Melbourne Victory won't acknowledge active supporter groups

Melbourne Victory managing director Caroline Carnegie acknowledges the club doesn't possess the power to disband supporter groups that violently invaded the Melbourne Derby, but she has declared it will no longer recognise these bodies as it seeks to reestablish active support.

Traditionally one of the A-League Men's biggest fixtures, Victory's 'Big Blue' clash with Sydney FC on Tuesday evening will also be notable in serving as the club's first game at home under the final sanctions handed down by Football Australia in punishment for its supporters forcing the abandonment of December's derby by invading the pitch and injuring five people.

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As a result of the penalties, tickets will not be sold in active support bays at Victory's home games through the rest of the season, with sections of these areas also to be tarped off. There will be further restrictions on the sizes of groups that are reallocated seats in other sections of the stadium, and there will no longer be designated sections for supporters at away fixtures.

The abandoned derby was the latest in a string of incidents involving the Victory at ALM, A-League Women, and NPL levels, and the club independently went beyond the FA's measures upon their delivery -- committing to the "disbandment of any ALM active supporter groups that were recognised at the time of the [derby]," in the wake of those sanctions to "ensure an incident of this nature never occurs again."

However, Victory's active support is traditionally not one unified body; rather it is a collection of various groups that have come and gone throughout the club's history. Original Style Melbourne (OSM) is the largest and most well-recognised of the contemporary groups that occupy the north end of AAMI Park, but there are other smaller cliques such as Horda, Nomadi and M3 that, if not taking on a leadership role, maintain their own identity.

These congregations are run independently of Victory and, as such, cannot be disbanded by any decree from the club. OSM declared defiantly in a social media post on Jan. 13, that it "will not be disbanding", and announced in another post this week that it intended to attend the Big Blue in bays not impacted by Football Australia's sanctions.

"They are independent and we don't have the power to disband but we do have the power to not recognise the groups that were in play in the stadium and were involved in one of the worst events that will go down in our history," Carnegie told ESPN. "So we will not recognise groups that were involved in that process moving forward.

"We'll be working with other stakeholders to make sure that they also have that same commitment and that we can provide, at the right time, the right active support for all of our fans and members, but in a way that they feel safe and comfortable with."

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According to the executive, this withdrawal of recognition will drastically alter how these groups interact with the club, utilise props, and otherwise are able to behave on match days, effectively making it much more difficult, if not outright impossible, for them to assemble and support in the manner they previously did.

The club will also work with other stakeholders to ensure the steps are consistent across all its games, and will absorb the costs of new levels of security to ensure enforcement at ALM, ALW, and NPL games.

"We've spent a considerable amount of time with active support previously, that will now look very different access to the club, concession items coming in," Carnegie said. "We also have the [Football Australia] sanctions that will play a role in separating out those groups. And so it's a matter of making sure that all of those things are aligned to protect the club first and foremost.

"Doing what they love to do is no longer going to be as easy as it was. And certainly, they won't have concessions requested by us or granted by the stadium to enable them to do it the way they had previously done it."

What Victory's active support will look like in 2023-24 is unclear. The majority of restrictions on attendance will be lifted for that campaign, but Football Australia has decreed that any "triggering event" that occurs 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" include the suspension of a match due to Victory supporter conduct; the assault of coaches, players or match officials; and pitch invasion by the club's supporters.

OSM or any other active group's presence alone will not incur sanctions from the federation.

"We certainly don't want to have a club-run active support," Carnegie said.

"It's really important to us from a football sense that we have active support that is organic in the way that it happens.

"It's important that we have active support because it's such a unique part of our game and we want to be in a position to embrace that and make our members and fans embrace that and not be nervous.

"We have three years of sanctions hanging over our heads. I don't think I have a magic bullet to solve what the perfect model of that looks like from our perspective sitting here today. And it's something that we'll continue to work through but we will do that in the best interest of Melbourne Victory."