• Football Australia chairman Chris Nikou and CEO James Johnson address the media. (AAP)Source: AAP
Football Australia should not take the blame for the weekend fracas in Sydney where fans of Rockdale Ilinden and Sydney United 58 were involved in a nasty brawl that has become a big news story.
Philip Micallef

SBS The World Game
27 Apr 2021 - 3:51 PM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2021 - 4:38 PM

Three people were injured when a group of rival fans clashed at the end of a National Premier Leagues match.

The brawl was captured on video and, needless to say, the mainstream media was all over it.

The story attracted the attention of radio station 2GB shock jock Ray Hadley, who invited Football Australia chief executive James Johnson to his morning show.

Hadley questioned Johnson about the governing body's decision to scrap the national club identity policy that was implemented in 2014 and that was designed to stop clubs from acknowledging or promoting their ethnic background.

The idea was to rid the game of its 'foreign' roots and make the game more appealing to mainstream Australia.

The unpopular policy was unceremoniously dumped in 2019 amid widespread acclaim, at least within the football community.

Rockdale are known as a Macedonian-backed club while Sydney United have strong Croatian ties.

Yet what misguided people like Hadley need to understand is that idiots are idiots everywhere in the world and if a bunch of young men decide to make nuisances of themselves or worse still cause trouble they will go ahead, regardless of which team they are deemed to follow and what the clubs involved are actually named.

What happened at Rockdale had nothing to do with the clubs' names ... although Sydney United are as 'Australian' as can be, I reckon.

Johnson quite rightly spoke about the emphasis of the governing body on behaviour rather than on ethnicity when it comes to upholding law and order.

Johnson also made it a point to explain that what drove the game's suits to abandon the NCIP was a need for inclusivity in a sport that perhaps epitomises multicultural Australia more than any other.

Yet Hadley claimed that clubs like Rockdale are unlikely to attract too many players to their club with a name that includes Ilinden that commemorates an uprising in Europe in 1903. Really?

I wonder what Socceroos legends Mark Bosnich, Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, Ned Zelic, Mile Jedinak and others thought about playing for a team called Sydney Croatia all those years ago.

This is what multiculturalism is all about, for goodness sake.

Thankfully, those guys had far more sense than Hadley and his ilk and were only too happy to join a club that has played its part in creating Australia's football folklore and go on to forge brilliant careers abroad.

So much for the lack of inclusivity.

This whole episode is another stain on the game and will have affected the prospects of a second division in the short term.

While it is easy to dismiss the unsavoury incident as a one-off - crowd disorders in football are fortunately very rare these days - we should not underestimate the damage it has caused to our game in an overall sense.

The mainstream media had every right to pounce on the story and treat it how it wished but, for the hundredth time, this comes down to our game.

If we do things right we cannot be attacked.

In other words. if the unruly elements are dealt with promptly and without fear or favour, the game will not provide the 'anti-football mafia' in this country with fodder to go on the attack.

Hadley took the golden opportunity to have a go at our game but he was wrong to blame Football Australia for the ruckus in Rockdale.