Sydney United v Marconi

Round 18 Match report by Matthew Hall
Sydney United v Marconi

Or The Ustashi Strikes Back

This won't be reported anywhere else (believe me) but I'm pissed off and you guys should take a look.

Sydney United may well be the runaway leaders of the Ericsson Cup soccer competition. Their administration may have the business savvy to appoint John Hewson, one-time leader of the Liberal Party, to a high-profile position within the club. It's possible that listeners of 2DAY-FM, one of Sydney's most popular commercial radio stations, did vote the Pumas "best sports team in Sydney". But more than well-intentioned cosmetic changes will have to take place before a united Sydney will get behind this city's talented soccer team.

It started so swimmingly. As part of an effort to widen the team's appeal, smart-thinking had led Sydney United to shift their home tie against neighbours Marconi-Fairfield from Edensor Park to Parramatta Stadium. With support from radio station 2WS a relatively big crowd was expected for the local derby, which featuring a number of players who did so well for Australia in the recent four-nations tournament.

Fireworks on the pitch saw two Sydney United players sent off within the first 30 minutes and two quick-fire goals at both ends saw the teams heading to the break locked 1-1. It was tense, exciting, stuff but a few minutes before half-time a sense of unrest started to spread within certain sections of the crowd.

The atmosphere started to transcend the normal intensity of a derby game and developed a nasty edge. Sections of the stand booed every decision by the referee, Simon Micaleff. Conspiracy theories abounded among the parytisan elements in the crowd. It would have been funny had it not been so red-faced and serious. Down on the touchline, at what seemed like a steward's suggestion, a group of police moved towards the tunnel to provide Micaleff and his assistants a safe escort from the pitch at the break.

During half-time police were significantly concerned with some elements in the crowd to move among them and issue a warning to several spectators. A message beamed over the scoreboard: "Patrons are advised that surveillance cameras are installed at the stadium. Watch your conduct".

The tail end of the second-half and, despite the odds, United were still in the game. When Marconi finally took the lead a fiery defiant chant went up from the stand: "Cro-a-tia! Cro-a-tia!! Cro-a-tia!!!"

A group of non-Croatians, perhaps attending their first local soccer match, looked uneasily at each other. There was no rallying cry for "Sydney". No chant for "United". One guy sitting behind me - a rugby league fan who'd dropped by to check out this Sydney team, he said - asked what they were chanting. "Croatia!" came the reply. "Oh, righto," he said bemused, taking a sip of his beer and silently staring at the game as Marconi headed to a 3-1 win.

As Borellaman has said, the Croatian national team were not playing. But come the final whistle a substantial section of the crowd, waving Croatian flags and wearing the red-and-white checked football shirts of Croatia, were red-faced with anger at the result. One giant of a man threw objects from the top level of the grandstand onto the pitch. Down below, one boy, aged not more than 12, stood behind the TV cameras as a crew waited to interview Sydney United and Australia goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac. The kid waved a home-made sign: "What's wrong with Edensor Park?" questioning the move to Parramatta for today's game. Edensor Park used to be called King Tomislav Croatian Sports Oval.

Outside, groups of men aged in their twenties, wearing baseball-style caps embroidered with Croatian slogans and again wearing Croatia football shirts milled around. Two, big, long-haired guys, one whose t-shirt declared "Croatian National League", harangued a female Marconi supporter: "What you need is big cock up your arse".

Five minutes later, in the car park, things had escalated. A group of about 20, including the same two who had earlier abused the woman, were pushing and shoving someone across a grassy bank. Punches started flying and the "Croatia! Croatia!! Croatia!!!" chant was taken up by the mob.

More punches were thrown and one person went down, rolling to the bottom of the bank, crashing into a parked car. The mob ran across and kicked into the guy on the ground. Somehow, he managed to get up and run across the car park back towards the stadium. The group previously chanting "Croatia!" gave chase but temporary safety was found among a small group of Marconi supporters.

More scuffles broke out across the car park until, finally, some red-shirted security guards arrived and attempted to grab one of the Croatian group. They had hold of one until others from the gang weighed-in to successfully mount a "rescue" mission. Cars slowly edged around the melee trying to get out of the car park. Families, walking from the stadium, sped up in an effort to get away from the violence.

More security guards arrived and they appeared to regain control of the situation, shepherding the gang - still chanting "Croatia!" - out of the car park towards Parramatta leagues club. A group of Marconi supporters started a mock "Seig Heil" chant and a "Basil Fawlty-style" salute to rile the Croatians. Small skirmishes continued.

After about five minutes, a small group of police arrived to clean up and pushed past the security guards who had now formed a cordon on the perimeter of the stadium grounds. The police set off in pursuit of the gang, last seen running up O'Connell Street.

It was one rock away from mirroring last week's South Melbourne debacle. It had been just as frenzied and just as mindless as anything I'd seen at Chelsea's infamous Stamford Bridge or at Highbury in North London. The catch is, here, the thugs got away with it.

Parramatta police said: "There was a bit of a scuffle but it was quelled pretty quickly. There was no-one arrested so we're quite happy. If you were there then you probably know more than us."

I know the person I attended the game with is now too scared to see Sydney United again.

I know that this nationalistic crap in Australian soccer has gone on too long.

And, for the purists, a bloody good team is going to waste on these f*%kwit supporters.