Melbourne Victory CEO Ian Robson says the club’s relationship with its renowned active supporter base has improved 100 per cent from 12 months ago.
The A-League has long flaunted the code’s active support and the matchday atmosphere at Victory home games was one of the highlights of the 2014-15 season.
Only 12 months earlier, active supporter group Northern Terrace Collective (NTC) held silent protests at home games, amid anger over a range of issues which generally centered around the club trying to control it.
“It’s a 100 per cent better than it was a year ago,” Robson, who was appointed ahead of the troublesome 2013-14 season, told FourFourTwo.
“Everybody around the table acknowledged that we wanted to find a way to re-engineer and re-structure.
“There’s non-negotiables around fan behaviour and fan safety and now there’s a clearer picture between what social and anti-social behaviour looks like and how that is positioned in an environment which still delivers a fantastic and unique matchday experience.
“Whether you’re a hardcore bolted-on Victory member or someone coming for the first time, you walk away going ‘how good was that, how different was that’.”
Stricter and overzealous security and police, the removal of banners, the reduction of the active bay size and a feeling that the NTC’s concerns were being dismissed by Victory were all at the crux of the issue.
Robson acknowledged challenges remained, such as flares on gamedays inside and outside the stadium.
The NTC had been frustrated they were being punished for the actions of a few.
“We know that there’s still a very, very small problematic minority of people who, for whatever reason, are choosing our sport as a platform for anti-social behaviour that at times borders on criminal behavior,” Robson said.
“Our commitment will always be to work with the authorities to isolate and identify though and do whatever we can to ensure they are appropriately punished.
“The flares are always a disappointment and frustrating. Apart from the whole legality thing, they’re just highly dangerous. We’ve got grave concerns for those who might happen to get caught in the crossfire.”
There was also the issue of tifos, with the NTC claiming they were banned from unveiling one in the lead-up to the Grand Final.
Victory denied it was solely their decision to not allow the tifo, with decisions made in collaboration with key stakeholders, such as Victoria Police, the stadium, security and the FFA, whom conduct the A-League finals.
The club said clarification over what was appropriate on banners and tifos was an ongoing process.
“In establishing where the boundaries are, that’s something that we’ll continue to work on with the leadership to the North Terrace and the South Terrace and all the key supporter groups who bring so much to our club by virtue of what they deliver on gameday,” Robson said.
Robson, who previously worked as AFL club Essendon’s CEO, added that he felt the gameday experience at the Grand Final was one of the highlights of his sporting life.
“I know there will always be in some people’s eyes a tinge of disappointment it wasn’t played at Etihad in front of 50,000, the noise of the crowd of 30,000 and the environment they delivered, with the atmosphere and the edginess of it all, it was electric,” Robson said.
“I was privileged to be here. It was truly a great day. We were just so thrilled t come out on the right side of the ledger.”