Culture is to blame for wrong offside calls, not the referees

06 January 2015

Sydney FC’s Marc Janko was denied “goal of the year” by a refereeing blunder according to their coach Graham Arnold in an A-League match last weekend: “They do it every week … they may as well just give the championship trophy to the referees because they decide what’s going on. They ruin games every week and today they have ruined goal of the year.” While no one disputes Janko’s goal was legal, and you need to admire Arnold’s humour of awarding the referees the championship, the fault is not with the referee, it’s with the sport’s culture.

The simple fact is that the sport loves denying goals. If the roles were reversed, and Newcastle Jets scored a cracking goal and the player was an eyelash offside, you could bet Arnold would be going even more bonkers. Fans, also, will similarly be just as apoplectic if there’s a hint of offside. We just won’t tolerate such goals, feeling that they are the greatest injustice in the game.

As response to the outrage of close offside calls, the referees are not making mistakes, they are refereeing according to the culture that the sport demands. Facts are that it is impossible for a referee to be looking at two spots at once, so there’s always a degree of an educated guess, or a hunch, when waving offside, no matter their level of experience. Given the sport’s hatred of marginally offside goals, their inclination is to lean towards waving offside. That even includes betraying FIFA’s “favour the attackers” edict.

Football’s culture fervently ignores “favour the attacker”. You see commentators all the time debating a close call, whether a shoulder was a whisker offside or not, or the player was “level” with the last defender. Wrong. If it’s that close, the instinctive response should be “that’s good enough, play on”. You favour the attacker. That also includes the more common outcome of an incorrect offside call – that a “goal scoring opportunity” is denied. Janko’s case was more unusual in that a goal was scored, then cancelled, make it feel more egregious. Really, any wrong call, no matter the outcome, should feel egregious.

No, the referees are not destroying the sport, the culture is. Denying goals, and denying goal scoring opportunities, and loving it. Arnold’s idea of full-time referees won’t work. In my observation, 90% of close offside calls at any level of the game are incorrect. Those that are incorrect, they are close enough under the “favour attackers” edict to be deemed correct. Therefore every single close offside call in the sport is wrong.

Clearly the edict fails. The only solution is for the law to change and the culture to follow. Let’s remember, the offside law was invented to stop loitering near the goal; never for this cynical, tactical ploy of running attackers offside by a few millimetres. The offside law should be updated to read “clearly offside” and the edict to favour the attackers  should advise “up to a full bodywidth offside is acceptable”. Then we might start to favour the attackers, and start to favour football, and also make the referees’ job far more humanly possible.

Full site: Socceroo Realm

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Finally hope for Melbourne’s second club as Manchester City moves in

25 January 2014

Melbourne’s now entrenched second club, Melbourne Heart, has been purchased ironically by Manchester’s second club, Manchester City, in a $11.25m deal. Manchester City will take an 80% controlling interest in the new club, with the owners of rugby league club Melbourne Storm taking the remaining 20%. It’s expected part of administration, facilities and other resources will be shared between Storm and the new club. This will really streamline and professionalise a club that’s lacked a true homebase since inception, nor a true model for success.

“New club” you read? Let’s be realistic in that Melbourne Heart was a dead club walking, with the owners potentially handing back the license to the FFA as the inaugural 5 year stint came to completion this season. With the worst crowds in the league, a wretched playing record that’s seen only one meek finals appearance and culminated in only one win this season and a horrible branding, ethos and marketing, it became stale and stagnant and long-term unviable. Not only had it become entrenched as Melbourne’s second club, it was seen as a second rate club. It’s only redeeming feature was that the owners under Peter Sidwell managed to keep it in minor profit through the years. Their heart seemed far more in that, rather than taking the club to the next level. This profitability was mostly on the back of FFA awarding them two of the highly profitable 3 derbies with Melbourne Victory as home games for most seasons, and by closing half the Bubble Stadium to save costs for almost all other games. According to Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper, the owners will walk away with a $5m profit from the sale, maybe as much as $6m. Not a bad business success.

Part of MH’s attraction of being in such a destitute position meant that Man City had power for some sort of re-branding. This was not possible with the other purchasing option in the A-League, the ultra successful Western Sydney Wanderers, still owned by the FFA. The consortium has already registered the name Melbourne City Football Club, and is almost certain to use it, just like the partnership with baseball’s New York Yankees to start the New York City MLS side. Melbourne is also seen as having far more room for growth than the Sydney club, with still a large latent base of football fans, if 95,000 to see Liverpool at the MCG is any indication. There’s simply no reason that some of these fans might see Melbourne City as an equivalent traditional and serious club, and attend some games. Two Melbourne clubs with average crowds over 15,000 should be attainable given a sound environment.

While Sporting Melbourne FC should always have been the name of Melbourne’s second club, and would still be the best choice, Melbourne City is worthy. The key issue with MH was its lack of “point of difference” from MV. To choose between the two, it boiled down to colour and nickname preference, with “heart” just a laughable comparison against “victory” as an attribute for a team. “Victory” also borrowed elegantly from the “Vic” in Victoria, and adopted the white V on their shirt in using the state’s colours. The colour red has little or no significance to the city of Melbourne, nor does “heart” have significance or any relevance. To make matters worse, the club played up the underdog tag with lame slogans like “heart believe” to inspire triumph rather than earn it through hard work and accountable results. As derisory and insipid as the nickname was, it also provided an awful series of puns for newspaper headlines, like heart beat, heart break and pulse. It was endless. All that we missed was flatlining, and that was coming soon anyway.

With “City”, the point of difference will be about identity. It’s a traditional name, and it has neutral connotations, unlike the bravado of the name “Victory” suggests. Because it is “City”, it suggests the team represents more for the city, compared to Victory a more fragmented base. With no other teams in the A-League with a “City” suffix, the team will no doubt be referred to as “City” in an abbreviated form, much as Man City is in the EPL. The FFA must protect this, and all other nicknames or suffixes in the A-League like United and FC. In a Herald-Sun poll, a whopping 81% of responders supported the name change, and it was repeated fractionally on a Fox Sports poll. If that’s not sufficient public endorsement, nothing is. The few fans of the club that like the existing nickname must make the sacrifice for the greater good. Reality is that it’s not about them, it’s about the future.

Even with the incredible investment, some history must be preserved. This can’t be a subsidiary of actual Manchester City in Australia, adopting a sky blue shirt or anything like that. The club must be seen to be independent, with a strong, unique identity. The history of the NSL has showed us how external baggage dramatically suppresses growth and maligns a club. The FFA already has requirements against this and it must be enforced. So the red and white colours remain, even if that means polishing the overall, somewhat garish, design. For their 100th match last week, MH presented a design of red and white quarters with black shorts, and far more professional. Personally it’s the sash of the away-strip that must come to the fore, becoming the motif that permeates through both home and away playing strips, the club logo and all branding. Maybe the away-strip incorporates sky-blue, like something in that colour with a white-trimmed red sash. That must be all the visible link to Manchester City.

The huge benefit of Man City is the dollars. The fans the second Melbourne club could have attracted have long since decided to return or stick with Victory. So it will be about broadening the support mostly by recruiting new fans. It could take 5 or even 10 years now. Much of it will depend on success on the field, and this is also an area that Man City’s and Storm’s expertise will come to the fore. No “name” coaches and has-been former Socceroos. The drive must be to quality coaching and players that can fulfil a role on the pitch, not that can fulfil a name to schmooze with sponsors. There’s also so many other areas to exploit in attracting crowds, notable ticket prices and membership options. Melbourne Victory present very much as the elitist club in this sense, so Melbourne City has the chance to present as the people’s club. The club for the city of Melbourne.

More: socceroorealm.com

Aloisi debacle, fans brawl in streets – that wasn’t the A-League’s real howler

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

Ticketing

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?

Crowd Troubles

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…

16/10/10
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Crowd: 17,299
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.

27/11/10
Melbourne Heart v Sydney FC
Crowd: 4857
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”.

22/1/11
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 32,231
Behaviour: Poor
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.

30/1/11
Melbourne Victory v Gold Coast United
Crowd: 8207
Behaviour: Poor
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”.

23/12/11
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Crowd: 26,579
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.

13/1/12
Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Crowd: 20,959
Behaviour: Good
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.

5/10/12
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 41,262
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.

22/12/12
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Crowd: 26,459
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.”

26/1/13
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Crowd: 28,852
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.

2/2/13
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 41,203
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.”

16/3/13
Melbourne Heart v Western Sydney
Crowd: 5991
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.”

-General Notes

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.

More: socceroorealm.com

Red card to soccer hooligan sympathisers

We as a sport are to blame for crowd troubles, not the media for reporting it…

07 October 2013

As the A-League season is about to start, so too does the “fear mongering” from the mainstream press. Or does it? Melbourne’s Herald Sun today ran a report detailing a much tougher and targeted stance by Victorian police and the two Melbourne clubs, Victory and Heart, to stamp out flares and vandalism and the odd punch-up at Melbourne derbies. The two clubs play on Saturday night.

The measures include…

A DEDICATED police investigations team headed by a high-ranking detective formed to probe all criminal incidents at A-League matches;

RIVAL teams Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart ban flags and banners of splinter supporter groups in the stands, clamping down on the association of rogue fans;

DOB-a-yobbo text messaging hotlines for matches at AAMII Park as well as Etihad Stadium for the first time to encourage fans to alert police and security about troublemakers;

STRONGER ticket entry regulations with members forced to scan their pass on entry and again when they reach certain parts of the ground and;

IMPROVED CCTV and video monitoring of fans.

On the website of Victoria Police…

“We’re determined to make the 2013/14 season the most enjoyable yet – for players, for fans and for police,” he said.

“We want to see more families at games enjoying themselves.

“During the off-season, police have made significant inroads into improving the police response to games by developing strong partnerships with Football Federation Australia, venue officials and Melbourne-based A-league clubs.

“We’re determined not to see a repeat of the anti-social behaviour shown by a small number of trouble-makers at a number of A-league matches last season.

“Police have had enough, players have had enough and fans have had enough.”

These seem very reasonable measures and ideal outcomes given the recurring problems and inability of the clubs or FFA to control the matter. Of course, typical in Herald Sun style, it was accompanied by the sensationalist headline “Red card to soccer hooliganism” despite not even one mention of the word “hooligan” in the crack down by its writer or the police themselves. Other than the headline, that word only appears in the intro.

Equally typical of this report came the gasps of hysteria from traditionalists, led by SBS’s Les Murray on twitter about the alleged crusade against the sport: “Just as we are all excited about the new A-League season, bang, in comes the Herald Sun to dampen spirits and scare the fans away. Disgrace!”, and to Victoria Police “Hogwash. The A-League experience is already the best of any in the country. This is sheer fear mongering.”

It’s not just elite media brushing of he issue as antics “of a few”, so too do supporters. It’s not. Because the culture of the sport tacitly condones it by crying out at being vicitimised and misunderstood, it’s the problem of the many, as further evidenced by this from Murray: “FFA’s lack of understanding of football fan culture etc”. This is patently absurd. Australia is not Europe or the Americas. The use of flares and vandalism are ILLEGAL in our sporting stadiums.

While I’m equally sick as Murray and co of the unruly few tarnishing the game and putting it in the papers for the wrong reasons, I’m even more sick of these powerful, elitist voices  sympathising and assuaging the crowd troubles by blaming media for simply reporting the facts. If that HS article was about cricket, you know damn well us precious lot would not only approve of it, we’d be salivating with gushing pride about the purity of our sport in comparison. Since it’s about football, we becoming pathetic whingers and query that their must be an agenda against us for a newspaper to simply report it.

If football is to continue to grow and become a major mainstream sport in this country, then we must appeal to mainstream Australians. They almost unanimously go to sporting events without lighting flares or destroying chairs and throwing them on the pitch. It’s people like Murray and our clubs that need to set an example. If it is really is just a few bad apples (presumably we say this because we don’t want to tolerate them), then step up against them. Not only should we be happy the HS is reporting this though stance by police and the two Melbourne clubs, we should be helping out. Stamp out the bad behaviour then the newspapers will have nothing bad to report.

For the record, the Herald Sun also has feature articles on the Melbourne Derby, gleefully speculated that there could be a record crowd, and they’ve been previewing the A-League season both in print and online via webpage and video for the past week. This shows the area of true bias – in people like Les Murray and our generally precious and insecure followers of the sport. It’s no coincidence that those claiming bias are actually the most biased people themselves. Maybe if Murray would retweet all HS articles on football, not just the his perceived unsavoury ones, not only would he portray the true and favourable coverage by the HS, he might loosen his own bias.

Sources:

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/football/soccer-clubs-police-crack-down-on-hooligans-at-melbourne-games/story-fni2wcjl-1226733829559

http://vicpolicenews.com.au/news/1592-police,-football-federation-australia-and-a-league-clubs-prepare-for-2013-14-season.html

https://twitter.com/lesmurraySBS/with_replies

10 October 2013: Update

Today the Herald Sun had a double page feature exploring the full squads, analysis and season predictions for both Melbourne Victory and Heart.

Yesterday the Herald Sun had a photo about the Victory/Heart Derby dominating the back page, a news article on the second last page, and a double page spread of four articles including A-League season preview and an article by Ron Reed “People’s game kicking goals”.

Have Les Murray and co tweeted these articles, all of which are available online, or would that hurt the ridiculous “evil mainstream media always keen to slam soccer” agenda? No they haven’t. As said earlier, those most strident about media bias are the most biased people themselves. They don’t see the good, only the bad. That says more about them, and their own little bubble they want to live within.

Two fairytales to end stellar A-League season and more vindication for finals system

It was a perfect finale to a great A-League season. Western Sydney Wanderer’s successful debute season that saw them finish top of the ladder remains untarnished while Central Coast Mariners get the championship that they really deserved after three prior attempts. In the face of increased criticism, the need for a Grand Final and the finals system itself was also vindicated.

Let’s remember that while the romance of seeing WSW being declared champions was obvious, CCM only started slipping in the league once they were compromised with Asian Champions Leagues games. Other clubs were hurt by injuries or just poor form. The luck that is ascribed to finals wins is just as relevant during the season. To win a championship by placing high on the table and then to win such a high-pressure game like a Grand Final, it actually becomes the hallmark of true championship teams. We saw CCM’s coach Graham Arnold expressing great satisfaction to achieve the fairytale after three previous misses and despite CCM already displaying two stars of their shirts for their previous Premiership Plates. They should go and be replaced by one gold star. Grand finals matter.

Some of the angst with the finals was no doubt due to the change in format for this year that could see the top 2 teams eliminated after one game, whereas previously they had a two-legged playoff for the winner advancing to the GF and the loser a second chance in a preliminary final. The FFA felt this protracted the finals and saw too many repetitious matches. Typically the top two would reach the GF anyway, so would play again after playing twice already in the finals series.

The format this year is definitely better as it keeps the top two apart until the GF and still gives a huge advantage. For teams 5 and 6, they must win two away games to reach the GF while teams 1 and 2 only need win one home match. We saw that the top two were untroubled. Of course, that could change in future years, and conceivably there’d be a cry at the injustice.

The small tweak that is needed is polish the format is to play the semi-finals over two legs to effectively give the top two a double chance and further emphasising the “wildcard” status of teams 3 to 6. Wildcards they effectively are as the top two are rested while the wildcards face a sudden death elimination round. Such a system drives even greater incentive to finish top two and also rewards the wildcard round winners a home match too – an important reward for teams 5 and 6 who would never play in front of their fans in the recent formats.

While much focus this season is on the flaw of the potential instant elimination of the premier, there’s an obverse flaw that was totally ignored: the two’s passage to the GF is just too easy. One match? That hardly is major triumph that a finals series should provide. In all other codes using a finals system at least two matches are required to reach the championship game. Actually, two wins are required, both matches being home for a top ranked team. It’s fitting the top two A-League teams at least venture through a playoff. Even with one of those matches away, they still only need the lesser result of winning the tie on aggregate.

The reason Australia has finals is not just because of any perverse tradition, it’s because it keeps the season alive for more teams and for much longer. Those that demand the premiers be recognised as champions never ponder the reality that the season would be over for several teams by the end of December. Would fans of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne H, Wellington and Perth really turn up to 3 months of dead rubbers? No. This season all teams were alive until the second last week. Without this, the league format not only runs to quick conclusion for many teams, the quest for a true champion is compromised because of all the dead rubbers. Teams start resting players, experimenting and expediting off-season surgeries to in-season. Leading teams that play more of these bottom teams later in the season would then have a huge advantage. No, league winners as champions can’t work. It would ruin the vibrancy of the competition.

For the system to change, Australia would need multiple divisions, extra Cup competitions, and far more ACL places. If you look at the way Australia structures its elite football codes, that’s unlikely to happen even if football became the dominant code. The AFL and NRL don’t do relegation, and neither do any American sports. The focus is on an elite league with elite teams to win elite matches. Rather than more teams to cater for popularity, the drive is for teams to get bigger to cope with the popularity. Crowds of 40,000 would be come the norm, with crowds of 80,000 for the bigger matches. At best there would be a 16 team league with a 30 match season. State leagues would be the structure under-pinning the league, much as college sports do in the USA.

The Grand Final itself proved a clinical display by Central Coast. They dominated much of the Grand Final and were deserved victors. Western Sydney’s only real spell of dominance was early in the second half, and even then failed to create many meaningful chances. The pivotal moment was the missed handball just a minute after CCM’s first goal that should have been a WSW penalty. That could have really opened up the game. Since the sport is so loathe to have video challenges, there can’t be any complaint for such injustices not to be corrected. Who knows, in a future GFs, WSW may benefit, so it equals out. That’s the argument right? Try telling that to players on the day that might never get another chance.

It was also curious to see Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the game and not presenting medals. Was she more in fear of being booed or copping a kiss on the forehead like John Howard received several years ago? Come on, it’s sporting culture to always boo our leaders.

More at: socceroorealm.com