Broken seats litter the Etihad Stadium playing surface after the Melbourne derby.
Photo: Getty Images
What is it about Australian fans of world football that makes them sabotage the prospects of the game they profess to love so much?
Two days after a pulsating Melbourne derby between Victory and Heart, we should be celebrating the fact that more than 41,000 fans turned out to watch a game of fine quality between two A-League clubs that didn't exist eight years ago.
Instead, newspaper column inches and radio airwaves are choked with talk of what happened off the field.
Etihad Stadium management confirmed on Monday morning that about 170 seats had been ripped up by spectators at the game. Supporters of both clubs were responsible, although stadium spokesman Bill Lane told radio station SEN that more damage was done by Heart supporters, whose side lost the game 2-1.
It doesn't matter whose fans did what. The simple fact that it happened at all has robbed the A-League of another chance to sell its dramatically improved product into a competitive sporting marketplace, and gives critics of the code another chance to sink their collective boots in.
You'd like to think that those responsible might begin to understand that there is some correlation between incidents of mindless vandalism and violence, and the negative media coverage of the sport.
But if past incidents are anything to go by, the perpetrators will cry foul, claiming that they are misunderstood and that 'The Media' is out to get them. They will fail to understand that they are the biggest problem with the local game - not heavy-handed security guards, not 'The Media', and not the prudish general public who "don't understand our game".
Thankfully, cooler heads are beginning to prevail. Heart CEO Scott Munn has vowed to identify those responsible from his club and ban them for five years from attending any matches. He has been flooded by evidence - photos and videos from mobile phones - of true Heart supporters who were horrified at the behaviour of those around them.
And this is the true point of the whole debate - one that is too often missed by those seeking a quick headline to sell papers or boost advertising.
The vast majority of football supporters who vehemently railed against what they perceived as biased media coverage, using the slogan 'Passion is not a crime', aren't the same fans who ripped up those seats at Etihad.
They aren't the same people who, despite constant and repeated warnings, persist in lighting illegal and dangerous flares in the crowd.
And they almost certainly aren't the people who engaged in a brawl at a pre-season match between Western Sydney Wanderers and NSW state league side Sydney United in August, or threw the rock that knocked a six-year-old boy unconscious at one of Sydney FC's trial matches a week earlier.
But the problem that the vast majority of sensible, passionate football fans face is that these wannabe hooligans wear the same colours as they do. They stand in the same active support areas. And by their headline-grabbing acts of violence and intimidation, the troublemakers tarnish the reputation of the entire code.
If football is ever to be truly accepted by Australia's mainstream public, the senseless violence and vandalism conducted under false pretences of support has to stop. The sooner that club supporter groups follow the AFL's Sydney Swans and adopt a 'no dickhead' policy, the better everyone will be.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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