‘Macedonia’ issue ignites Melbourne soccer game

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia Football Federation (FFA) Chief Executive John O’Neill yesterday condemned a riot between ethnically opposed fans at the end of a second-tier Victoria state soccer league match on Sunday. Several hundred fans from a crowd estimated at 9,000 fought on the field after the match between the Preston Lions, supported by Slav-Macedonians, and the Greek-backed home team South Melbourne. «If people can’t behave in an acceptable manner and support their team in the right way they should not go to matches,» O’Neill told reporters in Melbourne. «The sort of behavior that occurred won’t be tolerated. The message that the national governing body wants to send out to these people is that there is no place for them in football.» Local media reported that flares, bottles, darts and coins were thrown during the riot. Four police, including two on horses, suffered minor injuries when they moved in to break it up. Two men were charged, one with assault and the other with unlawfully firing a flare. [South Melbourne and the Preston Lions had last met in official competition over a decade ago, and, more recently, played a friendly charity match three years ago that was also marred by fan violence.] The incident is an embarrassment for soccer authorities a month after police launched investigations into a separate feud between two ethnic soccer clubs in Sydney that resulted in gunshots and a firebombing. Croatian-backed Sydney United and Serbian-supported Bonnyrigg White Eagles have been threatened with expulsion from the second-tier New South Wales state league after about 50 fans rioted during a match on March 13. The trouble deepened a day later when a Sydney United employee’s car was set on fire and up to 12 shots were fired into the Bonnyrigg supporters’ club building. Soccer has long been a marginal sport compared with other Australian codes and is trying to present its best face after winning approval to swap from Oceania to Asia in a bid to develop the game and make it easier to qualify for the World Cup. The FFA has also revamped its domestic competition, relegating traditional clubs to state leagues after setting up an elite competition known as the A-league which is due to kick off in four months.

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