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“Darkest day in football in Australia”: An A-League Men’s game was abandoned last night after fans stormed the pitch, injuring players and a referee

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Football Australia has launched an investigation after an A-League Men's match between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City was abandoned last night out of fear for player safety.
"Darkest day in football in Australia": An A-League Men's game was abandoned last night after fans stormed the pitch, injuring players and a referee

Football Australia has launched an investigation after an A-League Men’s match between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City was abandoned last night out of fear for player safety. It came after a group of fans released flares and invaded the pitch in what ex-Socceroo Danny Vukovic called the “darkest day in football in Australia”.

The incident came after fans across the A-League had planned walk-outs from this weekend’s games in protest of the Australian Professional League’s (APL) decision to host the A-League grand final in Sydney for the next three years.

What happened?

At the 20-minute mark of the game, fans began to throw flares onto the field. When Melbourne City goalkeeper Tom Glover threw one of those flares back into the crowd, a group of fans ran onto the pitch to confront Glover.

Glover and referee Alex King both sustained head injuries when a metal bucket (used by stadium officials to dispose of flares) was thrown at them in the clash, while a flare also hit a Network Ten cameraman. Both sets of players were evacuated from the field, and the match was soon abandoned. Here’s a video of the incident.

Background

The A-League is run by the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), which took the reins of the top domestic soccer competitions from Football Australia (FA) two years ago. This includes the A-League Men’s, Women’s, and Youth leagues.

The A-Leagues have 12 professional clubs from Australia, and one from New Zealand.

The highest concentration of teams is in NSW (five teams) and Victoria (three teams).

What happened this week?

On Monday, the APL announced they’d signed a deal with Destination NSW (the state’s tourism agency) to host the A-League Men and Women’s Grand Finals in Sydney for the next three seasons.

Since the inception of the A-League in 2005, the top-ranked team in the grand final has won the right to host the event. The new deal would end that custom, and could mean both teams in the final may have to travel for the game.

How did it happen?

The decision was approved by the APL, but not signed off on by all of the clubs.

Some clubs said they had no involvement in the decision-making, with some owners only finding out about the deal hours before it went public.

One member of the APL Board, Anthony Di Pietro, resigned from his position on Monday following the controversy arising from the deal. Di Pietro is also the Chairman of Melbourne Victory FC, and said it was “clear” he couldn’t act in the best interests of his club and Victorian soccer while on the APL Board.

Why?

The APL said the deal with Destination NSW – reportedly for an eight-figure sum – would bring “important new funds” to Australian football, which were especially valuable after financial hardships from COVID-19.

A-Leagues CEO Danny Townsend also promised that “accessible and affordable” travel plans would be arranged for supporters, and said special events in the week up to the match would be arranged to entice fans to travel.

Division from within

Players and officials from A-Leagues clubs have publicly opposed the announcement.

This includes two players used as part of a promotional video for the grand final announcement, Craig Goodwin and Remy Siemsen.

Professional Footballers Australia, the union representing Australia’s elite footballers, have also voiced their disapproval of the decision.

About half the clubs have opposed the announcement or said they prefer for the previous hosting practice to remain.

What’s next?

As it stands, there has been no change in the decision to stage the next three A-Leagues Grand Finals in Sydney.

This season’s A-League Women’s Grand Final is set for April, and the Men’s will be played in June.

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