Originally published in Green Left Weekly.
In what the Sydney Morning Herald described
as the "darkest night" in Sydney Football Club's history, active
supporters of the A-League football (soccer) club ― known as "the Cove" ―
staged a walkout during the February 8 match against Adelaide United in
protest against heavy-handed security tactics.
The Cove displayed banners as the teams entered the pitch stating "We
want [Head Coach Frank] Farina gone". A banner in Russian also called
for club CEO Tony Pignata and chair of the board Scott Barlow to be
sacked by David Traktovenko, Russian banker and sole owner of SFC.
Security staff at Allianz Stadium confiscated the banner shorly
afterwards and took the membership of the fan folding it up on the spot.
The active support walked out.
Fans gathered at the rear of the stadium, chanting "back the team,
sack the board" for the rest of the night. Inside the stadium, another
fan threw a beer on Farina, while the team lost 3-0.
Pignata and Barlow blamed the confiscation
on "a staff member of Sydney FC who was located at pitch level during
the game" and said protocols would be put into place to ensure that
"every fan has the right to peacefully and respectfully voice their
After the incident, the club announced several meetings to engage the
fans. However, if the examples from other clubs are any indication, it
is unlikely the fans will be given much say in the club's direction.
After a long history of passionate engagement by active fans,
Melbourne Victory Football Club announed new standards were being
imposed for the start of the 2013-14 A-League season.
New measures introduced by the club included "barcode scanning, perimeter taping and removal of crew banners".
This means the club is removing areas from "general admission",
severely restricting freedom of movement in areas set aside for active
support, which includes activities such as singing, chanting, dancing
and banner waving.
In the letter, the club blamed the A-League's governing body, the
Football Federation Australia (FFA), for mandating that all areas,
including active areas, have designated seats as part of the conditions
of clubs holding a licence.
The leadership group for the North Terrace active support, the North
Terrace Collective (NTC), has made general admission in its area during
home games and the freedom for fans to move around active bays a
"non-negotiable" in their ongoing closed-doors negotiations with the
With the club unwilling to budge, the NTC has since boycotted the designated active area in all home games.
The letter detailed several concessions offered by club management in
negotiations with the NTC, including trialling ad-hoc admission for
those seated in other areas to the active bays and offering members
However, after a widely-reported incident, away from the venue,
between small numbers of Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers
fans before a December 28 match in Melbourne, the FFA had mandated member only active bays as part of the suspended sentence imposed on both clubs on January 2.
These sentences apply to both the north and south terraces for
Melbourne Victory fans and the Wanderers' Red and Black Bloc. They were
announced without consultation from either group.
A February 12 statement
on the North Terrace Facebook page said negotiations with the club were
ongoing but "progress has slowed" since the sentence was being applied.
It said, "understanding and respect for organised, independent active
support in this country — from the governing body down ― is evidently a
long way from being achieved."
The security measures come in a context of Australian media racist
dog-whistling against A-League fans, espeically active support. Yet all
they have delivered is the ongoing boycott of active bays.
During Melbourne Victory's Asian Champions League qualifier against
Thai club Muanthong United, fans displayed banners calling for "More
Club, Less Franchise" and "Robson out", targeting Melbourne Victory
Chief Executive Ian Robson, who has been leading negotiations with the
Despite such fan protests, the A-league is set for more billionaire antics with the puchase
of an 80% stake in perennial under-performer Melbourne Heart by
Manchester City ― the English Premier League giant owned by Sheikh
Mansour of Dubai's ruling family.
Meanwhile, a consortium publicly headed by Primo Smallgoods owner Paul Lederer is set to buy the Western Sydney Wanderers for $12 million. Singaporean businessperson Jefferson Cheng is the primary financial backer.
But is such corporate ownership the best way to build the league and the world game in Australia?
SFC fans point out the problems with the club are bigger than Farina and stem from a culture of nepotism. Barlow, the board chair, is the son-in-law of owner Traktovenko.
What is the solution? The route taken in establishing the Wanderers
in 2012 gives an indication. There was serious community engagement to
decide key aspects of the club and strong connections with existing
amateur and semi-professional clubs in the region were forged. This has helped
establish the club as one of the most loyally and passionately supported
within its short existence.
That degree of engagement was necessary for the FFA to win an $8
million grant from the then Gillard Labor government for the development
of grassroots football in Western Sydney.
But will the club continue to offer such genuine engagement with fans now it is under corporate ownership?
Or will we see the kind of tokenistic fan engagement as has been
offered to Sydney and Melbourne Victory supporters ― at most, winning
the right to actively support their clubs on their terms, but never with
a say over how the club is governed?
There is another option, which second-tier Queensland-based National
Premier League club Northern Fury has opted for as part of its bid to
build support for re-entering top-flight football.
The club launched
a much-awaited community ownership option this month, in which ordinary
supporters hold ownership over the club. This follows the example of
Germany's Bundesliga (the nation's top league), where clubs are 51%
owned by members.
Club chairperson Rabieh Krayem said members would "actually having a
say in the club by voting for the board of directors" ― something a
world away from the experiences of Melbourne Victory or Sydney