Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic has urged his team to give the club’s loyal fans something to smile about after thousands of supporters became collateral damage following a violent pitch invasion.
Football Australia has already flagged that Victory will receive some of the harshest sanctions in the sport’s history after 150 of the club’s fans stormed the pitch during last week’s derby against Melbourne City.
City goalkeeper Tom Glover was left concussed and bleeding after being struck by a fan wielding a metal bin, while referee Alex King, a TV cameraman and two security guards were also injured in the melee.
Two people have already been slapped with lifetime bans, while FA also dished out a further eight bans ranging in length from five to 20 years.
As part of the initial sanctions handed down to Victory, the club has been blocked from selling tickets to home games until at least January 15, and their fans will be barred from attending away fixtures over that period.
If the rules are obeyed, it means there won’t be a Victory fan in sight for the ‘away’ Boxing Day clash with Western United at AAMI Park on Monday.
Popovic condemned the actions of the supporters who invaded the field last week, but he feels sorry for the thousands of fans who did the right thing but have now also been affected by the sanctions.
“We’re a football club with the biggest membership base in the country – 23,000 members,” Popovic said on Saturday.
“Now those 23,000 members I’m sure are disappointed they can’t come on Boxing Day and cheer on their team.
“What we can control is that while they’re at home, we can put a smile on their face by showing a true Melbourne Victory performance and make them proud over this Christmas period.
“We can make them happy.”
Victoria Police are still investigating the pitch invasion, and FA will hand down more punishments after completing the show cause process.
Victory entered the current round in eighth spot with just 10 points to show from seven games.
If Victory are dealt a points penalty over last week’s violent pitch invasion, it would be a huge blow to their finals hopes.
Popovic praised the way his players have trained this week while the controversy still raged.
“I think the next day, everyone is a bit shaken up. That night everyone’s shaken up,” Popovic said.
“(I was) shocked, disappointed, appalled, there are many words that come to mind. It’s not something that you ever want to or expect to see on a football pitch.
“You’re there to play a big derby. Those actions by a very small minority, they hurt football, they hurt Melbourne Victory, they hurt our code.”