30 December 2013
Fans from Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers brawl and cause vandalism in the streets; WSW fans then light flares and set off fire-crackers at the ground and punches are thrown? Yes, we saw all that. John Aloisi finally sacked from the basket case that is Melbourne Heart after another embarrassing loss. Yes, we all saw that. While they were two very significant events the past few days, the most damaging one went ignored: thousands of people turned away at the MV/WSW game through lack of tickets despite the stadium only two-thirds to capacity. If I wasn’t there, I could not have believed it myself. Since I was there, and was one of them, it’s not only believable, it was a disgrace.
Can’t get a ticket despite thousands of vacant seats
First thing, for some bizarre reason, all seats were made reserved despite this being a non-derby game. Gone were the $25 General Admission seats normally for the ends. They were now C-reserved at $35, with B (upper levels of side stands) at $45 and A (lower side stands) at a whopping $55. This created queues as people had to look at seating charts to pick out seats, and then it created the impossible situation for any group of people (even small groups of 3 or 4) to not get tickets together at the “cheapest” price. Remember, this is domestic A-League, not an international test match of Ashes cricket that cost many of the very same sports-goers just $5 more for 5 more hours of sport earlier in the day. The A-League consistently has been a rip-off, not just in Melbourne either. Brisbane and Newcastle have had infamous reporting in the past. Of the several frustrated groups I had in front of me trying to buy tickets, all of them gave up. This happened both times I queued. Why did I queue twice?
Problem two, my friends are MV members, so I figured I’d just cough up $45 and buy the seat next to them. They said it’s never been used all season, nor the previous season, and still wasn’t for this game. In fact, they were swimming in spare seats. Could the system sell me this seat? No. Apparently it was “sold”. I thought it was incompetence from the junior seller, so that’s why I tried at another window. I also wanted more proof of the debacle I was witnessing with the ticket selling of fans turned away. While I could have got a ticket to sit alone, I went more for the experience to hang with friends. For $45, I damn well should have had that option too.
Content with walking away on the principle of not rewarding this shemozzle, I strode to the city and took train home, expecting to see almost a full house of 30,000+, or at least 27,000+. The actual crowd? A lousy 22,000 – only a few thousand more than a regular period fixture. While it’s true MV probably raked in similar revenue with the reserved seating policy compared to maybe the 25,000 with GA and cheaper prices, they burnt many people in the process. These numbers, most of whom would be opportunistic fans in Melbourne on holidays or even crossing from the cricket, will be lost forever. We’ll never know the real number, because you can never count a negative, and the next time it happens, it will most likely be to a new batch of disappointed people. All that it means, at least to this occasional A-League attendee: If you spontaneously feel inclined to amble to the Bubble Stadium to watch a humble football match during Christmas time, don’t bother trying.
Debacle at Melbourne Heart
It wasn’t a great few days for the A-League, and especially not a great few weeks for Melbourne’s second club. John Aloisi, winless all season and for the final weeks of last season, was finally sacked by the Melbourne Sympathy. Even this obvious and delayed decision was greeted with sympathy for the coach by many fans and journalists. While there is a divide that wanted him long gone, the sympathetic side, the “this is not how we do things at Melbourne Heart”, were disappointed. If that’s not bad enough, John van’t Schip is the interim replacement. Remember him? The former coach that quit after being home-sick, ended up taking a job in Mexico, was sacked six months later, and is straight back at MH as technical director. Again, more sympathy? Hence the “Melbourne Sympathy” tag. These decisions, not to mention the hiring of the under-credentialled Aloisi in the first place, is endemic of club so absorbed with sympathy that it’s become a total basket case. Since inception, not one decision has been correct. Why has it materialised this way? All because of the dopey nickname.
No doubt many will be confused that a nickname matters so much. It does, and there’s two posts previously on this page covering it. A nickname is supposed to resonate strength, a purpose or a philosophy. The psychology of it bleeds throughout the club, the fans, the marketing and, ultimately, the key football decisions and results. You see it with glib “Heart Believe” slogans on the players race. You see it with weak decisions about the club’s ethos. Forget about winning, let’s play with heart. Let’s treat people nicely. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Let’s show sympathy for former stars. Let’s pretend all we need is a fake image to conjure emotion to force success, rather than physically forge it through tangible effects like good coaches, strong recruiting and an astute board. Let’s simply believe it will happen. Because if we believe it, it will, right?
The fact Aloisi put beating Wellington this round as the standard to keep his job defies belief. Wellington are last, and are playing away from home. The standard should be to beat the top 3 or 4 teams. That Wellington did win, only did MH a favour. No more “let’s do it for JA” nonsense from the players. No more “we’re creating the chances, we’re just not scoring” drivel from the coach. No more excuses. It’s results that count, and this club has been woeful every year. Even the second year in which they made the finals, it was a quick and embarrassing exit. Well, it probably wasn’t embarrassing to them, and that’s the problem. Van’t Schip said he’ll continue with the MH “philosophy”. I guess he means losing.
Much of MH’s troubles had the FFA as accomplices to the negligence. Initially, this dopey nickname was banned and a new name was being sought from either Sporting Melbourne FC, Melbournians FC or Melbourne Revolution. The FFA changed their mind and despite MH being long-used as the working name for the club, Sporting Melbourne FC ran a close second in a Herald Sun poll in Melbourne. It also had many commentators in raptures, notably on Fox Sports. All this key evidence was ignored.
Apparently MH are in the process of gaining new owners. If the new owners don’t re-brand and re-launch, they are wasting their time. There needs to be a clean break from this sordid history. It can be done. While they’ve missed the boat for those unconvinced MV fans that have now long settled back at MV after examining MH and deciding it was rubbish, Western Sydney Wanderers show that it can be done. With the second Melbourne club not having geography to rely upon, getting the branding as the “point of difference (POD)” is even more critical.
No one knows MH’s POD. Apparently it is playing attractive football via a youth policy. Someone invite me to the 21st birthdays of Vince Grella and Harry Kewell then. In sport, you can’t slant a team in that direction just for a POD. Ultimately, it’s success that counts, and their simply isn’t the pool of players on the market to give that slant and ensure the best chance of winning. In actuality, MH’s POD boiled down to the colour red, a dopey, meaningless and irrelevant nickname, and a logo that looks like a tooth. When you’re up against the successful Melbourne Victory – you know, the club that brandishes victory as its motto and has captured the essence of the state with the blue and whites colours and big V on its shirt – you’re a dead duck. If you’re one of the two clubs chanting “Melbourne” at derbies and not being distinguishable as a separate entity, you not only project you are second rate, you confirm you are second rate, and very much the second club in Melbourne. That’s a path to eternal oblivion.
These are the changes that must be made:
1) Renamed as Sporting Melbourne FC. This defines you as a traditional club, no gimmicks. You chant “Sporting” at derbies to provide identity.
2) The away-strip of white with red sash becomes the home strip. Again, a very traditional footballing style.
3) A new badge and branding uses the sash as its key motif
4) A new away-strip using a sash. It could be a reverse, or even a black with white sash, any combination. Stick to the sash.
5) Settle the training base. Apparently they are all over Melbourne, including as far out as LaTrobe University. With the “Sporting” name, maybe link with a sports institute, like the Victorian Institute of Sport or a nearby Uni.
After that, there needs to be a strong technical director that oversees a meaningful agenda for recruiting and playing style. No more aging ex-Socceroos. Any coach hired must have strong tactical attributes, not be a “name” simply to schmooze with sponsors. That Ante Milicic was overlooked for Aloisi was criminal. He’s now at WSW as their mastermind behind the scenes.
Mostly, it will take patience and solid, dedicated management. As stated earlier, the many fans unsure of MV and looked to a new club have now decided… against MH. Personally, I’m still undecided, preferring to follow Brisbane, and not interested in season memberships either. MV don’t offer a 3 or 5 game membership, so their loss. The new club needs to exploit these gaps in the market. Ticket prices and ticketing control can be another key separation. Keep general admission, including a GA members area and add visitor passes so occasional goers can sit with their membered family and friends. Offer 3 and 5 game memberships. These are extremely popular in the AFL, even if you must exclude derbies as one of the allowed games. These lower members then get first right to purchase their seat, otherwise it’s for general sale. Long term, even though 5 years away, look to get Ange Postecoglou at the club. Image counts, and with the right branding and right coach, the easy – and controllable – aspect is done.
Brawls in the streets before the game, flares at the ground, vandalism and punches thrown after
A terrible look for the A-League. Opposing Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers fans weilding metal bars threw rocks and chairs at each other outside a city pub before the game; then a barrage of flares and fire-crackers were set off at the game itself predominately by WSW fans. An absolute disgrace to the game. Like the situation with Melbourne Heart, this has been covered in earlier blogs on this page, especially with reference to the apathy by much of the football community and senior commentators of “it’s just a few bad apples”. If it is just a few, why are we letting them ruin the reputation of our sport? Essentially, the clubs and FFA must crack down. Even if that ultimately leads to extreme measures like a closed gate.
So far this season the behaviour has been great, with fans to be commended. While there’s still a few noses out of place (MV cheer squad not as vocal as previously and sat in the upper deck at Docklands games), the clubs are winning the war against this un-Australian footballing “culture”, and therefore the sport is winning. Most pleasing about the troubles is that the football media didn’t play the victim again. Normally when such events are reported, it’s seen as a witch-hunt. These particular events were bad enough that any football fan can see past their bias and accept the reporting was deserved. The interview on Channel 9 news of the MV member – a mother there with her child – almost in tears and disgusted and wanting to tear up her membership showed that predominantly football fans are calm and families and true ambassadors of the sport, and only want to sit at a game where beer, punches and flares are not thrown. These thugs should see her to understand the consequences of the loutish behaviour. While words like “riots” and “ugly” might be typical of the media’s attempts at sensationalism, they are justified to present the message, and should compel the clubs to act further. The simple fact always remains that if this ridiculous behaviour is stopped, there’ll never be anything to report.
05 January 2014: Update
Last week MV against WSW had 100% reserved seating that saw countless turned away, especially groups of people, after being unable to get seats together. This supposed “sell-out” had only 22,000 in a stadium of nearly 32,000. Last night, Saturday, against Brisbane, the C-section (ends) were general admission as normal. No one turned away, no massive queues at the ticket windows, people could just buy tickets quickly rather than force to pick seats off a chart, a crowd of 23,000. Are we learning?
Football Federation Australia acted strongly against Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers for the unruly conduct of their crowds. Both teams received a suspended sentence of 3 points docked, to be activated if there’s any further crowd trouble for the remainder of the season. That trouble includes any unruly behaviour outside the stadium, in city centres as was the case last week. While both clubs worried about the realistic chance of this being policed fairly, potentially that rival supporters could impersonate another club’s fans and then create mischief to force sanctions, reality is that’s unlikely and easy to prove, plus both clubs would be sanctioned in any event. The mere threat of such sanctions should dissuade such fans from acting. The clubs themselves had a tit-for-tat in the media, especially MV slamming WSW via a press release. More heartening is that both clubs have vowed to act with the FFA to stamp out their “rogue supporters”. MV’s chairman Anthony Del Petrio: “Every stakeholder is in total agreement that anti-social behaviour must be prevented and will not be tolerated. Safety and enjoyment must be upheld at all times. How we achieve this is where the debate begins. We applaud the FFA for its zero tolerance measures.”
Disturbingly, and disappointingly, there’s still rogue commentators out there. Relatively quiet on the issue until now, Les Murray was engaged in a conversation with the Age’s Michael Lynch on twitter today about the flares, citing the situation in Italy, “When I commentated on Italian games in the 80s, for the 1st half hour I couldn’t see the players for the smoke”, and “Every game had flares and no one seemed to care. Part of the culture.” Murray was commentating from the SBS studio in Australia off the telecast at the time, so then, and probably these days when viewing from the comfort of a corporate or commentary box at the ground, is oblivious to the disgusting nature of smoke from flares that was the nature of the initial complaint in that conversation.
It wasn’t that long ago that “no one seemed to care” about cigarette smoking, and that it was “part of the culture”, so should we allow that too? For Murray, who often tweets against the glorification of alcohol, it does seem a strange hypocrisy that the one vice he does condone is the one that besmirches the game he loves. If smoking and boozing was a football culture, would he also begin to condone that? Smoking is banned in public because it infringed on the freedoms of others. No one should have to sit next to it and breathe noxious smoke from another person, and likewise no should need to breathe in smoke from a flare. Furthermore, flares are a physical danger that can cause serious burns. On the evening news there was a mother and her child scared and crying about the incidents they were forced to endure. Well Mr Murray, go tell them it’s “part of the culture” and just suck it up if they want to real football fans. Enough.
To show these events are not rare, nor is there a witch-hunt by the media because so few of these ever made the news (I only recall the Melbourne Derby of 2 Feb 2013, and there was a king-hit at a game involving Sydney), here are the dossiers of “football culture” from Victoria Police for the past three years released to the media under Freedom of Information laws detailing countless flares, smoke bombs, fights, king-hits, spitting, assaults, vandalism, abuse and intimidation…
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Behaviour: Generally good; disruptive elements in Victory cheer squad
Incidents: Four flares ignited and penalty notice issued for riotous behaviour.
Details: Male tried to start a fight with Sydney cheer squad, police arrested him.
Melbourne Heart v Sydney FC
Behaviour: Overall good
Incidents: Flare discharge outside ground
Details: There was an altercation pre-game between supporters at a Richmond Pub. Melbourne supporters were accused of having “ambushed” Sydney supporters and “caused some fear and anguish”.
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Incidents: 14 flare deployments, assault and taunting between supporter groups.
Details: 14-year-old boy abused police and “struck out” towards them after being seen acting aggressively towards other spectators after the match.
“Crowd behaviour in the Victory Supporter’s cheer squad was extremely poor”.
A male was “king hit” on the footbridge leading away from the venue after the match and received facial injuries.
Melbourne Victory v Gold Coast United
Incidents: Three police assaulted, one police uniform damaged, 1 flare let off.
Details: An officer attempting to evict fan who had pulled the hair of another crowd member was “bitten on the leg by penetrating skin, but not causing bleeding”.
“Crowd behaviour in the Victory supporter’s cheer squad was again extremely poor”.
They held a silent protest for 15 minutes of the match but “then reverted to their usual behaviours”.
Moved en masse “in an apparent show of force/strength” to different seating areas. “This crowd/mob mobility was also a concerning behaviour”.
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Behaviour: Highly charged and active crowd, but mostly well behaved
Incident: Heart supporter spat on Victory supporter during match, had his membership card confiscated for further action. After the match fights erupted as a group of supporters walked across Gosch’s Paddock.
Details: “100 Heart active supporters were walking across Gosch’s Paddock a flare was set off and then a fight broke out. A number of fights then erupted.” Police, security and mounted branch attended.
Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Incidents: One eviction
Details: Adelaide supporters were held back 15 minutes until Victory supporters had cleared area after the game. A banner erected by Victory supporters reading “Backrow Hooligans” was taken down.
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Behaviour: Generally crowd was manageable although hard core supporter groups became unruly at times.
Incident: Flares ignited and chairs thrown onto arena
Details: Heart supporters destroyed 65 seats and threw them onto the ground.
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Behaviour: Extremely poor
Incidents: 18 flares lit and home made smoke bombs set off. A 12-year-old was detected carrying a flare and had it confiscated. Coins, liquid and bottles thrown at security, about 500 supporters invaded the pitch.
Details: “Police were overwhelmed to a point where we could only monitor the crowd due to the volatile behaviour. The general demeanour of the Victory support group was aggressive and anti social.”
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Behaviour: Victory supporters antagonistic towards Sydney supporters although separated
Incidents: Two flares lit
Details: Sydney supporters held back after game to allow Victory fans to disperse, also deployed additional members for Sydney supporters travel to the game from Federation Square.
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Behaviour: Seats broken and flares lit in both supporter areas
Incidents: 9 flares struck throughout the game and about 170 seats damaged.
Details: “It is clear from this match and previous recent matches that crowd behaviour, particularly in the active supporter area is deteriorating.”
Melbourne Heart v Western Sydney
Behaviour: Reasonable up until last 15 minutes of match
Incidents: Hostile crowd behaviour
Details: “Approximately 100 Heart supporters moved to the northern end of the ground and started to bait the opposition. This tactic was successful. For a few minutes it was chaotic as the crowd was becoming very hostile towards each other.”
Fans’ behaviour is “totally different to AFL and cricket”. It’s a “touch one, touch all” mentality.
A BANNER was removed telling a Victory supporter to “stay strong” after he had been sentenced over an assault in which the victim lost an eye.
SECURITY was pelted with coins and bottles before 500 supporters invaded the pitch in late 2012.
A POLICE unit called for back-up after being surrounded by up to 20 Heart supporters earlier that year.