Two weeks after Australian football was the talk of the town following the Socceroos' magical run at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, it scored arguably it's most telling own goal.
A group of thugs masquerading as fans invaded the pitch at AAMI Park in Melbourne on December 17 during an A-League fixture between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.
Players and officials were forced to take refuge in the dressing sheds after City goalkeeper Tom Glover was left concussed and with a gash on his cheek after being assaulted in the chaos.
It happened after a flare was thrown from the Victory supporters' area onto the field of play before Glover picked it up and tossed it back into the crowd while the match was still in play.
The invasion happened when tensions were already at an all-time high following the decision by Football Australia during the week to hand the grand final to Sydney for the next three years.
The disturbing scenes that followed in Melbourne left the sporting community as a whole in shock with Football Mid North Coast chairman Lance Fletcher echoing the thoughts of many.
"I've got no other words but 'gutted'," he said.
"I was gutted by the actions of a few that can do so much damage to so many hundreds of thousands and that's where it's at. I don't know how they're going to fix it.
"All this hard work we've been doing at grassroots level has been tarnished by a few moments of madness and thuggery."
It came on a weekend where some fans at every A-League fixture staged passionate walk-outs, however the Melbourne Derby crowd took things to a different level.
Fletcher remained hopeful the actions of a select few wouldn't hurt grassroots participation levels heading into the 2023 season.
He couldn't deny, however, the pathway most zones around Northern NSW were encouraging players to take from grassroots to Newcastle - and hopefully the A-League - had taken a hit.
"I'd like to think a lot of Australians are at the point where they would say stupidity reigns, but kids still keep playing," he said.
"I'm hoping parents will turn a blind eye to what happened and 20 or 30 thugs won't stop their kids from playing at grassroots level at this point.
"[At Football Mid North Coast] promoting the A-League for us is going to be tarnished. Any advertisement for our high-performance players having the goal to reach for the A-League has probably taken a kick in the guts."
Former Matilda Traci McGovern acknowledged the incident was disappointing, disheartening and frightening to have occurred at an A-League match.
McGovern grew up in Wauchope before she played four games in the green and gold.
"We all know football fans are passionate, but passionate should never mean abusive, violent or deadly in any way," she said.
McGovern said players, administrators and fans all need to be better with the knowledge "little kids" are always watching what they do.
She hoped the build-up to the Women's World Cup in July-August 2023 would be free of drama.
"I hope the Matildas can get back to shining a bright light on football in Australia," she said.
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