What a pity that on a weekend in which we enjoyed two absorbing A-League Men games, a minority of Melbourne Victory fans chose to embarrass themselves and their club.
The news that Adelaide United defender Josh Cavallo was the target of homophobic abuse in the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Victory at AAMI Park on Saturday night is equal parts shocking and depressing.
It’s shocking because it would never occur to any normal football fan to direct homophobic abuse towards the solitary A-League Men player courageous enough to come out as gay.
And it’s depressing because, deep down, we always knew this might happen sooner or later.
Homophobia would have to be up there with racism as the absolute dumbest of imaginary concerns.
The idea that someone’s sexuality is to be feared, let alone worthy of mentioning in the context of a football game, is laughable.
And Cavallo proved he’s just the same as every other footballer by finding himself dropped in favour of the versatile Ryan Kitto for the past couple of games.
But when the diminutive left-back went down with what looked like a serious head injury deep into stoppage time after coming on as a substitute on Saturday night, a certain subset of Victory fans decided that was the time to aim homophobic slurs at the stricken defender.
It’s at this juncture that we might as well try and analyse the cause of the problem. Because there has always been a small but vocal minority of fans who believe that buying a ticket to an A-Leagues game entitles them to do and say anything that they want.
And a lot of them are self-styled ultras who stand among the active support.
The ultras scene, for those who don’t know, largely originated in Italy and typically involves a bunch of predominantly young men fanatically following their club home and away, and providing support in the form of tifos behind the goal.
Often those tifos are colourful and creative and when the better ones are directed at rival clubs, they’re usually tongue in cheek.
But when they miss the mark – a bit like the ‘Omicron Spreaders Melbourne’ tifo Victory’s active supporters unfurled at Coopers Stadium back in December – it’s hard not to wonder what some of these young blokes are thinking.
I actually sent active supporter group Original Style Melbourne a message on Facebook before the Melbourne derby a few weeks back when it was rumoured their tifo had been banned by the City Football Group.
I wanted to ask what the tifo said before I rushed to any judgement, but OSM chose to ignore my message – as is their prerogative.
But my prerogative each and every Monday is to write about the major topic of the round and when supporters aim homophobic abuse, it simply must be called out for the abhorrent behaviour it is.
We shouldn’t pretend it’s a majority of Melbourne Victory supporters who do this and we shouldn’t shy away from the fact that several other clubs have had their own issues with outdated attitudes among their supporter bases.
But right now, more than anything, it’s important to let Josh Cavallo know we stand with him.
Equally, though, I sincerely hope that any football fan who goes to make a homophobic remark at an A-Leagues game or on a message board in future thinks twice.
It’s 2022, for goodness’ sake, and aiming a slur based on someone’s sexuality isn’t some error of judgement – it’s downright stupidity.
The abuse not only made worldwide news, it cast the A-Leagues in the worst possible light when we need all the fans we can possibly get.
Which is a crying shame, since Saturday night’s draw was followed by an equally gripping 3-3 stalemate between Melbourne City and the Labinot Haliti-managed Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday afternoon.
Yet here we are talking about homophobia. If you wanted to ruin a round of football, you so-called Melbourne Victory fans, then mission accomplished.