Football Australia sanctions Melbourne Victory for Christmas Derby violence

Melbourne Victory have been hit with a series of financial and sporting penalties after Football Australia determined that the club had brought the game into disrepute when its supporters violently invaded the Melbourne Derby and forced the game's abandonment in December.

"The sanctions we have issued against Melbourne Victory are the heaviest in the A-League era," Football Australia CEO James Johnson said. "These sanctions are reflective of our desire to remove this behaviour, and those that perpetuate it, from our game."

In a press release, Victory said that it would "comply with all sanctions handed down" by the federation and, independent of the ruling, would commit to the disbandment of active supporter groups such as "Original Style Melbourne" that were active at the time of the pitch invasion.

Victory will be required to pay Football Australia a $150,000 fine as part of the financial penalties, as well as reimburse Melbourne City up to $150,000 in damages caused to AAMI Park during the derby (in which City were the home team), and will be forced to pay a suspended $100,000 fine if another pitch invasion occurs between now and the end of the 2025-26 season.

Citing the integrity of the competition, the federation has decreed that the abandoned derby will be replayed in April 2023 from the 22nd minute, with Melbourne City leading 1-0. Victory will be required to pay a minimum of $50,000 towards the costs of re-staging the fixture.

"It is a hefty fine," said Johnson. "We need to be an independent regulator. That is what occurred during the unbundling and we need to look at this with independent eyes. And we acknowledge it is significant. But it's one that we hope changes culture. We hope it drives change because it will hurt."

Tickets in the sections of AAMI Park designated as active supporter bays, both the North End and South End, will not be allowed to be sold for the remainder of the 2022-23 season -- which Football Australia says will lead to a loss of $100,000 for the club. The first three rows of the north and south ends will also be tarped off for the rest of the season, while a designated section of the North End must remain empty. No allowances for props such as megaphones, drums, and flags will be made for Victory fans for the remainder of the season.

Any tickets already sold in affected areas for fixture tickets will be cancelled, with affected ticket holders to be re-allocated seating by Victory in other parts of the venue in groups of up to four people or refunded. Direct families of up to six will be permitted to be seated together. Victory fans will also no longer be allocated seating at any away games for the remainder of the season, with the club also responsible for re-allocating or refunding seating.

Though the sanctions don't include any immediate points deductions, a "triggering event" that takes place between now and the end of the 2025-26 ALM season will result in an automatic 10-point deduction for Victory's ALM side. These "triggering events" are if a match is suspended due to Victory supporter conduct, the assault of coaches, players, match officials or pitch invasion by the club's supporters.

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Johnson clarified that these "triggering events" were related to ALM fixtures and that they were not related to Victory fan conduct at A-League Women and National Premier League fixtures.

"Deducting points was considered and where we decided is we went back to what ultimately is important and that's the integrity of our competitions," said the executive.

"And we felt that if we were to implement a point deduction now, it wasn't the most effective way of deterring the fans that would attend future matches from stopping this kind of behaviour. It is a significant sanction although it is suspended.

"The logic is to put the responsibility on the spectators to help us and they help the club self-regulate because should any of their colleagues do that there are catastrophic damages for Melbourne Victory."

Victory was previously issued with preliminary sanctions on attendance at its home and away fixtures on Dec. 18, with the new sanctions to come into effect when they lapse on Jan.15.

Approximately 150 supporters stormed the pitch and forced the abandonment of their derby meeting with Melbourne City on Dec. 18, injuring City keeper Tom Glover, referee Alex King, and two security guards. A Network Ten camera operator was also injured by a flare thrown in the minutes before the invasion.

Citing a variety of violations of its national code of conduct and ethics, Football Australia has issued 17 bans as a result of the pitch invasion, ranging from five-year bans, to three individuals who have been banned for life. Those sanctioned will be unable to attend any Football Australia-sanctioned football match during the length of their penalty, and will also be unable to register as a football participant such as a player, coach, or referee. Some 32 people have been charged by Victoria Police with a range of offences, including assault, violent disorder, criminal damage, riotous behaviour and discharging missiles.

"It's complex to implement [bans] but it's not impossible," said Johnson. "It does require close working relationships with law enforcement. It does require close cooperation with stakeholders around the game and, in particular, competition administrators where information that's sensitive needs to be shared and the information needs to allow the competition administrator to identify the individuals. There also needs to be strong sanctions in case those who are banned do enter."

Alongside the sanctions, Football Australia said on Tuesday it would create a task force surrounding matchday organisation; looking at issues such as flare use, active support ticket and member requirements, security and policing at venues, and supporter marches to grounds. Stakeholders and experts from Victoria and NSW Police and hosting venues would be invited to join the body.

Victory managing director Caroline Carnegie has previously indicated that the club will reassess its relationship with active support and what that looks like in the future.