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Football's 'us versus them' mentality is the next problem to fix

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Expert
19th September, 2019
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What’s more valuable to an NPL club these days? Winning their state league title or the national exposure that a run to the FFA Cup semi-finals affords them?

For the first time ever the FFA Cup’s final four will play host to a club from Queensland after Brisbane Strikers saw off Moreland Zebras 3-2 in a dogged battle at Perry Park on Wednesday night.

The win looked a sure thing for the Strikers when they went in 2-0 up at half-time, but the second tier Victorian visitors clearly hadn’t travelled for a holiday.

On the whole though the Strikers were decent value for their progression to the semi-finals, having already knocked out Wellington Phoenix in the Round of 32.

That said, it begs the question of a side that finished fifth in the league and missed the NPL finals by 11 points whether they didn’t feel like it was more worthwhile to mount a lengthy national cup run than fight for local silverware.

And a couple of other incidents at NPL grounds last week are worth revisiting if a proposed second division is ever to get off the ground.

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One was at Perry Park, where the Gold Coast Knights stunned local heavyweights Olympic FC to win the Queensland grand final just a year after being promoted.

The win was a deserved one for the Knights – who finished four points behind table toppers Lions FC in the league – however one incident in particular caught the attention of several observers.

It came with Knights players celebrating on the pitch as a few kids ran on with flags, in scenes we’ve seen countless times across the globe.

That was until one member of the crowd took it upon themselves to launch a flare from deep within the Olympic supporter section onto the pitch.

Long-standing Olympic fans were quick to denounce the actions of the mystery flare-thrower and claimed he wasn’t a regular, but the damage had been done.

And it’s hard not to wonder what exactly is gained by lobbing a flare onto the pitch in the first place?

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Of course, that wasn’t even the worst incident of unruly behaviour at an NPL ground this week.

That’s right Hume City, we’re looking squarely in your direction.

It must be said Hume City chairman Steve Kaya swiftly condemned the troublemakers who threw bottles and cans at Central Coast Mariners players in the wake of the Gosford side’s 1-0 victory at ABD Stadium on Tuesday night.

And it’s a shame the Hume fans couldn’t control themselves at the final whistle, because from all accounts they had provided a raucous atmosphere throughout.

But once again the image of fans lobbing projectiles at players is the last thing football needs, especially from a game televised nationally on Fox Sports.

So do those who threw things care about the reputational damage they’ve done to their own club and the game in general?

FFA Cup action

The FFA Cup requires collaboration to succeed. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Probably not. For one thing most of them looked barely old enough to even be out on a school night.

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But there’s an elephant in the room surely worth discussing if a proposed second division is ever to get off the ground.

And it’s this: how many fans of NPL clubs actually want to see the A-League succeed?

It’s a genuine question.

It sometimes feels like A-League clubs spend half their time trying to appeal to a mainstream Australia that has no interest in football, and the other half trying to appease fans of traditional clubs who feel like they’ve had the door to top-flight football slammed in their face.

We can tut-tut all we want about kids lobbing bottles of water at the Mariners, but it’s hard to see why they’d care if they don’t feel any connection to the A-League in the first place.

That’s yet another conundrum football’s powerbrokers need to address.

It’s all well and good to start a second division, but considerably less useful if fans simply use it as another excuse to demonstrate why it’s us versus them.