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Football fans and Melbourne Victory leading the way

Melbourne Victory have led the way in the current A-League fan crisis. (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Expert
2nd December, 2015
139
1925 Reads

Right now, if you were looking for leadership and where the power lies in the round ball game in Australia, you’d be hard pressed to go past the Melbourne Victory and Australia’s football fans.

Administrators and broadcasters come and go, and with neither the FFA nor the broadcasters having covered themselves in glory over the past few years, there has been a vacuum of leadership.

Even the players’ association has earnt a reputation, whether real or perceived, for playing games, invariably agitating for more money.

Look around at the state federations and you see progress in some parts, stalling in others, but it’s not like any are standing out as beacons of light.

Whether any of these organisations have been able to show the type leadership and collaboration expected of them might indeed come down to their fractured relationship with the governing body.

Make no mistake, the FFA doesn’t appear to have made too many friends of late, whether here or overseas.

The past couple of weeks it’s all fallen apart for an organisation that’s been too wound up in the political games around the failed World Cup bid and the ludicrous transition of chairmanship from one Lowy to another, and has subsequently lost the dressing room.

Their inability to come out into bat for their main stakeholder, the fans, in the past fortnight has been nothing short of a public relations disaster, with an initial silence followed by one lame statement or press conference after another.

Instead, it’s been left to the fans to organise themselves and get Australia’s football media onside, defending the game, and bringing some long simmering issues to light.

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Over the past few years, the one organisation showing the way forward has been Melbourne Victory.

Think the Victory and you think about a properly run football club, balancing football excellence with stability in the boardroom and office, and growth on and off the pitch.

It’s been reflected in the continuing growth in membership numbers, which is now circa 27,000, a record annual profit of $1.5 million in the last financial year, and A-League and FFA Cup titles in the past six months.

Leading the way has been its chairman Anthony di Pietro, who after initially struggling to win over the Victory’s members has been nothing short of a sensation, going from one great decision to another.

In fact, over the past six to 12 months it’s become clear di Pietro is arguable the most influential and respected leader in the game, and might one day make a great FFA leader himself.

How head office could do with the type of stable and environment di Pietro has been able to create at a club which at one point had a reputation for being arrogant, fractured and out of touch. Sound familiar?

To these eyes di Pietro’s success has been to sit down at the table with his various stakeholders and talk. It’s not rocket science, but it’s appears to have been done in a genuine way, and a culture of collaboration and credibility has been created around him.

Again yesterday, at the Victory’s business luncheon at Crown, where there were 1200 guests, he delivered a very authoritative speech, touching upon the growth at his club, but equally delivering a strong message about the challenges that lie ahead for FFA and how they can address them.

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His measured attack on the “peanut gallery”, the non-football media attacking football’s fans as “suburban terrorists” and the like, was the stuff of Australian football legend.

Di Pietro even managed to mount a convincing argument about how extending a deal with the often-unpopular Etihad Stadium for a further 10 years was a good thing, reflecting, rightly, that the club’s growth over the past four years meant that big games had to be played at a larger venue than AAMI Park.

Watching di Pietro, it was impossible not to ponder why football’s leaders couldn’t deliver such conviction.

Earlier in the day his CEO Ian Robson, on Melbourne radio station SEN, delivered an equally impressive performance on the Hungry for Sport show with former AFL player Kevin Bartlett.

Bartlett did everything he could to try and trip Robson up and drive a wedge between the Victory and FFA, but the Victory CEO remained cool under a barrage of some of the most ignorant statements and questions.

Again, it showed there are leaders in the game who are knowledgeable, passionate and articulate enough to defend and advocate for it.

Coupled with the fans and football media, the latter of which have found their voice the past fortnight after seemingly being too afraid to question the FFA for years, it highlights the strength of leadership across the game.

Indeed, any talk of a crisis in football or the game being on its knees is so far from the truth.

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The crisis is in the management of a football headquarters in clear need of cultural change, but the examples from fans and Melbourne Victory’s office shows the future remains bright once headquarters catches up.