Fighting football's good fight

by Francis Leach on May 26, 2011

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 When the FFA dropped the news that Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart were being withdrawn from Victoria’s fledgling Mirabella Cup competition, there was no one from the governing body on the ground in the southern capital to put the case for the embarrassing back flip.

Along with the gross breach of trust with grass roots football the decision represented, it also reconfirmed the perception that the sport is currently run by remote control from its Sydney HQ. It, in the eyes of many, reiterated the little regard the powers-that-be have for those members of the football family who live and breathe the game in one of the most challenging markets for football almost anywhere in the world.

FFA CEO Ben Buckley reportedly did his best to explain the commercially sensible rationale for the change of heart in the face of considerable hostility at a recent fan forum in Sydney.

Those arguments were all but drowned out by a chorus of “I told you so” by detractors and cynics in Melbourne who saw it as another example of a game that scores more own goals than it does match winning ones.

Who was on hand for FFA playing point guard for the decision? Who was available to rebut the detractors? To explain the long term vision of a national cup competition? To paint the big picture and confidently predict that the decision would, in the long run, lead to a bigger, and more vibrant and exciting domestic football landscape?

There was no one.

The FFA has left Melbourne to its own devices and is paying the price for not having a strong, visible and articulate presence in its key battleground market.

Just as it has with western Sydney, the controlling body has taken for granted the strength of sentiment for the game in its traditional heartlands, and in doing so, has left itself open to a growing insurgency from a robust and determined adversary.

The AFL will be showcasing its GWS franchise next season while football fans wait for the FFA to make the trip down Parramatta Road with something resembling a sustainable plan for a team they can call their own.

In Melbourne, football fans have had to wake up to hysterical headlines in the local rag proclaiming them the ‘worst’ supporters in the country. An act of violence outside an A-League venue sets in train the usual tabloid voodoo dog whistle about “Wog Ball”. Meanwhile a similar incident at the same venue last week following the AFL game between Carlton and Geelong goes virtually unmentioned.

With consistent A-League match day coverage all but disappeared off the radio in Melbourne (save for the ABC’s efforts where it fits games in around its other commitments), and a free to air TV presence for the game still a long way off, football seems to be shrinking into its corner unwilling or unable to raise its voice and argue its case.

Football needs a voice in the southern capital. A person who can argue the case for the game, to rebut the lies and vindictive rubbish peddled about it. It needs someone to champion the sport and boldly argue its case.

Melbourne isn’t the only battle ground in which the FFA needs to fight the good fight.

Truth is though; it can’t win the battle of hearts and minds if it isn’t in the fight at all.