Football hooligans Gallop’s first headache
David Gallop must feel as if trouble is following him. No sooner had he closed the book on a decade of problems running rugby league than more headaches sprang out of the blue to mar the first chapter of his new life running football.
Gallop’s appointment as chief executive of Football Federation Australia was only a day old when more crowd violence erupted at a pre-season match in Sydney.
On Wednesday night a firework was thrown into a crowd at the Western Sydney Wanderers trial match against Sydney United.
That incident led to United fans clashing with police who were forced to use pepper spray to subdue the unruly mob at Edensor Park.
It was the second such outbreak in weeks.
At a trial match between Sydney FC and the Macarthur Rams at Campbelltown Stadium on 14 August, a man activated a flare which sparked an ugly brawl and led to a child being hit by a rock.
Coupled with an ugly on-field brawl at a Newcastle-Wellington “friendly”, which led to four players being suspended, it raised fears of a descent into football’s bad old days when ethnic tribalism thwarted its emergence as a mainstream sport.
Gallop isn’t even in the country. He is in London for the Paralympics in his capacity as an official of the Australian Sports Commission.
He will doubtless be pleased that FFA has a zero tolerance policy to crowd violence, and has acted swiftly by slapping five-year bans on the two supporters who sparked the incidents.
But he must be shaking his head at the conveyor belt of problems that seems to dog his every move as a sports administrator.
Football has long cleaned up its act, moving into a brave new world of successive World Cup finals appearances, engagement with Asia and the formation of the domestic A-League.
Crowd trouble has been a thing of the past. It just isn’t meant to happen any more.
Gallop should have been able to cruise into his new job with clean air filling his sails.
He should have been able to wipe his hands of most of the nastier problems of his previous life, of which crowd violence was not one.
But maybe it’s just as well his background has equipped him as Australian sport’s expert in crisis management.
He copped the lot in his NRL days, from the blue-collar sins of player misbehaviour to white-collar crimes like match-fixing and salary cap cheating.
Gallop often had to defend rugby league in the face of the indefensible – players urinating in public and defecating in hotels, bashing their girlfriends, street fighting, binge drinking, drink driving, pill popping, racially abusing other players, getting charged with sexual assault, punching each other, punching coaches and even punching sponsors.
He handled it all with aplomb. Despite league’s catalogue of disasters, he managed to oversee a strong rise in the game’s popularity, highlighted by stronger crowds and TV ratings which have just been rewarded with a new $1 billion-plus broadcast deal.
Football must be grateful its new CEO is no stranger to calamity, and hopeful that this pre-season violence comprises isolated acts of hooliganism rather than any deeper-seated return to the sort of mindless behaviour that once made football unmarketable.© AAP 2013
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