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A-League: Soccer’s ecosystem robust enough to recover from Hurricane Boycott

Stadia around were odd places last weekend without active fans generating their usual cacophony of sound and fury at the round of A-League games taking place.

The noise, colour, atmosphere and chanting at soccer matches in this country is the code’s unique selling point and what makes it such a different sensory, and often emotional, sport to the other longer-established football codes.

The supporters got their message across with their impressive, well-organised boycott of matches, and it should have sent visceral fears through the central nervous system of the game’s governing body.

The fans have succeeded in part having now forced meetings for Wednesday with FFA  to discuss a series of grievances.

The publication of a story by News Corp’s Sunday Telegraph naming and shaming 198 fans banned from n grounds, has had the sort of blow back none could have envisaged.

It has united the tribes, forced the FFA to admit its mistakes and, hopefully prepared the ground for some kind of rapprochement when representatives of active fan groups meet the men in suits in Sydney.

Doubtless the fans will use this rare chance to make a series of ambit claims.

They will ask for the introduction of an open and transparent appeals process – something hitherto not in existence or unknown to most.

They will probably ask the FFA to end the contract of Hatamoto, the security company which has shown little cultural understanding of how to deal with soccer fans.

And one or two are likely to seek the sacking of A-League chief Damien De Bohun, if not FFA CEO David Gallop. After all, when the revolutionaries get the scent of blood in the nostrils, then the tumbrels are dragged through the streets and heads inevitably roll.

The FFA would be mad not to formally agree to the first of those demands. They have already said they will and while their public relations strategy in the past fortnight might have beggared belief, they are not completely stupid.

That said, my guess is that very few of the 198 already banned – maybe 5 or 10 per cent – would have genuine cause for appeal. There are undoubtedly some bad people who have used the game as cover for violent acts, and no one wants them back at any time, appeals process or none.

After that it gets a bit more problematic. Could FFA get rid of their security company without being hit by a breach of contract action, even if they wanted to?

Far better if the FFA, in the first place, instructed Hatamoto to work closely with the leaders of the active fan groups to hammer out workable policies. Inclusion is far better than exclusion.

Gallop is now under scrutiny like never before. His track record over the past 18 months has been poor. De Bohun is in the same boat, although key policy is made above his pay grade.

The boycotts have been effective, but at what point will they cease to be a talking point and ultimately become counter productive.

For all the fans who generate atmosphere in the active areas, there are several more thousand enjoying the game.

They will continue to attend, and while it might not be as noisy as usual at first, they will learn to make their own atmosphere in time: nature abhors a vacuum, and if one group of actives continue to boycott, other fans will eventually take their place.

Football is a robust eco system, with each of its constituents interdependent.

A club needs players, coaches and owners prepared to invest. It needs fans to give it meaning, and active supporters to lead the way. It needs rule makers who understand the culture and who are trusted to lead the game.

That ecosystem has just been flattened in parts by a hurricane, but it can re-shoot and thrive again if all parties listen to each other and make mutually beneficial decisions.

The FFA can’t have it all their own way. But neither can the fans.

Sort this out on Wednesday, agree on an appeals process, get the security company to tread lightly in future and genuinely negotiate with supporters about their grievances. Fans should have a realistic expectation about what can and can’t be achieved. Hopefully the storm will clear and fans can start supporting their teams again. This weekend.

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