Melbourne A-League derby abandoned as fans storm pitch and keeper attacked

Melbourne A-League derby abandoned as fans storm pitch and keeper attacked

The A-League Men Melbourne derby descended into chaos after fans invaded the pitch amid ugly scenes at AAMI Park that left the City goalkeeper Tom Glover bloodied and the match abandoned for player safety reasons.

Football Australia denounced the “shocking scenes” and promised action would be taken against those responsible, while prominent figures in the game expressed their anger at the violence that comes just weeks after the Socceroos’ World Cup run had reinvigorated interest in the Australian game.

League leaders City were ahead through Aiden O’Neill’s 11th-minute goal when trouble erupted in the 22nd minute of the match. Both sets of fans had been throwing flares on to the pitch but the situation escalated when one appeared to hit a Network 10 cameraman, then exploded when Glover picked another off the ground and threw it back into the stand housing Victory’s active support.

As supporters flooded on to the field of play, a metal bucket used to dispose of flares was thrown in the direction of Glover, striking him in the face and drawing blood. Match referee Alex King, who was also injured and left covered in sand from the bucket, had no choice but to pull the players off the pitch and suspend play, before it was later called off.

“Following shocking scenes during the first half of the A-League men’s match between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City … where fans from the Melbourne Victory FC end entered the field of play, Football Australia match officials have abandoned the match … in order to protect the integrity of the match,” an FA statement read. “Such behaviour has no place in Australian football, with a full Football Australia investigation to commence immediately, where strong sanctions to be handed down.”

It comes after a day of protests across the A-League Men competition, as fans made their feelings known about the Australian Professional Leagues’ controversial decision to sell off grand final hosting rights to Sydney for the next three years.

There had been a tense atmosphere throughout the start of the game, with both sets of active fans planning to depart the game at the 20-minute mark. Both sets of fans started “fuck the APL” chants immediately after the preceding A-League Women’s game finished. Victory and City fans each unfurled banners pre-game and as the half unfolded, referencing their displeasure with the APL.

Victory fans let off small fireworks then flares, while their goalkeeper Paul Izzo had to help dispose of flares thrown by City fans.

The incident comes less than two weeks after the Socceroos bowed out of the World Cup after a successful run to the last 16 that captured the imagination of the country and raised hopes that the game could capitalise on the renewed interest in it.

Commentators Simon Hill and David Basheer both expressed their anger at the scenes in Melbourne and rued the opportunity missed.

Victory issued a statement late on Saturday night, saying the club was “devastated” and to formally apologise to Glover, King and the camera operator.

“The club unequivocally condemns the actions of fans at Saturday night’s match against Melbourne City at AAMI Park,” the statement read. “The actions that occurred, that saw spectators enter the pitch and injure a Melbourne City FC player, an official and a Network 10 cameraman, are not acceptable under any circumstance and have no place in football.

“This conduct will not be tolerated and the club, along with AAMI Park and Victoria Police, will undertake a full investigation into the incident. Melbourne Victory would like to reiterate there is no place in football for what was witnessed tonight.”

Earlier in the day at Gosford Stadium, Central Coast Mariners fans headed for the exit at the 20-minute mark of their game against Sydney FC and held a banner aloft which called for APL chief executive Danny Townsend to resign.

At McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, Jets fans also left the ground in the middle of the first half of their match against Brisbane Roar, with fans unfurling a banner saying “fans>$$”.

The players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, welcomed the decision to abandon the game in Melbourne and called for the “strongest possible sanctions” to be applied to those involved in the violence.

“The PFA has met with the players involved in tonight’s match and will continue to ensure they are provided with the full support and resources of the PFA,” a statement read. “We acknowledge the courage of players, club staff and referees who came to the aid of each other in circumstances that no one should ever be exposed to.”