with Australia currently sitting equal third in their group with Oman, and only one point ahead of the Iraq who, like the Aussies, have a game in hand.
Now Erhlich is hoping a big response from fans can help the team get over the line.
“I think for both Melbourne and Sydney we’d like to see, if I’m completely conservative, two to three thousand fanatical vocal Socceroos supporters singing their hearts out and leading the crowd,” he said. “Hopefully we can get it up to four or five thousand.”
Long term he has even bigger plans.
He added: “We want this (group) to be an icon of the Australian sporting scene so that in time to come I can tell my grandkids I was at the first meeting of what became the pre-eminent national supporting body.”