Clive Palmer believes in “freedom of speech” but has no qualms doing business in a repressive regime like China. Such is the hypocrisy of the man currently dominating A-League headlines to the detriment of the rest of the league.
Of all the headline-grabbing stunts Palmer has pulled over the past fortnight, it was hard not to chuckle at the sight of Gold Coast United running out bearing the slogan “freedom of speech” across the front of their jersies against Melbourne Victory.
Mainly because the sentiment was so laughable – although it didn’t look like a stony-faced Ben Buckley was in on the joke – but also because the relentless Palmer just won’t give up on his campaign of faux-outrage and staged indignity.
You’d think he’d be more worried that his side hasn’t won for an eternity or the fact barely 2,000 fans bothered to show up against a star-studded Victory (yes, it rained), but such is Clive’s dedication to the cause he was never going to let a mere game of football stand in the way of making his point.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding Palmer’s dogged attacks on Football Federation Australia, crowds at this weekend’s games weren’t actually that bad.
The Jets and Perth Glory posted respectable figures and Sydney FC are lucky more than two men and a stray goat show up during the dying embers of Vitezslav Lavicka’s often catatonia-inducing reign.
Gold Coast’s pathetic crowds will never improve, while the worrying reversal in Melbourne Heart gates will surely have the FFA beancounters concerned.
Why write about crowds? Because the football on the weekend was nothing to crow about.
For me, the most depressing sight – more than the Gold Coast freakshow and the empty stands at AAMI Park – was the vision of Glory captain Jacob Burns goading Brisbane Roar attacker Henrique into committing a red-card offence.
That a niggling destroyer like Burns stayed on the pitch while a creative talent like Henrique took an early shower just about summed up a forgettable round of action.
Burns’ schtick is as old as the game itself but it’s still hard to know how to take a Glory side which installs him as captain, turns a blind eye to his incessant on-field indiscretions and then rewards him with a new contract.
And for what? Burns’ most significant impact against the Roar – a thuggish elbow, a predictably spittle-laden rant and a theatrical fall to the ground – all came when the Glory were already 3-0 down against a far superior outfit.
It’s a shame the only way certain teams can dream of stopping the Roar is by employing such a negative brand of football, but Perth’s performance on Saturday was largely in keeping with the vibe of the past seven days.
Surely it’s with some trepidation A-League administrators view a table with the likes of Perth and the relatively one-dimensional (pass the ball to Paul Ifill) Wellington Phoenix finals-bound.
It would be a shame if the 2011-12 campaign is remembered not for what happened on the pitch, but for the burgeoning public relations nightmare threatening to engulf the league off it.
But at the moment it’s hard to focus on anything else.
The football this weekend may not have been entirely uninspired, but it was hardly as engaging as what transpired off it.
And that could be a problem for the A-League – one of many, it seems – because the media is concentrating ever-more on the Clive Palmer conundrum and it’s detracting from the rest of the league.
If FFA executives wanted to prove their leadership credentials, now is the time to do so – lest the farce on the Gold Coast overshadows the remainder of the premiership campaign.