Western Sydney Wanderers chief executive Lyall Gorman took a refreshing position on where the first local derby against Sydney FC, featuring Alessandro Del Piero, will be hosted.
Asked if the Wanderers’ home game on 20 October might be switched from its scheduled Parramatta Stadium to the much larger ANZ Stadium in Homebush to accommodate the likely ticket demand, Gorman dismissed the suggestion, saying the fledgling club will stand by its commitment to the fans who had given a clear message that they wanted Parramatta to be their home.
Debate sprung into life. Twitter traffic was busy on the topic.
Those who questioned Gorman’s stand argued that switching the game to Homebush was a ‘no brainer’ given that it could accommodate tens of thousands more fans than you could possibly fit into the 21,000 capacity Parramatta venue. Switching was a case of sound business, argued its advocates.
I disagree and claim, in the face of the obvious numbers, that the switch would in fact have been bad business.
As has been argued many times in this space before, a football club’s best asset is its fans. But by that I don’t mean just the numbers of the fans but the emotional asset of their loyalty and respect.
To move the game would have sent the message that it is the fans’ numbers that is important not their love for the club or the respect in which they should be and expect to be held. In other words it would have been a case of treating them like customers rather than fans, the ultimate mistake when trying to cultivate a loyal following for a new club.
Going for the quick buck would, in the long term and the grand design, have been bad business. Gorman and the WSW club deserve kudos for their stand.
Moving games to bigger venues to generate bigger revenues does happen, of course (Melbourne Victory often chooses to play at Etihad Stadium rather than at AAMI Park) but in traditional football cultures it’s uncommon.
You never see Chelsea move a big game from its 42,000 capacity Stamford Bridge to Wembley, more than double its size.
Relations with fans in the A-League have indeed come a long way in other ways since some of the horrors of the earlier years, when they were treated as nothing more than turnstile spinners, hitting a low when Clive Palmer decided to curtail their numbers in order to save money.
The penny has dropped that club identity, whatever the ownership structure, has to be centred on community. You mess with the community at your commercial peril.
The biggest breakthrough has come at Melbourne Victory, the club with the largest parcel of fans in the land and the one with probably the most intense passions.
Immense progress has been made since I wrote this piece in early 2011.
In the column, I highlighted the draconian and insensitive way Victory supporters were being treated by the police and the security firm hired to keep them in check. It was a disgrace.
But the problem has been fixed. Swayed by a desperate need to collaborate and find a solution, fans’ representatives and the security authorities got together, with FFA acting as a third party, resulting in zero incidents in the entire 2011/2012 season at Victory home games.
The result of the collaboration was a document called the Supporter Management Charter, under which the fans and the security authorities forged an agreement on the specifics of acceptable fan behaviour and security response. By all accounts it has worked like a dream.
It has even been embraced by the much maligned North Terrace, the most proactive wing of the Victory supporter base, leaving the terrace or curva culture intact as a throbbing element of the Victory identity.
Hats should go off to Adam Tennenini, a leader of the Victory supporter community, Victoria Police and FFA. What looms is a great season ahead when it comes to real football atmosphere, now unfettered, at Victory home games.
I can’t wait.
What irony that in this time we should learn the truth about what really happened at Hillsborough in 1989, when football fans were treated like animals and 96 of them died.
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