Football is under attack and FFA must lead from the front

Let's be frank about this: football is battered and bruised by a week from hell that illustrated once again the Australian media's deep dislike of our game.


Mariners fans express their feelings Source: Getty Images

Football came under renewed attack from sections of the media that would appear to be still hellbent on destroying what they see as 'the un-Australian sport'.

They certainly will not succeed because the horse has already bolted but, gee whiz, have they caused some damage!

There is no point in refusing to recognise this: football is in trouble on several 'domestic' fronts and the family must stick together if the game is to survive the latest onslought from outside.

News Corp Australia's legally dangerous decision to name and shame 198 fans who are banned from watching football in Australia and New Zealand was yet another example of kicking the game when it is down. Nothing new there.

The inflammatory article and the unsavoury aftermath may have brought rival fans together but will also have caused serious collateral damage to the game as it tries to establish itself in mainstream Australia.

Most of the points raised by columnist Rebecca Wilson are at best questionable and at worst plain wrong and ridiculous.

The trouble is a few people believe Wilson so it would be unwise to dismiss her vitriolic venom as merely a prime example of Australia's old-fashioned anti-football mafia at work.

Shock jock Alan Jones would say anything preposterous to boost his radio ratings so he should be treated with the contempt he deserves after comparing A-League violence with the terrorist atrocities in Paris.

Wilson's brazen attack, however, carried more weight, mostly due to the big-story treatment it was given by The Sunday Telegraph: front page and double-page spread.

Hers was a sinister, malicious and exaggerated slur on football and its culture, which understandably sparked a massive reaction from the football fraternity of clubs, players, fans and media.

With the exception of Football Federation Australia, that is.

The governing body's silence while all hell broke loose was deafening.

It issued statements denying it leaked the controversial list, urging fans to stop threatening Wilson and citing a largely unknown mechanism giving banned fans a right to appeal.

Yet it essentially left the game to hang out to dry.

Not once did FFA denounce News for defaming the game and its followers by betraying the banned fans' right to privacy and confidentiality.

The last week provided an ideal scenario for FFA to quell the widespread discontent at its modus operandi by staunchly defending our maligned game but it chose not to.

No way former bosses David Hill or John O'Neill would have let the game be trodden on in such a way without coming out strongly in its defence.

Where is the leadership when you need it?

The fans at large made their feelings known at the weekend when hundreds of active spectators walked out of matches at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and Central Coast Stadium in Gosford in protest at FFA's refusal to go in to bat for its customers, sorry, its stakeholders.

Other forms of protest took place at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, AAMI Park in Melbourne and Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.

It is a sad state of affairs when you see disgruntled active spectators walk out of matches and being applauded by those who chose to stay at a time when the A-League needs as many fans, viewers and sponsors as it can get.

Where did it all go wrong and how did it come to this?

Make no mistake, this is the most serious crisis the game is facing since the A-League kicked off 10 years ago. You can treat club officials like school children but you just don't mess about with the fans.

The supporters are angry and united in their resolve to resist the FFA's draconian approach to ruling. Good on them as long as they do it in civilised ways.

Critics say football has a cultural problem but this is not true.

Football's problem lies with its image within Australia's media that still regards it as sport it has to put up with rather than work with. 

FFA to their credit have managed to get rid of football's 'ethnicity' and is trying hard to eliminate the riff raff that is a blight on the game's image.

The fact that 198 fans have been banned is proof that FFA are doing something about it although their attitude that you are guilty unless you prove your innocence goes against common practice.  

However FFA's refusal to act on the notorious 'name and shame file' added fuel to the general suspicion that the governing body are unwilling or unable to fight for their turf.

It also has angered fans by first declaring a no-appeals policy, then revealing that an appeals formula was always in place and at the weekend saying "we are formalising a process" whereby anyone who feels he has been unfairly banned can appeal via his club.

No wonder many fans must feel they are being taken for a ride by the very body that is supposed to look after their interests.

Which is why the game's stakeholders plus the few FFA lackeys in the media need to look at the big picture and work together to beat away the gathering dark clouds.

Our game has its faults and a formidable cartel of anti-football mercenaries who are out to protect their vested interests is taking advantage of its frailties.

So the football people owe it to themselves to defend their sport because, as Melbourne journalist Rohan Connolly said on radio, the game is not big enough yet to thumb its nose at its critics.  

It would be nice if FFA stepped down from their high altar and came to the party to join the fight.

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6 min read
Published 30 November 2015 at 9:27am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS