Time to stop pulling punches over spectator violence

Again the actions of a thoughtless minority have cast Australian soccer in a bad light, and again the administrators face the dilemma of whether they have the guts to do anything about it.

A specially-convened national league tribunal in Adelaide next week will decide what action should be taken concerning the disgraceful crowd scenes which marred the recent match between Adelaide City and Melbourne Croatia at Hindmarsh Stadium – with several players, among them Mark Talajic, caught up in the melee.

In Melbourne last night, Talajic faced a tribunal hearing of his own, and next Friday it will be the turn of the two clubs to face the music.

But who exactly is calling the tune?

The NSL has dithered for years over taking firm action to help combat the periodic outbreaks of spectator violence – the worst of which has been politically motivated. There have been threats of points being deducted, threats of suspended fines, threats of having games played behind closed doors.

But the NSL clubs now know these threats to be meaningless, and all the while nothing is being done to get to the heart of the problem.

There have been no long-term measures to improve stadium security, no long-term programs to educate the fractious fans to forget their rivalries, no serious attempts to weed out the culprits and ban them from the grounds.

There was the amazing situation in Adelaide, where the spectator who started the brawl was actually helped back over the fence by the security officers.

So now the sport has reached another crossroads. Does the NSL make an example of the guilty parties in this latest episode and take the strongest possible action? Or does it take the easier, and familiar, route of suspended fines and empty threats?

How empty these threats are was seen last season, when Melbourne Croatia, already under a $10,000 good behaviour bond, suffered no penalty despite the aggressive behaviour of their fans in the grand final at Olympic Park, when several arrests were made.

But direct action has never been the strongpoint of the administrators who run Australian soccer, and that is why the issue of spectator violence has never been properly addressed. Sooner or later the ASF commissioners will discover how much damage their apathy is doing to the game.

The question is, how long do we have to wait?

* WHATEVER the rights and wrongs of this week’s transfer of Socceroo sweeper Ned Zelic, it is hard to understand the venomous outburst of Marconi-Fairfield boss Tony Labbozzetta.

While Labbozzetta, wearing his hat as a club president, had his own reasons to feel aggrieved when Zelic opted for Sydney Olympic, his position as an ASF commissioner demands a more balanced stance.

His public slanging of Zelic, and mentor Tom Sermanni, does nothing to enhance the image of the game. Labbozzetta, more than anyone, should understand that.

* FREELANCE television producer Harry Michaels, the man most responsible for bringing the national league onto our loungeroom screens, is fuming over criticism of his role by ASF commissioner Sam Papasavas, and it is not hard to see why.

Papasavas, known within the game as Shotgun Sam, fired off another off his ill-advised salvos this week when he suggested Michaels had not lived up to his end of the bargain to secure a sponsor for the weekly program The Big Match on SBS-TV.

Given that Michaels spends $4,500 of his own money each week to get the program to air, this griping is a bit rich. The NSL, of which Papasavas has been chairman for the past 10 years, holds little attraction for the corporate sector, especially when the weekly highlights are rating 1s and 2s.

And who is really responsible for this sorry situation, Sam? People in glasshouses, and all that.
Sydney Morning Herald
Michael Cockerill

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