A-LEAGUE GRAND FINAL: Perth Perspective

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It’s not always the best idea to put the proverbial pen to paper immediately after a game, particularly one that ended in the manner of the 2012 A-League Grand Final, however I think I’ve calmed down sufficiently to be able to do so. 

Firstly the positives; it was an absolute pleasure to be at the A-League’s showpiece game for the first time. The fact that Perth Glory, a club that I have put hours of time and effort into over the past seven months, was involved made it all the better.

No one really expected Glory to make the Grand Final, including Glory Fans United, one of their biggest supporter’s groups, who originally planned to have their end of year function on the same day.

Instead, a few thousand West Australian football fans migrated east to paint a large section of Suncorp Stadium purple in a superb show of support. Sadly what could have been the club’s best day in its A-League history turned into something of a nightmare in the closing stages.

It’s important to point out that no Glory fan would begrudge Brisbane their win; they continue to be the benchmark A-League side and are an absolute joy to watch on their day. However, the manner in which they claimed their second successive title understandably leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the purple army.

 The decision to award Jarred Gillett the Referee of the Year gong at the recent A-League awards night was met with widespread head scratching, and understandably so. Gillett is just another one of the less than adequate officials running around on the weekend with a whistle in their mouth. His handling of the game overall was average at best and it all came to a head in the final minute when he awarded a penalty to Roar for an apparent foul on Besart Berisha.

Now plenty have pointed out that on first glance it was a foul, though that in itself is debatable. If we take it that there was contact on Berisha and a penalty was the right decision then why did Gillett not produce a card for the player who committed the foul? Ten yards out, dead centre, only the ‘keeper to beat…clear goalscoring opportunity right?

The outrage on the faces of the Glory players and supporters was there for all to see, with replays showing that the foul was questionable at the very least as Berisha took nice chunk out of the fresh air.

The Albanian’s antics to claim the spot kick were disgraceful but really it was just in keeping with his character. According to Glory skipper Jacob Burns (more on him shortly), Berisha admitted afterwards that it should not have been a penalty. If that is the case then it makes his theatrics even more disgusting. At least Mitch Nichols and Shane Stefanutto were big enough to admit publicly that the decision was the wrong one.

As usual the “Oh well, there was contact” brigade made themselves known in the immediate aftermath, some of whom are supposed experts in analysis. If it were the case that contact instantly meant a foul then there would be 20 penalties per game. As it is, the nature of football is such that contact between players is inevitable and to use that as a justification at times of controversy is simply incorrect.

With the game done and dusted it was on to the prize giving and more head scratching as Thomas Broich was awarded the Joe Marston Medal for the best player. Broich is of course excellent but was anonymous for large parts of the contest thanks to the resolute defending of Josh Risdon, and only came out of his shell really late on with a super cross for Berisha’s equaliser.

Things started to get a little fishy when Mick Lynch of The Age tweeted that none of the four print journalists involved in the medal voting had opted for Broich as the winner. Not long after, news began to emerge that the FFA had, to put it bluntly, fucked up and it was Jacob Burns who had received the most votes but the name had been miscommunicated to the announcer. How small time is that?

It was yet another facepalm moment in a season riddled with them, and another black mark on the FFA’s running of the whole show. Burns has been outstanding all year and to be deprived of a proud moment in front of 50,000 people can’t be made right with a shrug of the shoulders, a quick “sorry” and calls to just move on.

As always, Twitter is to the forefront of any football rumours and scandal, and another to emerge in the wake of the game surrounded a relationship between Jarred Gillett and a member of the Brisbane Roar media team. Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that had any impact on the result – because it didn’t – but the FFA shouldn’t be putting itself in a position where any sort of theory could develop.

Defeats are never nice to take at any level of the game but in a professional setting we simply expect better, as we should. Yes there are bigger problems in general at the moment as we try to save the future of some of our clubs but dismissing the smaller issues is not the answer.

Conspiracy theorists will point to the fact that such controversy is good for the FFA and football as it generics more headlines and interest. That is of zero consolation to around 2000 supporters who put their hands deep into their pockets to travel to the other side of the country for one game at short notice. The feeling amongst the Glory community is that their side was cheated, and it will take a long time for these wounds to heal.

Just wait until Roar and Berisha come to NIB next season…

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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