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How Melbourne Victory can restore their brand

Melbourne Victory fell to their 14th loss of the season on Sunday in Perth, losing to the Glory 2-1.

It’s a new low for the club which has, for the lifespan of the A-League, been the benchmark off the field and sit just behind Sydney FC on it.

The club regularly tops the charts in attendances and memberships each season, with crowds at some points surpassing 40,000 for regular season matches throughout their history.

This season however, tells a different story.

Victory currently average 5,860 people a game, the lowest figure in their history by some margin. They sit sixth in average attendance this season, behind crosstown rivals Melbourne City.

Whilst the effect of a global pandemic has affected numbers all around the A-League alongside other factors, here are some of problems the head honchos at Melbourne Victory must specifically address to regain their prominence in the competitive Melburnian sporting market.

Revamp the current squad

It’s hard to argue that this isn’t the worst Melbourne Victory team ever assembled. The Victory currently sit second last on the table and their goal difference of -29 is unheard of for a club who’s usually vying for the top position in the league. With Tony Popovic set to coach the team next season, his number one priority will be to clear the deadwood at the Victory and bring in some fresh faces to rebuild the club’s winning mentality.

Address the Marvel Stadium situation

Victory have played at the Docklands venue since its second season due to a financially favourable stadium deal, but the overall experience at the ground is not ideal for football fans. The club plays five games a season at Marvel Stadium, however due to declining levels of active support and a poor viewing experience, games at the stadium are becoming a chore to attend.

At a minimum, if games are to continue at the stadium seats on the first level should be pushed in to increase atmospheric levels and active support should be further encouraged, not continuously stifled.

More energy should definitely be put into filling the 30,000 capacity of a premier footballing venue in AAMI Park every gameday.

Develop an academy site – connect better with the community

After 16 years of being in the A-League, Melbourne Victory are yet to have a facility constructed for its academy setup that befits their size as a club. Their proposed academy base at Footscray Park, which also would have been a home for the club’s W-League side, fell through due to push back from locals in the council area.

Local rivals Melbourne City had a state-of-the-art City Football Academy based in Bundoora for a number of years, before switching their academy site in recent months to Casey Fields, to further connect with the South-East Melbourne football community.

With other Melburnian franchise Western United set to develop their own stadium and training facility in the Western Melbourne suburb of Tarneit, Victory is quickly falling behind the other two teams in their state when it comes to ownership of facilities and connecting with strong segments of the Victorian football community.

Remove the ‘Pay as You Go’ ticketing model

Introduced in response to the uncertain nature of a covid effected season, Melbourne Victory’s current membership model is impacting on its current gameday attendance. This season, fans who purchased a season ticket paid a discounted base fee for the year.

However, this was because each matchday these supporters would have to pay to lock in a seat at half the regular price of a normal match ticket, each time they wanted to attend a game.

The new process is more of a hassle and not as accessible as, for example, bringing in your general admission card, scanning in at the gate and picking your own seat on the day.

Re-build the active support in the north and south ends

It’s been touched on before, but the atmosphere at Melbourne Victory home games were once unrivalled in all of Australian sport.

Whilst the loyal folks are still there and making great noise, there is a lot of work to do by the club to encourage those who have been disenchanted with the club and the professional game in general, to come back to the terraces at the north and south ends.

 

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Football Australia CEO defends against Hadley’s Multicultural remarks

Ray Hadley’s stoush with CEO of Football Australia James Johnson represents the ongoing media bias against football that is present within the Australian broadcasting world. In the wake of a violent brawl that erupted at a New South Wales National Premier League game between Sydney United 58 and Rockdale Ilinden FC, Hadley seems to believe that “You can’t be representing people who come from Croatia or Macedonia”.

He uses anecdotal evidence of a football fan supporting Western Sydney Wanderers over Sydney United, and takes this as a gospel, uniform opinion of all football fans in the country, going as far as saying that any changes to the Club Identity policy are “a step back in the eyes of most football fans” based on this testimony. What is clear however is that Hadley is no fan of football, and has very little knowledge of the game or its history. The Crawford report that he cites in his rant against the FA, who he says is now subservient to the clubs, recommended that the NSL should be “allowed to operate as a stand-alone body with its own board and constitution, and able to set its own rules and regulations, with the NSL clubs as members”, something Mr. Lowy, a businessman “with acumen and connections”, never allowed in his tenure at Football Federation Australia.

The Crawford report, commissioned by the federal government, doesn’t suggest that ethnicity is a major issue within the game and instead focuses on the governance issues that had plagued football in Australia before the creation of the A-league. To cite the Crawford report as supportive of his views regarding ethnic names within football contributing to violence is intellectually dishonest and factually incorrect. The Report argued that an Australian professional football league should be independently run with representation from the clubs, something that hadn’t been achieved until last year. While Frank Lowy did a lot for the game, ignoring this recommendation has set the league back by a decade. Steven Lowy, his son who succeeded at the FFA, wasn’t torpedoed from the job like Hadley claims, instead he resigned when it became clear that the clubs would take control of the A-league in 2018.

Johnston held strong in his belief that this violence had nothing to do with an ethnic influence, a view supported currently by New South Wales police. Hadley however won’t be able to see that, as he has already decided that the changes to the Club Identity Policy are to blame. It is easier to blame the ethnic narrative that has been presented by those in the media for decades. As Johnson pointed out in an interview with Stephen Cenatiempo on 2CC, there are no ethnic tensions between Macedonia and Croatia. The brawl that occurred was caused by anti-social behaviour by a small minority of fans, rather than any greater ethnic issue. Hadley would like to blame the ethnicity of the clubs instead of recognising the issues that are present within all codes of the game, including his own rugby league.

Multiculturalism is a strength of Australian football. It is part of the identity of the game, allowing us to speak a common language and unite us through the love of the sport. When media personalities regurgitate talking points that are reminiscent of xenophobia, we should defend the game as the uniting force between different cultures it represents. The brawl at the Sydney United vs Rockdale Ilinden FC wasn’t the work of some race war between Macedonians and Croatians, but instead the work of a small minority of attendees who partake in anti-social behaviour at the disadvantage of the clubs and their fans.

The easily debunked arguments made by Hadley are nothing new to those storied to the history of the game in Australia. They are a damaging force that attempts to separate us on our differences, instead of uniting through our passion and love for the game that we share.

Never assume ethnicity is the problem, without addressing the behaviour

The association between a violent brawl at a NPL game and Football Australia rescinding the ban on ethnic club names couldn't be further from the fact, and only helps pernicious issues within Australian sporting culture remain unchallenged.

The association between a violent brawl at a National Premier League (NPL) game and Football Australia (FA) rescinding the ban on ethnic club names couldn’t be further from the fact, and only helps pernicious issues within Australian sporting culture remain unchallenged.

The fight between spectators at a NPL game between Rockdale Ilinden and Sydney United 58 on Sunday was an alarming scene of violence. The fight began after a spectator entered the pitch and interfered with a player, which sparked a full-blown melee where objects were thrown by spectators as police were called to quell the conflict.

In the aftermath, media outlets were quick to jump to the narrative that this fight was caused by the FA’s Inclusivity Principles for Club Identity (IPCI). Previously, clubs had been banned from using names that alluded to ethnic boundaries or events at the advent of the A-league and the death of the NSL, under a National Club Identity Policy which was replaced by the IPCI. While the clubs eschewed their ethnic names and insignia during the period this policy was in place, their heritage and supporter base remained untouched.

FA CEO James Johnson was forced to defend the policy on 2GB radio, while host Ray Hadley grilled him on the incident. To argue that the IPCI caused the violence in the stands on Sunday is to ignore a history of violence in Australian sport. Hadley insinuates that this is an issue for football particularly: “It’s almost unheard of in modern-day sport in Australia. Sometimes things get out of hand at Rugby league, Rugby Union, more particularly your sport”. In his favourite sport – one that hasn’t been “captivated by PC BS” as he eloquently states – spectators are regularly charged with assault after violent clashes.

As recently as this year, Parramatta fans fought in a wild brawl with their fellow supporters at a game. The issue is present within AFL, where spectators are regularly charged with assault. In 2018 two men were hospitalised after being attacked after an AFL game in Melbourne by men wearing their club colours proudly. In 2010 at the WACA, during a one-day test between Australia and Pakistan, a spectator stormed the field and tackled a Pakistani player and was charged with assault and trespass. The problem is a cultural one, that is endemic across all of Australian sport. To blame a spectator brawl on something as irrelevant as the name and identity of the clubs involved, while turning a blind eye to a history of violence that is perpetuated throughout Australian sport is to condemn ourselves to never fixing the cause, and never finding the solution.

Even within the world of football, violence between fans is not a new phenomenon despite what critics of the IPCI would like you to think. It happened before the ban on ethnic club names, it happened during the ban, and it will continue to happen after the introduction of the IPCI. Why is this so? Because a small minority of Australian spectators, regardless of their sport, are prone to violence. Violence between spectators is a worldwide phenomenon and amazingly remains so in countries whose populations are homogeneous and don’t divide themselves into clubs based on their heritage or ethnicity.

NSW Police Detective Superintendent Anthony Cooke stated that it was only a small minority of the spectators involved in the melee on Sunday, and there was no clear link to ethnic violence. With the former National Club Identity Policy in place, football was less inclusive of those of other cultures and ethnicity with little benefit to the game, while suppressing communities that embraced the world game.

This isn’t an effort to downplay the violence in the stands on Sunday however, but to blame the IPCI however is to ignore the fact that it is a minority of people who engage in anti-social behaviour. It remains easier to direct fault towards the policy of the FA instead of addresses the cultural issues that remain within football and Australian sport as a whole.

“We need to focus on the behaviours, not the ethnicity,” Football Australia CEO James Johnson stated in his interview with Ray Hadley. To remove spectator violence from all levels of the football pyramid we need to do exactly this. To villainize supporters based on the heritage of the club they support is to ignore the very real dangers of anti-social behaviour that is fuelled by far greater animosity than the name on their badge. Hadley misses this point completely and seems to believe that if the club had an anglicised name then the spectator violence wouldn’t have happened. The evidence shows this is objectively wrong and drawing upon ethnicity is simply a media narrative that damages the clubs and the footballing industry. The NSL, the precursor to the A-league, was severely damaged and ultimately destroyed by this stigma being attached by the media.

Hadley’s and 2GB’s attempted stitch-up of Johnson shouldn’t be a surprise. Football within Australia has a long history of being some sort of ethnic boogeyman, with the foreigner with the strange name being an easy target for disdain. While the FA has made it clear it won’t tolerate this behaviour from spectators, fans, and club officials, it has also taken the correct stance in deciding to punish those who do wrong based solely on their behaviour. While the violent brawl was unacceptable, and those involved need to be heavily punished with bans as Football Australia intends to do, it isn’t unheard of in the slightest. These issues aren’t self-contained to football or ethnically named clubs and are instead just a symptom of a much larger illness in Australian sporting culture. To ignore the violence that continues to permeate with Australian sport in an attempt to blame a policy that
contributes little to the issue will only allow the real causes to remain unchecked.

Football Tasmania welcomes Labor’s commitment to the World Game

Labor committed to Football in Tasmania

Football Tasmania has welcomed Labor’s commitment to improve football infrastructure and to support more Tasmanians in enjoying the game, including the construction of a boutique rectangular stadium in Hobart.

If elected, Labor has committed to matching the Liberals’ $10 million worth of upgrades to Valley Road, Birch Avenue, Lightwood Park and Churchill Park in order to prepare each venue for the hosting of basecamps for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

In addition, Labor will put $4.8 million towards infrastructure upgrades at the Clare Street, Montello Road, Somerset, Ulverstone, Prospect Vale and Wentworth Park footballing venues.

In what comes as exciting news for Tasmania’s potential bid for an A-League side, Labor has committed to building a 10,000-15,000 seat capacity boutique rectangular stadium in Hobart if elected in majority.

Football Tasmania CEO Matt Bulkeley thanked Labor for their recognition of the value that grassroots football has for communities.

“As Tasmania’s most played team sport, football provides enormous health, social and economic benefits to the community,” he said.

“However, as the sport continues to grow, we are beginning to outgrow our facilities, with challenges finding enough adequate training, playing and changing-room spaces for our expanding participant base.

“We thank Labor for today’s commitment, which in addition to allowing more Tasmanians to access our great game, will also put the upgraded venues in a great position to be selected as 2023 World Cup training bases.”

Bulkeley acknowledged that the prospect of a rectangular stadium in Tasmania would take football to the next level in the state.

“We’re excited about Labor’s vision to build a rectangular stadium in Hobart, which will truly take the game to the next level in Tasmania and help us attract more high-level content to clear pathways for our talented juniors to reach the pinnacles of our sport,” he added.

“It’s great to see both major parties have now demonstrated their commitment to a rectangular stadium in the state, and clearly recognise the significant value football provides to the community.

“We look forward to working with the next Government to make a rectangular stadium a reality, and ensure football can continue to grow so even more Tasmanians can enjoy the benefits of the World Game.”

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