SYDNEY, Australia, Mar 22 – Football might have ground to a halt across the world, but not in Australia where they are soldiering on, with a handful of fans turning up to cheer on their teams outside shuttered grounds this weekend.
The domestic A-League has six rounds to go and Football Federation Australia decided to press ahead without spectators amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite two of the 11 teams undergoing mandatory quarantine.
Like rugby league and Australian Rules, which are also pushing on with their seasons, it has lucrative broadcast commitments with the fear of financial repercussions part of the thinking.
In opting to keep going, Football Federation Australia head of leagues Greg O’Rourke said they were adhering to government directives and expert medical advice.
“We understand that these are difficult times for everyone,” he said.
“We will always put the health, welfare and safety of our players, coaches, match officials, volunteers, administrators and fans at the centre of our decision-making process.”
Australia is far from immune to the virus, and has sealed its borders, banning entry to anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident from Friday evening, with more than 1,000 cases confirmed.
While the action continued, there were only four fixtures.
That’s because Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory are serving mandatory 14-day quarantine stints after playing in New Zealand last weekend and failing to get back to Australia before tough new entry rules took effect.
New Zealand-based Phoenix are making the biggest sacrifice, relocating to Australia so the season can be finished, separating them from friends and family for weeks, if not months.
“The decision to travel to Sydney in an attempt to complete this season, was made as a club,” said Phoenix general manager David Dome.
– Weird trip –
Despite being in quarantine since last week, health officials have allowed them to train at a remote facility.
With both teams unable to play, their opponents this weekend, Brisbane Roar and the Newcastle Jets, faced each other instead with Roar winning 1-0, thanks to veteran forward Scott McDonald’s first-half strike.
Despite the lockout, a handful of fans chanted and banged drums outside the ground during the game.
“Incredible effort from this pair of Roar supporters #RoarAsOne,” the team tweeted afterwards, showing a video clip of players walking to the turnstiles to applaud them at the end of the game.
Not everyone approved, despite the players keeping their distance.
“Really… told to stay away for safety reasons and the players clap that! No idea of the times we are living in,” one supporter said on Twitter.
Coached by former Liverpool star Robbie Fowler, it was Roar’s third win on the trot as they moved up to fourth.
Melbourne City were also in action, thumping the Central Coast Mariners 4-2 in an eerily quiet Central Coast Stadium to strengthen their hold on second place behind leaders Sydney FC.
They also had some die-hard support with Melbourne fan Will Purssey finding a vantage point outside the ground at Gosford, north of Sydney, to catch a glimpse of the action.
“The weirdest away trip I’ve ever done,” he said on social media. “The players after the game, they came up to me — social distancing obviously, but massive thank you to them.”
Sydney moved eight points clear of Melbourne City with a battling 1-1 draw in a surreal derby match against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Elbow bumps replaced handshakes, substitutes were forced to sit 1.5 metres apart and goals were met by silence, with former Bolton and Reading striker Adam le Fondre clapping to an imaginary crowd when he opened the scoring.
Fans were there in spirit though, with Sydney FC supporter club The Cove tweeting: “This one’ll be different, but know that we are with you as always and forever have your back.”
Perth Glory play Western United in the weekend’s final game on Sunday evening.