Gold Coast’s gutsy team of A-League youngsters drew 1-1 with the desperate Melbourne Victory on Saturday night as United’s outspoken owner Clive Palmer again earned the ire of Football Federation Australia.
In a match played in torrential rain at times, Palmer caused a storm when he disobeyed an FFA directive for the players not to wear a strip bearing the provocative words “Freedom of Speech”.
The slogan was also slapped on signage dotted around the Skilled Park pitch.
In quick response, the FFA formally advised the struggling United they were in material breach of their A-League club participation agreement as the slanging match between the sport’s governing body and Palmer heated up.
FFA chief executive Ben Buckley said the organisation had considered cancelling the match but they did not want to let down fans and sponsors and decided to go ahead “despite GCU’s conduct”.
“I put Gold Coast United on notice that our decision to allow the match to proceed does not mean the breaches are waived,” Buckley said in a statement issued on Saturday night.
The official sanction follows recent controversial comments made by billionaire mining magnate Palmer, who labelled the A-League a joke and said he preferred rugby league to soccer.
Buckley told Fox Sports during the halftime break that Palmer’s latest actions were “disrespectful to the rest of the competition”.
Asked about the FFA’s next step in the matter, Buckley replied: “We’ll look at that in the cool light of day – but they’ve clearly breached the participation agreement.”
Needing a win to stay in the hunt for the finals with only five matches remaining and five points shy of sixth-placed Melbourne Heart, the Victory were not interested in politics in front of 2,109 fans who braved the atrocious conditions.
Gold Coast were on the back foot early when 19-year-old speed machine Ben Halloran was forced off the field in the 14th minute with a hip injury soon after being fouled in a crunching challenge by Victory midfielder Mark Milligan.
But despite playing their third match in eight days, United looked dangerous and created golden chances for Marceo Rigters and Zac Anderson in the first half on a slippery pitch.
In the 32nd minute, Victory star Harry Kewell, who scored two goals in last weekend’s 3-2 loss to Brisbane Roar, had a cracking shot from just outside the box tipped away by goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson, who had a superb game.
The Victory were stunned in the 51st minute when Dutchman Rigters scored after some slick passing from Mitch Cooper and Jake Barker-Daish.
Just six minutes later, the visitors equalised through a clinical goal to Costa Rica’s Carlos Hernandez, who drilled an Archie Thompson pass into the net.
Thompson had a gilt-edged opportunity to put Victory ahead in the 80th minute after rounding Zac Anderson but Tyson blocked his close-range shot.