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Nov 13, 2012

Gallop runs the game he once feared

David Gallop leapt to his feet like thousands of others as he watched John Aloisi boot Australia into the World Cup at Sydney's Olympic stadium in 2005, then checked himself and quickly sat down again.

"With my rugby league hat on, I remember thinking this could be bad. The sleeping giant of Australian sport just got a giant prod," the former NRL boss said on his first day in charge of the aspiring Goliath.

"I was one of the first in the stadium to sit down."

Last month the Socceroos had Gallop leaping out of his seat again when Archie Thompson scored a late winner in a World Cup qualifier against Iraq in Doha.

This time he was sitting in his lounge room.

"And this time I didn't have to sit down," Gallop said as he fronted the media for the first time in Football Federation Australia's Sydney HQ.

The 22nd floor offices afford stunning views over the harbour city and are inclined to make occupants feel as though they have the world at their feet.

Gallop's anecdote confirms what football people have long thought rival codes think about their game - they are worried by it.

Not so much in the short term, maybe, but certainly the long.

Football is the most popular game on the planet and Australia is a prosperous, growing, multicultural nation whose team should now grace the game's world stage every four years.

If cold, hard cash is the measure, then the billion-dollar TV contracts of the AFL and NRL will dwarf FFA's soon-to-be announced broadcast deal.

But that deal, thought to be worth over $30 million a year, represents a huge leap over the previous agreement and the trend, like everything else in football, looks to be heading sharply north.

"I can absolutely see a period of great growth," said Gallop, as FFA chairman Frank Lowy watched from the wings.

"In that regard, other codes should be concerned.

"Foundation stones are in place that will be pretty hard to shift.

"If football gets its act together the other codes need to be really worried about it."

Gallop should know. He used to be one of the worriers.

Now he's keen to establish street cred in his brave new world.

He grew up watching Jimmy Hill on England's Match Of The Day TV show.

He used to watch the Canberra Arrows when Johnny Warren coached them.

His son and daughter both played the game and he would coach and occasionally referee at Sydney's Queen's Park.

He follows unfashionable West Brom in England's Premier League, thanks to a fanatical old friend.

Rugby league is a passion. The most he can say about football is that he has always liked and admired it.

But few people in Australian sport have an insider's knowledge of what he is now up against.

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