Opinion: Looking for a leader in troubled times
After possibly the worst 10 days in the FFA’s 11 year history, Gallop faced the press today, and said – nothing.
Following the fans’ walkout last weekend over their treatment by police, the media and the FFA - and with the looming threat of a total boycott this weekend – Gallop had the chance to throw his weight behind the legions of loyal supporters that pack stadiums, bring the A-League to life, and provide footage for the TV ads.
Instead, he put them back in the crosshairs.
The message was all wrong. He opened by reiterating the FFA’s Zero Tolerance Policy and maintained the false narrative of matches being a danger zone by saying the FFA was “protecting” fans from offenders.
He insisted the FFA’s secret banning process - where the accused get no chance to defend themselves or see the evidence against them - wouldn’t change… and appeals would still rely on the accused having to prove their own innocence.
He stumbled and stuttered under repeated questioning about what that evidence an accused fan could produce to clear their name, like a man who had amazingly never even considered that question before.
For a former lawyer, the concepts of due process and transparent justice seemed strangely alien to him.
And instead of opening fire at those attacking the sport, he meekly implored: “Don't worry about the critics.”
In a room full of largely football-friendly journos, it could have been an easy ride for him - hit out at the unfair coverage, highlight how safe it is to go to football and the vast numbers of great fans there each week, and even a vague promise to look into overhauling the banning process might have been enough.
Look, I’ve even written you a sample script, David. It doesn't say much more than you actually said - but it says it in a way fans wanted to hear.
“We’ve got the best fans in the world and every code would be grateful for the passion, colour and excitement they create in the stands - yet they have been widely smeared in some parts of the media for the actions of a few, in a deplorable stunt and breach of privacy that we outright condemn.
“This week the fans have made clear that there is an issue with the transparency of the banning process, and confusion over the appeal options open to those who come under scrutiny. We recognise that and will try to come up with a system that is more fair and just, while still punishing the guilty in a fit and proper manner.
“We have a zero tolerance for offenders who breach the code of conduct but it’s important for us to be seen to be acting fairly and responsibly. It’s vital that offenders are punished, but equally vital that the innocent have effective avenues to clear their name if a rare miscarriage of justice occurs.
“We will work with supporters’ groups to develop a new strategy as we are football and the future belongs to us, working together and building the beautiful game towards being number one in this country blah blah Hyundai Fox Sports blah”
But Gallop wasn't talking to the fans. He was kowtowing to the attack dogs in the media that used to buddy up to him at the NRL.
He was trying to take a strong line that may resonate with corporate sponsors and maybe the many non-football people on the FFA board which he kept promising to run things past.
Instead he fuelled the idea of a sport polluted with dangerous elements and simply further alienated the people who pay to walk past countless paramilitary-style cops and be treated like criminals and thugs on the terraces, week after week.
Despite the media hype which encourages the police over-reaction, the reality is very very different, as every regular fan knows and the number of parents who take their young kids to games without any fear.
Fans and the football community had sent the FFA a very clear message over the last few days, but Gallop and the FFA were not listening.
Before he had even finished talking, #StayAtHomeRound and #GallopOut were trending on Twitter.
The prospect of games being played in empty stadiums this week is now a genuine possibility.
Gallop begged fans to use “the energy” of last weekend’s protests “in a positive way”. They will. Rivalries have been set aside like never before and a unified boycott of all five games is now being discussed among fan groups.
If this is the worst week in the A-League, it is merely the culmination of a mounting series of crises to hit the competition this year.
Despite the Socceroos’ success in Asia and on the World Cup qualifying trail, it looks increasingly like the A-League has come off the rails and careering out of control.
In the space of a year, we’ve endured:
- The car crash that was Newcastle Jets - still unresolved after the sale to Dundee United owner Stephen Thomson apparently fell through
- The financial crisis at Brisbane Roar
- The salary cap rort at Perth Glory
- The bungled stadium booking for the Grand Final
- Price gouging fans for the FFA Cup Final
- Matildas going on strike over the CBA
- Forcing Ange Postecoglou to retract a non-partisan comment on pay talks
- Lack of marquee star quality
- Falling TV ratings
- Wellington Phoenix’s future deliberately thrown in doubt
- The prospect of a new club in probably the one area no-one wanted one.
- And the bizarre situation of the FFA chairman publicly slapping down an A-League coach for speaking out in defence of his club
All this against a backdrop of disquiet over the nepotistic handover of FFA control from Frank Lowy to his son Steven without challenge.
The A-League has had some rollercoaster moments in its decade-long existence, but rarely has it felt so broken as it does right now.
This is the year the competition needs to be shining bright. Talks are set to begin any day now on the new TV deal… and right now, it’s hard to see why anyone would even pay as much as they did last time round, never mind double, as is the target.
These are troubled times. The sport needs a leader. David Gallop had the chance today to stand up and be that man.
Sadly, the only time he stood up was to leave the room…