Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro has resigned from the Australian Professional Leagues board amid “overwhelming” backlash over a deal to move to A-League grand finals to Sydney and urged officials to “consider an alternative”.
The move comes as A-League boss Danny Townsend committed to standing by their “conviction” despite threats of walkouts by fans this weekend after it was announced the grand final would be played in Sydney for the next three years, and not in the home state of the highest ranked qualifier.
Backlash has gone beyond all expectations after Monday’s announcement by the APL, which runs the competition, in a deal with the NSW government believed to be worth around $20 million.
Townsend was adamant the decision was unanimous among the APL board which includes club representatives but reigning premiers Western United hit out at the decision declaring “our club isn’t represented on the APL board” and it didn’t support the move.
Then late on Tuesday afternoon Di Pietro resigned from his APL directors role in response to the fallout declaring he “cannot support maintaining a decision which is not in the best interests of the loyal Melbourne Victory faithful and football”.
“My resignation was ultimately driven by the decision announced yesterday, that sees the next three Grand Finals being hosted in Sydney,” he said in a statement.
“While I know first-hand the decision by APL was made with a view to growing the game and creating financial sustainability for the League, the fan and member sentiment has been overwhelming and I cannot support maintaining a decision which is not in the best interests of the loyal Melbourne Victory faithful and football.
“As such, together with (managing director, Caroline Carnegie), we have urged APL to pause this plan and consider an alternative that supports the growth and stability of the League while also allowing both the Men’s and Women’s A-League Grand Finals to continue to be played in the city of the highest ranked qualifier.”
His resignation came as Western United released a statement saying “the reaction of our fans over the last 24 hours speaks volumes”.
“Our Club isn’t represented on the APL board, and we weren’t consulted on the decision announced yesterday,” the statement said.
“Western United is a young club that is being built for the football fans in the west of Melbourne and Victoria. We strongly believe that they are entitled to attend a Grand Final in their home state should we be successful in earning the right to do so.”
Fans were scathing of the move with all active supporter groups using social media to voice their fury at the decision, which ditches 18 years of the top team on the ladder gaining hosting rights and will force interstate fans to pay for travel costs to the decider.
Both players involved in the promotional video released, including Socceroos World Cup star Craig Goodwin and Matildas forward Remy Siemsen, withdrew their support as part of the stinging and overwhelming negative response.
An online petition calling for the decision to be reversed was also launched as Original Style Melbourne, Melbourne Victory’s main active support group, said it and rivals City Terrace would walk out of AAMI Park at the 20-minute mark of Saturday night’s derby against Melbourne City, one of the competition’s marquee events.
“We will be walking out at the 20th minute and not returning. City Terrace will follow,” OSM said in an Instagram post
“We strongly encourage ALL Victory and City fans to do the same.
“It’s the duty of anyone inside the stadium who cares about the integrity of the game in Australia to support this action.
“You can’t fight the fans. You will not win.”
The group also sent a strong message to APL boss Danny Townsend that he needed to reverse the decision or “one of your biggest fixtures will be played in front of an empty stadium”.
“We call on the rest of the league to walk out at their fixtures this weekend,” it said.
“A unified response against this corrupted decision is the only way this can be stopped.”
After several clubs voiced their disappointment with the decision on Monday, Wellington Phoenix hit out on Tuesday declaring club was “ not involved in the decision making” adamant the current system of awarding hosting rights should remain.
“Ever since the Wellington Phoenix was founded in 2007, we, like all of you, have dreamed of hosting a grand final in Wellington,“ the club said in a statement on Tuesday.
“For the next three years it will not be possible.
“Our preference is that both the men’s and women’s A-League grand finals are played in the city of the highest ranked qualifier, as has been the case up until now.”
But while Townsend conceded the level of outrage exceeded his own expectations, he was adamant the decision would not be changed.
“The magnitude of it was more than we expected, we’d hate fans to walk out on their clubs,” he told the ABC.
“This was a league decision but the clubs were complicit in that decision. It was all designed to drive the game forward
“This negotiation has taken 12 months, it’s not something that was thought up last week.
“Ultimately, when we look back at this moment and the convictions we are showing as a sport to do something different and see our fans come together, we will be able to look back with pride on the decision.”
Story Credit: news.com.au