Aami Park was not where the Melbourne Victory managing director, Caroline Carnegie, wanted to be on Sunday morning, but given the events of the previous night, she had little choice. As she made her way into Victory’s offices, the weight of what had transpired in the Melbourne derby was clearly visible in her step.
In just over an hour, she would somehow attempt to make sense of the indefensible; answering for the Victory fans who had stormed the field and attacked Melbourne City goalkeeper Tom Glover and referee Alex King, minutes after they had thrown a flare that injured a Network Ten camera operator. The devastation Carnegie felt radiated from her.
Those that spilled over the touchline fence betrayed many people that night, first and foremost other A-Leagues fans around the country who had peacefully protested the Australian Professional Leagues’ (APL) decision to sell hosting rights for its next three men’s and women’s grand finals to Sydney. It is almost impossible to see that decision being rescinded now. Not only do all the legal and reputational risks from breaking a contract with a state government remain, but any reversal, rightly or wrongly, could be seen as a surrender in the face of violence.
Perhaps lost in this, though, was the betrayal of the club itself, and of Carnegie, who has been steadfast in her efforts to empower the fans and back their desire for more autonomy and a reduction in the heavy-handed security presence at games. Now, that is all up in smoke. The next time the A-League giants are allowed to have fans in the stands for a men’s game, which might not be for quite a while, they will inevitably find themselves surrounded by security and police. Years of work gone with one throw of a bucket of sand.
“It’s very difficult for us to stand there and suggest that there isn’t a greater risk when we see what happened last night,” a glum Carnegie admitted.
As the invading fans began to climb back into the stands and without a hint of irony began singing a Victory chant, Carnegie and other club officials could only estimate the cost of what had transpired. And they didn’t have to wait long for further hints. On Monday morning, Football Australia issued the club with a notice to “show cause why they should not face serious sanctions for bringing the game into disrepute”, the first step of a process that will probably result in significant sanctions.
Fines both immediate and suspended will probably be levelled, as will points deductions. Home games, potentially for the rest of the season, will be forced behind closed doors which, in turn, will result in the club likely being forced to refund memberships and tickets already sold. Add to this a potential exodus in sponsors, the damage bill from Saturday evening, the cost of added security that will accompany the return of fans and a significant hole could be blown in Victory’s budget.
Not only does this affect the club’s men’s, women’s and youth programs – the latter two are completely innocent bystanders – but there is the very real possibility that jobs behind the scenes will be lost. Real people, working every day so that those who invaded a pitch have a club to support, now face potential unemployment.
Perhaps this is why some at Victory feel the club is facing its own, existential reckoning.
This is the second time FA has issued the club with a show cause notice in 2022, after homophobic abuse was directed at Adelaide’s Josh Cavallo at the beginning of the year. In April, the club was sanctioned by Football Victoria after violence between its supporters and Springvale White Eagles fans after an NPL game. And in 2021, fans hurled missiles at then-City keeper Teagan Micah in a W-League derby.
The line has previously been these people aren’t true fans of Victory. The problem, though, is that they are and as evidenced by the pattern of incidents, they continue to find sanctuary in the league’s largest fanbase.
Victory supporter group Original Style Melbourne said Saturday’s events were “uncontrollable” in an initial statement.The significant backlash that resulted led to a second, more apologetic offering the following night, but other Victory fans have now begun calling for OSM to disband; embarrassed and feeling their own sense of betrayal.
Saturday started as a night where Victory fans planned to join their City counterparts in ratcheting up focus on the APL. But now, their focus has been turned very much inward.