Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo is hoping there is no crowd violence this time around

Melbourne A-League derby looking to erase memories of pitch invasion violence  12 months after football’s darkest day in Australia

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Paul Izzo was at the opposite end of the field, but the disturbing sight of the pitch invasion at last December’s Melbourne derby remains vivid in the memory of the Victory goalkeeper.

A little more than a year after the darkest night in the history of Australian football, Victory and City meet in another derby at the sane venue – AAMI Park – on Saturday night.

Last season’s corresponding fixture only lasted 20 minutes before being abandoned due to Victory fans invading the pitch in a shocking incident that included the assault of City goalkeeper Tom Glover and referee Alex King.

Tensions had been high in the build up to the match, with groups of A-League fans from around the competition having planned walkouts during games in protest to the Australian Professional League’s decision to sell grand-final hosting rights to the NSW government.

Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo is hoping there is no crowd violence this time around

Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo is hoping there is no crowd violence this time around

Thomas Glover of Melbourne City clears a flare thrown onto the pitch during last year's A-League chaos at AAMI Park

Thomas Glover of Melbourne City clears a flare thrown onto the pitch during last year’s A-League chaos at AAMI Park

However, nothing could prepare anyone for what was to happen that night after Glover had thrown a flare – that had been hurled at him – back into the grandstand behind his goal,

‘It’s a real dark memory,’ said Izzo, who also had flares thrown at him by City fans.

‘I was in shock watching everything unfold.’

He wasn’t the only one, with furious administrators acting swiftly to impose a host of sanctions on the fans responsible – including some life bans – and the Victory, who have yet to fully recover from the disaster.

‘We hope something like that never happens again,’ Izzo said.

‘You can’t deny the affect it had on us … (but) the club’s heading in a good direction at the moment.

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‘(On Saturday night) I really hope that it’s a spectacle to put the derby back on the pedestal that it should be, being one of the best games in the league, and I think we’re on the way to doing that.’

Glover is escorted from the ground after being assaulted during the pitch invasion at AAMI Park in December last year

Glover is escorted from the ground after being assaulted during the pitch invasion at AAMI Park in December last year

Crowds smashed their way past police and security to get to the pitch and the players

Crowds smashed their way past police and security to get to the pitch and the players

Victory coach Tony Popovic has avoided mentioning the events of 12 months ago to his players this week.

‘There’s nothing to really say about that,’ said Popovic, whose look of disbelief from the sidelines as he watched Victory fans invade the pitch that night is a haunting memory of the incident.

‘We acknowledge what happened. It’s been a year now. We’ve all moved on.’

Popovic wants a contrasting occasion on Saturday night – when a crowd of more than 25,000 is expected to be present – to become an A-League benchmark.

‘We want the full house, we want the passion in the stands, we want the excitement of the fans … it can only benefit our code,’ he said.

‘It’s something the league should be proud of, this game that’s coming up. Let’s put on a great spectacle, let’s fill the stands, let’s show our product for what it is and for us, let’s get Melbourne Victory to get three points.’

Barring the wish for a Victory win, City skipper Jamie Maclaren echoed the sentiments of Popovic.

‘I was on the pitch that night and it wasn’t great but we’ve all moved on,’ Maclaren said.

‘Both sets of clubs have moved on, and really want to focus on having the fans that want to be there and support both teams that are on the pitch, and make it a safe environment for families.

‘We are in a good place here in Melbourne. It’s going to be a safe environment for all our fans and both sets of teams to come out.

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‘We just want a clean game. We’ll do the battle on the pitch as players. Leave that to us to entertain and we look forward to playing 90 minutes of good football.’

Sensing the tension, police and security former a barricade just moments before the pitch invasion took place

Sensing the tension, police and security former a barricade just moments before the pitch invasion took place

Several A-League fans were arrested and given life bans for their role in the crowd violence

Several A-League fans were arrested and given life bans for their role in the crowd violence

Football Australia chief executive officer James Johnson said the sport’s national governing body was ‘dedicated to maintaining football as a safe and welcoming environment for everyone involved’.

‘Twelve months ago, we encountered an incident that sharply contradicted our values and expectations in Australian football,’ Johnson said.

‘It was a situation we intend to prevent from reoccurring. At Football Australia, our immediate response to this incident was prompt and unequivocal, reflecting our firm stance against such conduct in the sport.

‘Our approach was stringent, aiming not only to address the incident in question but also to serve as a deterrent against any similar future behaviour.’

A-League commissioner Nick Garcia said the ‘significance’ of Saturday’s derby was well recognised by the APL.

‘We have been working with all stakeholders including clubs, venue and police, to ensure the best possible experience for fans and those who work at the venue,’ said Garcia, who predicted a ‘fantastic atmosphere’ at AAMI Park.



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