Australian football has reacted with a mixture of shock, anger, sadness and disbelief to the chaotic and violent scenes that resulted in the abandonment of the A-League men’s Melbourne derby on Saturday night.
City’s goalkeeper, Thomas Glover, was left bloodied after he was hit by a metal bucket allegedly thrown by a Victory fan as supporters stormed the pitch midway through the first half of the match at Aami Park.
The unprecedented scenes left stakeholders in the game – from players and clubs to fans and administrators – wondering how this could happen so soon after the Socceroos’ successful World Cup run had engendered such optimism for the future of football. People are asking whether there is a way back for the game in Australia.
“Our game is in tatters,” Central Coast Mariners’ goalkeeper, Danny Vukovic, wrote on Twitter. “An absolute disgrace what happened tonight. Cannot believe we are here after such an amazing WC and so much potential to see our game grow. Irreparable damage done. Darkest day for football in Australia.”
The invasion came after a day of protests at other A-League grounds, following the Australian Professional Leagues’ controversial decision to sell off the next three grand finals to Sydney. Walkouts had been planned by fans before this weekend’s round, and earlier on Saturday at Newcastle and on the Central Coast supporters had made their protests by exiting at the 20-minute mark.
But things turned sour amid a tinderbox derby atmosphere in Melbourne when Glover threw a flare that landed on the pitch back into the stands occupied by Victory’s supporters. The chaos that ensued led to calls for life bans for those responsible for the violence.
Victoria police Insp Jason Goddard said police were reviewing footage of the invasion and would be “knocking on doors very soon”. Three reported assaults are under investigation – to Glover, a referee and a Channel Ten camera operator.
Goddard confirmed police would pursue possible charges against any person who invaded the pitch. “If we can identify them, you can … rest assured we will investigate that and we will prosecute where we can,” Goddard said.
“Hey remember all that goodwill and warm fuzzy feelings towards the round ball game in Australia from a week ago?” said Akash Fotedar of the ABC. “No, me either. Those idiots at AAMI Park have gone and cooked it. Walk out, don’t walk on. Leave the players and referees alone.”
The TV presenter Melanie McLaughlin said she was “disgusted” by the scenes “but mostly sad”, while the former Sydney FC player Michael Zullo was “ashamed, embarrassed, infuriated”. “The damage done to our game tonight is inconceivable,” Zullo said. “All our hard work, ruined. We can only hope that those responsible are dealt with accordingly … Disgraceful.”
The former player turned commentator Robbie Cornthwaite wrote: “Disgrace. Embarrassment. If that’s your reaction we don’t want you anywhere near the game. Ban them for life. Shame on you!”