Football Australia boss James Johnson vowed tough sanctions Sunday after a goalkeeper was attacked during an A-League match, but insisted the sport was safe and there were no concerns about co-hosting the women’s World Cup next year.
The derby game between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City was abandoned Saturday evening after chaotic scenes in which 150 fans stormed the pitch at the city’s AAMI Park stadium.
City goalkeeper Tom Glover was smashed in the head with a metal bucket full of sand which left him with a concussion and a bloody gash that required stitches.
Match referee Alex King was also hurt in the melee, as was a television cameraman who was hit by a flare.
“I’m horrified, I’m irritated, I’m angry with the scenes we witnessed at AAMI Park last night,” Johnson said at a press conference.
“We have a case of some individuals — I would not refer to them as fans of football — who have confronted and attacked a player and a match official.
“An investigation has been opened… we will be moving swiftly and we will be taking the strongest sanctions that are available.”
– A violent turn –
Supporters of both sides had been planning to walk out at the 20-minute mark in protest of a decision this week by league bosses to award the grand finals series to Sydney for the next three years.
But things turned violent when a flare thrown from the stands landed near Glover, who threw the smoking pyrotechnic back into the terraces just before the pitch was stormed.
The goalkeeper, who could also face punishment for the flare incident, was taken to hospital and had “many, many stitches”, said Johnson.
“Police have a number of active and ongoing enquiries to make after viewing the vision of the incidents and of those involved in the pitch invasion,” Victoria state police said, adding that 150 people ran onto the pitch.
“Investigators are also working with Football Australia, A-League officials and the clubs.”
The ugly scenes sparked a scathing response on social media, with fans describing it as “the darkest day for football in Australia”.
The incident came in the wake of the Socceroos making the last 16 at the Qatar World Cup, which had engendered optimism for the future of the game.
Australia is due to co-host the women’s World Cup next year with New Zealand, and Johnson insisted “football is very safe”.
“We are a sport with a massive groundswell, we see how big our sport is becoming recently with the World Cup campaign of the Socceroos,” he said.
“We know that the sport will continue to grow and be at its strongest point leading into the women’s World Cup in July. I’m not worried at all about hosting the women’s World Cup.”
He denied the crowd violence could affect Australia’s hopes of hosting other big tournaments.
“I’m in touch with FIFA and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation),” he said.
“These things happen and they aren’t specific to Australian football.
“What is important for the public and for FIFA and the AFC is what our response is and our response is very simple — there is no place in our sport for this type of behaviour.
“Those that participated in it will be weeded out and we will do it very quickly.”