Round 17 was full of interesting contests and plenty of controversy. The highlight of the weekend was a five-goal thriller between the Perth Glory…
There’s a scene in Terminator 2: Judgement Day where the teenage John Connor asks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character if there’s any hope for the human race.
The Terminator responds, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.”
After watching the horrendous events unfold at AAMI Park on Saturday night, that line could describe the game in this country.
I don’t need to describe the scenes – they’ve been on every news service and newspaper in the country, on a constant loop, as the sport gets buried by both familiar media foes and those who have always been willing to show football’s best attributes.
This time, every bit of the criticism is deserved.
Match commentator Andy Harper could hardly bring himself to talk more than 20 minutes after the debacle, thanking his co-commentator Robbie Thomson for continuing to describe the scenes. Harper’s shock and distress has been mirrored throughout football’s players, fans, administrators and stakeholders.
Football personality, deep lover of the game, Heartbeat of Football founder and former Roar Expert Andy Paschalidis posted an emotional video message on social media, breaking down at one point as he lamented the awful damage done to a sport he has had an unbreakable bond with, from grassroots to international level, for decades.
One former Socceroos captain declared that he was now “done” with the game.
The pace with which the goodwill of the Socceroos’ magnificent World Cup exploits has unravelled is startling.
Only two weeks ago, massive crowds across the country were united in their love for what the team had achieved. Much of that was cast into shadow when the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) announced that they had negotiated an eight-figure deal to stage the next three mens and womens grand finals in Sydney.
Fans, even those of Sydney-based clubs, were quick in their condemnation of the decision, as it was later revealed that the deal became a necessity to fill a funding shortfall caused by the league’s broadcast partners withholding payments due to the inability of the league to drive subscribers to the Paramount Plus streaming service.
It should be said that the service does itself no favours with frequent drop-outs, poor streaming quality and almost non-existent customer service, as well as not delivering on promised improvements to the A-League coverage that fans would be used to across other platforms.
It could all be a moot point if broadcast partners decide to pull out of the league. A Network Ten cameraman was struck by a flare and I’m willing to bet that TV executives don’t want their employees’ safety put at risk by the kind of behaviour we saw tarnish the Melbourne derby.
If that happens, the league is effectively dead.
Footage from the host broadcaster has gone to different parts of the world, and the image of a bloodied and dazed Melbourne City goalkeeper Tom Glover being escorted from the ground as a growing mob encircle him was predictably on the front page of almost every Sunday newspaper in the country.
Make no mistake, this wasn’t just a black eye for the sport, it was an absolute beating.
Australia is co-hosting the women’s World Cup with New Zealand next year and visiting fans might be questioning how safe they’ll be. The passion and unity of Federation Square two weeks ago has been replaced by the ugliness and disgrace of AAMI Park.
We are told that the thugs who caused this chaos are not fans, that they are a minority and not a reflection of the game as a whole. While undoubtedly true, it’s a narrative that cannot be hidden behind, or used as an excuse to give the game as a whole a pass.
Melbourne Victory are the biggest club in the league and an exemplar for how a club can and should be run. But this happened on their watch and whether they regard the fringe element as fans or not, there will have to be consequences for what happened.
Whether that is points deducted, games behind closed doors, or monetary penalties, the message has to be made clear that A-League games need to be a safe space for fans, players and staff alike.
Football Australia CEO James Johnson has alluded to the fact that Glover’s actions would also be examined. Tossing a flare back into the crowd was not a good idea.
It doesn’t excuse what happened next. It doesn’t condone the assault with a sand-filled metal bucket. It doesn’t excuse jumping the fence, throwing objects, trying to tear down the goals and net.
But players at a professional level in all sports are constantly reminded about making sure their actions don’t incite a crowd. Because not all of them are fans.