Nogarotto warns FFA as fan revolts shake A-League

Former Soccer Australia chairman Remo Nogarotto believes the tidal wave fan empowerment sweeping the A-League has created "a watershed moment” which Football Federation Australia must heed to win back its “number one stakeholder”.

Remo Nogarotto

Source: Getty Images

A week of backflips and procrastination from head office over controversial stadium bans for 198 fans, mass supporter walkouts from grounds and a meek reaction from FFA to the poison quills and acid tongues of the football hating media, have eroded faith in those who administer the game, culminating in demands for embattled A-League chief Damian De Bohun to step down.

Nogarotto, who led Soccer Australia between 2002 and 2003, was at the centre of a similar uprising 12 years ago when he bowed to a crescendo of calls for a new broom to sweep through the game, and handed the reins to Westfield billionaire Frank Lowy, who created a new board and new governing body.

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While not calling for heads to roll on this occasion, Nogarotto said FFA cannot ignore a core supporter base who feel disenfranchised by Oxford St, with CEO David Gallop and his apparatchiks accused of, at best, taking them for granted, and at worst flagrantly ignoring their right to natural justice over a fatally flawed "appeals” process for the banned 198, which even now puts the onus on fans to "prove" their innocence.

“When, as the outgoing chairman of Soccer Australia, I handed the baton over to Frank Lowy it was because fans insisted they wanted a regime change and a change in the way the game was being governed,” Nogarotto said.

“I accepted that, and now we have reached another watershed, in the sense that fans are more vocal than ever, and while not always right, governing bodies need to heed the undercurrents at play otherwise it becomes a very difficult relationship to manage.

“We are seeing fan empowerment everywhere, in just about every major football market in the world.

"If you look at the Reform FIFA Now movement, it's been largely initiated by disgruntled fans, and the FFA needs to understand it's dealing with a worldwide phenomenon.

“More and more ‘power’, not real power, but perceived power, is coming from the fan base and fans are leveraging that in order to get what they believe is the right outcome for what is number one stakeholder in the game.

“In football, if you lose your base (the fans) you are in all sorts of trouble. Reconciling the cultural values between the base and a new market is not easy, but it needs to be done."

Nogarotto, now chief executive of the polling firm Crosby Textor, stopped short of advocating for an independent commission to run the sport as FFA staggers from one PR gaffe to another.

It has been a baptism of fire for new chairman Steven Lowy, who is yet to make any pronouncements on a traumatic eight days since News Corp Australia punished the controversial list of 198 supposed miscreants, in an apparent of breach of national privacy guidelines.

With A-League fandom in a state of meltdown, Nogarotto said it was imperative FFA didn't let slip its focus.

“I don’t think there’s a need for that (an independent commission), the FFA is made up of some pretty competent people, but like all competent people they need to keep their eye on the ball, and ensure that competence is also married to empathy to where the fan base is at on a particular issue," he said.

“Anti-social behaviour needs to be squashed swiftly, but there also needs to be a process for people to have a right of appeal; it’s a fundamental tenet of any democratic society."

A product of what has been termed 'old soccer', Nogarotto said "he had seen it all before", in reference to recent the attacks on the game from New Corp's Rebecca Wilson and fire-and-brimstone broadcaster Alan Jones.

"People in the media having bash at Australian football have been around since Jesus was in sandals," Nogarotto said.

"We just have to accept that and rebut their claims surely and intelligently. It doesn't help when some of the fringe element goes too far (in making death threats to Wilson). That doesn’t do the cause any good at all.
“I don’t think negative coverage will change, it just needs to be challenged publicly."

While FFA has been lambasted for deserting fans when they needed their backing most, Nogarotto said that he does have some sympathy for the governing body.

"It’s a real high wire act they are attempting to pull off in trying to keep the base on side and enfranchised while obviously coming down heavily on anti-social behaviour, which has a profound effect on families and people whom have been converted to the game more recently," he said.

"It’s a difficult one to reconcile, so there's a bit of sympathy from my end on how your balance those two tasks."

Nogarotto was linked with standing for a place back on the FFA board prior to the ascension of Steven Lowy to the top job, but ruled out any attempt to return to an administrative role in the short term.


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5 min read
Published 1 December 2015 at 1:45am
By David Lewis