I am not sure that I have ever felt as sick to the stomach as I did during the pre-match formalities in the lead-up to last night’s Australia Cup final in Sydney.
The stage was set for a wonderful conclusion to the competition, with history assured to be made with either an NPL club claiming the trophy for the first time or Macarthur Bulls raising its first ever piece of silverware.
Instead, the behaviour of the Sydney United 58 fans turned what had begun as a joyous and celebratory evening, into one of the most distasteful nights that Australian football has seen for many a year.
With obvious references to fascism, racism and neo-Nazism, sections of the United supporter base proved that they were not in attendance for the actual football match and more at CommBank Stadium in an attempt to preach a message of hatred and intolerance in a volatile way.
If that was indeed the aim, they should feel very proud of their success. The rest of us in the football community can now hang our heads in shame and regretfully refer to past events that our current A-League was hopeful of extinguishing.
We should perhaps have predicted something like what we saw on Network 10’s main channel, a platform that football should have been precious about protecting and being deserving of in the future.
During the day, promotion for the match on social media platforms had been aggressively attacked by some fans furious at the invitation for people to attend the event on the traditional lands of the indigenous Dharug people.
The common theme was one of disgust from those who took umbrage at the promotional posts, with many asking why the traditional owners were mentioned at all and direct accusations that football had become a ‘woke’ and politically motivated game. The venom appeared to suggest that allusions to indigenous culture somehow infringed on their rights to disrespect Australia’s oldest citizens and somehow stood in the way of expressions of bigotry, division and hate that many fans had obviously planned to express on the night.
The irony of Sydney United’s Croatian origins and a throng of people passionately expressing their pride it in could simply be lost on no one. Moreover, the Nazi salute that was captured in many a photo during the evening, expressed by a group of people representing a culture that fought hard to be accepted and treated as equal in Australia during the period of post-World War II immigration, was irony in its greatest form and simply astonishing.
As the buffoons pretending to be interested in a game of football sang, jeered and heckled during the Welcome to Country ceremony in the minutes leading up to kick-off, it was difficult not to reflect on the thinking behind the establishment of the A-League back in 2005 and some of the things that many people wanted removed from the game.
The Sydney United fans reminded us all of exactly what those things were on Saturday night and like some of you, I went to bed after covering the game with a sick feeling in my belly.
Most disappointing of all was the failure of the broadcast team to even comment on the disgraceful behaviour occurring and the visual and symbolic depictions of hate being weaponised against anyone not seen as part of the intentionally intimidating collective.
The broadcasters either lacked the courage or poise to do so and would have to have been downright stupid to not realise the significance of the moment and the fall-out from it that was certain to awake the nation the following day.
I would like to say sorry to the Dharug people and the groups also referred to in the verbal and physical messages sent out by a group of people who seem to respect nothing but their own culture.
It was meant to be football’s night of nights and for Macarthur it was a great, trophy-winning one that they will never forget as a collective. Yet for me, the Australia Cup of 2022 will always be one of shame and a night when football took a few steps back in the minds of the many Australian’s who were simply disgusted by what they witnessed.