Football fans say this was the worst press conference in the history of press conferences. They are absolutely seething. One fan told us he would “give a kidney to get that man in a room and give him a piece of my mind”.
This is all about a press conference which Football Federation (FFA) Australia chief David Gallop gave on Tuesday.
Gallop gave the conference because football fans have been dragged through the gutter in recent weeks, after a Sydney newspaper named and shamed 198 fans who’ve been banned from attending A-League matches for various behavioural offences.
The 198 were obtained via a leaked document. Most believe it was wrong to their publish their names and faces, full stop. Fans were especially outraged, as many of the 198 intended to appeal their bans.
At this point, the dispute was between fans and the paper. But it soon became a civil war as fans and the FFA argued over the appeal process.
Back in November, A-League head Damien de Bohun said that fans could not appeal spectator bans. This, he claimed, was a deterrent to troublemaking. When predictable outrage ensued, de Bohun announced that OK, maybe the FFA would look into a way to overturn bans. Meanwhile, the FFA issued a statement saying banned spectators have always been able to try to prove their innocence.
Talk about mixed messages. The FFA’s left foot didn’t seem to know what the right foot was doing. Banned fans were particularly incensed that they couldn’t access CCTV or other technology to prove their innocence. They felt abandoned by their own people. Meanwhile, the press vitriol continued. One particularly dopey columnist likened football fans to terrorists.
Attacked from without and within, some fans walked out of A-League matches last weekend en masse. They were sick of being portrayed as the bad boys and girls of Australian sports fandom. They wanted to make a point.
Only one man could defuse the situation. He’d been in India all week on Asian Football Confederation business, but with his calm demeanour, his (professed) love for the game and his understanding of the fanbase’s passion, David Gallop could hose all this down.
He failed. And how.
Fans had expected Gallop to come out on the front foot in their defence, and in support of everything positive about football. They expected stern words directed at those who paint all football fans as thugs. They believed he would announce transparent appeal processes for those seeking to appeal bans.
Instead, Gallop played tough cop. He spoke about why 198 fans had to be banned. He steadfastly stood by the FFA’s refusal to share CCTV and other technology to help fans prove their innocence.
In short, Gallop made fan misbehaviour the headline when he should have made passion the headline. At the very moment he needed to preach to the converted, he addressed the worst prejudices of the unconverted.
Football fans were livid.
“NEVER in my born days have I been left so disappointed by such a limp display as on Tuesday,” Fox Sports football commentator Simon Hill thundered on Tuesday.
“After a week of demoralising, unfair, and infuriating headlines, the game desperately needed a strong response," Hill added.
“When fans are labelled thugs, criminals, even likened to terrorists, you’d expect one of the main faces of the game to stand up and be counted. After all, those same supporters are the ones used incessantly in FFA marketing campaigns, to promote our point of difference.
“We expected to see a football version of Braveheart, all fire and brimstone, ready to charge forward in defence of the game’s greatest asset.”
When the country’s leading football commentator takes on the sport’s governing body in such aggressive terms, you know it’s civil war. Gallop and Hill are friends, too. These are tumultuous times.
Meanwhile, in the absence of David Gallop behaving like Braveheart, The Huffington Post Australia found the next best thing. His name is Grant Muir and he’s the spokesman for Sydney FC supporter group The Cove. Muir is one eloquent, angry Scotsman.
“We expect administrators of sport to support and defend the fans of the sport. Football is a sport that lives and dies by its fans… The FFA has has made no effort whatsoever to defend fans or to call out the inappropriateness [of certain media comments]," he said.
Muir was especially annoyed by the press release issued after the press conference, which had the extremely patronising headline: “Point made, time to support your team”.
“That was the most insulting condescending tripe I’ve ever seen. It was so utterly tone deaf I cannot believe a man with Gallop’s experience let that go out in his name," Muir said.
"He’s trying to tell us how to support our game, I would give a kidney to get that man in a room and give him a piece of my mind.”
Muir is desperate for Australians to understand that neither he himself nor the supporter group he represents has any issue with bans. It’s the lack of transparency in the appeal process that infuriates him.
“They don’t accord us the basic rights that even a murderer gets,” he said.
The next step?
A-League fans are about to vent their fury in a 100 percent non-violent but incredibly smart and damaging way. A mass boycott of this weekend’s A-League round is planned.
“This is one of these watershed moments,” Muir said. “We’ve talked to almost all of the other supporter groups and we are acting in unison.
"For me it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, to turn my back on the team I love and the game I love. But we are going to boycott the game.
"We’ve made it clear we respect other groups and individuals [who wish to attend]. It’s not our place to tell everyone what to do. But we won’t be going.”
In that much-maligned press release Gallop limply told fans: “I’ve seen and heard the response of fans over the past week. Now it’s time to turn that energy into what fans do best -- support and inspire their teams.”
Gallop might now be fighting for more than his sport’s credibility. He might be fighting for his own.