If there was any doubt that Phil Gould is one of the shrewdest operators in the business, the Bulldogs general manager has proven it once again in the past week.
With the new season fast approaching, it is imperative that Australian football’s greatest asset continues to walk through the turnstiles from game one.
But the A-League’s most dedicated fans, those who come to every match and support their club with sweat and tears, not to mention their wallets, tend to receive the least attention from the FFA.
With all the emphasis on bringing new fans into the A-league, it seems loyal supporters have often been taken for granted.
Sasha, 24, is amongst the most passionate Sydney FC supporters and every match day he turns up to Bay 29, where he stands amongst the Sin City Crew.
The SCC, as he affectionately calls them, is a group of about seventy fans “which devotes itself to doing everything it can from the sidelines to help Sydney FC win games through use of noise and colour.”
Surely these are exactly the type of patrons the club should be trying hold onto – long term enthusiastic fans who stick by their team.
But as the new season approaches, many in the SCC are beginning to feel disgruntled with the establishment.
Sasha explains: “In Bay 29, we compete with the Cove, and much to ours, and the Cove’s frustration, it actually takes away from the atmosphere and the overall support of the team.”
These fans have wanted to move somewhere else in the stadium where they won’t conflict with the Cove since midway through last season, but their cries have fallen on deaf ears. Interestingly, Sasha doesn’t blame his club, he blames the governing body.
“I believe the club realises our value and wants to help us, but their hands are tied because of the FFA. The FFA wants to keep all supporters down one end and they don’t make the distinction between different supporter groups. To them we are all the same shit, different smell.”
Interestingly, Sasha’s words have been given credence after a recent meeting between Sydney FC officials, the SCC, and the Cove, where the issue of Bay movement was thrown up.
The club promised to look into moving the SCC but highlighted that they needed discuss the issue with the FFA before they could accommodate their requests.
The request of the SCC was posed to CEO of the FFA, Ben Buckley, as he sat across the table patiently waiting for the lunch buffet to open. With no change from his pleasant tone and demeanour, Buckley answered.
“In the home-end they (fans) can be watched to ensure there is no violent or unsafe activity. If fans are allowed to stand everywhere it would be too difficult to manage.”
“We don’t want to end up with situations like Sydney versus Melbourne last year where people were throwing dangerous projectiles at each other.”
The paradox is that some small sections of the fan base have threatened to resort to violence if they continue to be ignored.
Further disgruntlement has arisen amongst fans with the announcement to clubs last week that next season all organised supporter groups must be in allocated seating. This may seem innocuous to most people, but it has struck a cord with many of the most fervent A-league supporters.
Adam Tennenini is one of the leaders in Melbourne Victory’s best known supporters group, The Blue and White Brigade.
The BWB, as it is commonly known, stands, sings and supports in coalition with various other groups who together make up the “Northern Terrace.”
Tennenini feels that this is just another slight from the FFA in a long line of ignorance towards Melbourne supporters and the A-League fans as a whole.
“FFA want every home end to have its own membership, which is crap because it won’t allow for growth and will shred any ounce of independence we had left,” Adam said.
If there was ever a case of mismanagement by officials on all levels it would be at Perth Glory.
Crowds have been steadily decreasing over the last decade. Where in 1997-1998 the average crowd was almost fifteen thousand, the 2007-2008 season averaged less than eight thousand supporters a game.
Paul, 50, a dedicated follower of the Glory since its inception put it simply, “they are leaving because there is no reason for them to stay.”
He believes officials at a club level and at FFA are unprofessional and have put very little effort into the match day and overall experience of Perth Glory.
Everyone in the West remembers when the club tried to celebrate ten years of Perth Glory FC, only for the national governing body to step in and forbid it. In the end, the fans in Perth were allowed to commemorate ten years of football in Western Australia, as a substitute for celebrating Perth Glory.
The question of ‘why?’ was posed to Ben Buckley, and he explained the FFA’s motives on the Perth issue.
“The Perth Glory in the A-League is a separate entity to the old Perth Glory, so the distinction had to be made.”
While the answer was not unexpected, it did highlight that the FFA’s agenda is definitely not the feelings of loyal fans. A-League Perth fans are the same fans which supported Perth in the NSL. To the average supporter, there is no difference between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ Glory.
‘Pedantic’ and ‘Diabolical’ is how Paul describes FFA’s actions.
He, and many like him, feel the FFA is more concerned with their own agenda than with the wellbeing of lifelong supporters like him.
The bridge between fans and officials in Perth is almost well and truly burnt.
Will the FFA learn from its mistakes?