No fans equals no football.
This was the polarising message displayed, loud and proud, across several A-League fixtures last weekend that sparked the most remarkable and much-needed reaction from all corners of the country.
The fans had been pushed too far, for too long and must be applauded for their stance because without them the survival and future of the A-League doesn’t stand a chance in hell.
Over the course of the last week, the football community’s initial fury was directed at the author of an article that was unethically published in an Australian newspaper that, quite frankly, wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
As a sport, the beautiful game has been the subject of misguided and agenda-driven attacks directed for years now - that’s nothing new.
The beloved supporters refuse to bow down to the prehistoric views of journalists who, when they are long-gone, won’t be recognised for anything worth etching onto a tombstone.
After the alleged ‘crisis’ attracted widespread media attention, the football community collectively held their breath for the powers-that-be at Football Federation Australia to exercise leadership and stand up in defence of our great game and above all, those wrongfully accused.
They didn’t and consequently their failure to gain control of this public relations disaster was a spit in the face of every loyal A-League fan.
What eventuated next was an insipid press release from FFA CEO David Gallop, three days after the fact, with little to no attempt to offer support to those fans that had been aggrieved.
After developing a reputation for being a ‘crisis CEO’ during his tenure with the NRL, Gallop’s notable absence during a time when the game needs him most, has many questioning his capacity to manage the situation.
A day later, after public pressure, the FFA media department issued another statement attempting to ‘clarify’ the banning process.
“Since the inception of the banning process, it has always been the case that if a banned person can prove that they did not engage in the relevant behaviour the ban will not apply. If a banned person can bring the evidence that proves this to FFA through their club, the ban will be lifted,” part of the statement read.
This came as a surprise to everyone given that A-League chief De Bohun went on the record on 4 November to state that fans who ‘cause trouble face long bans with no right of appeal’.
Then, a week after the original ‘name and shame’ article was published, De Bohun finally fronted the media and to declare FFA will ‘formalise an appeals process’.
Until now, fans were given no right to appeal and were stripped of any entitlement to procedural fairness.
This is a clear reflection of how flawed the governing body’s strategic approach to managing the game really is.
By FFA’s dictatorship standards, they have chosen to stand by their ‘you are guilty until proven innocent’ policy because fans are still required to provide ‘evidence’ to their clubs to begin the appeal process.
What a disgusting and embarrassing farce.
FFA have failed the fans and the game on a spectacular and virtually irreparable level.
The relationship between the governing body and football’s most crucial constituents - the fans - has been broken and the only way to remedy it is to see those responsible kicked out for good.
Under the watchful eye of De Bohun, the A-League has suffered a year to forget.
The rap sheet is a long one and has only intensified in the past 12 months.
The A-League scheduling around the 2015 Asian Cup along with the demise of Nathan Tinkler and their subsequent failure to sell the Newcastle Jets, which they had claimed was as good as a done deal for months, are just the beginning.
The 2014-2015 season saw the Perth Glory salary cap breach, a grand final that was played at AAMI Park due to a complete oversight to pre-book the larger capacity Etihad Stadium – robbing thousands of fans a chance to experience the showpiece LIVE at the venues, and perhaps the most damaging of all, the governing body’s conduct during the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.
According to reports, De Bohun led the discussions in the early stages of the process but things turned sour quickly.
The decision by the Matildas to strike ahead of the USA tour was another well-publicised affair in which a group of players arrived at FFA HQ prepared to negotiate terms, only to be dismissed by De Bohun, who allegedly said ‘thanks girls’ and abruptly ended the meeting.
The then Chief Operating Officer John Kelly was brought in to continue the discussions, which lasted for months and months. Kelly has since left FFA.
After this, the drama continued when the Bakrie Group fiasco made headlines and in an act of desperation, De Bohun fronted Brisbane Roar fans at a forum and encouraged attendees to “get to a Wanderers game to experience atmosphere”.
In October, the FFA board declined to grant Wellington Phoenix a 10-year extension and instead offered the New Zealand-based club a four-year licence.
Public outrage ensued and Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold incurred the wrath of the FFA Chairman at the time. Frank Lowy telling Arnold to “focus on making Sydney FC a champion team instead of entering a debate he knows nothing about”.
While the Phoenix debacle is ongoing, the list of horrors continued when in Round 7 a match between the Glory and the Sky Blues kicked-off at nib Stadium at 4:30pm with the temperature nudging 36 degrees celsius.
The clubs, players and fans have condemned the governing body for this very issue for years now but like their approach with the fans, they continue to ignore them. I hasten to say the game was nothing to write home about as self-preservation seemed to be the order of the day for the players.
This season, attendances have been significantly down and television ratings have failed to impress. Yet no strategies or discussions have taken place about how to manage these going forward.
De Bohun’s back flipping on the banning policy has symbolically represented the icing on the cake and as such his position as the Head of the A-League is now untenable - he must resign.
Despite his comments on Sunday suggesting that he is ‘a football guy’ he has proved he is not fit to run our game because, the fact is, the fans deserve better.
Make no mistake, football will continue to experience challenges and the road ahead is a long and tough one, however, it would be best served by those equipped to navigate through the storms, not create them.