A-League: Newcastle Jets coach calls for action over offensive snake banner at F3 derby

NEWCASTLE coach Ernie Merrick has called for Football Federation Australia to take action and accused the Mariners of being “out of order” after the club allowed fans to unfurl a banner which depicted Jets striker Roy O’Donovan as a snake.

A-League clubs are required to approve flags and Tifos before they are displayed at the ground to ensure FFA guidelines have been adhered to.

Merrick believed the giant caricature of O'Donovan being held up by Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna, which was rolled out before kick-off in the Jets’ 5-1 derby win on Saturday had over-stepped the mark.

In a tirade that is sure to add spice to their next encounter on January 9, Merrick described the sign as “worse than disrespectful”. 

“To portray a player as a snake, I find that not only disrespectful but completely out of order,” he said. “It also implied that our CEO was not a good person. It is defamatory. How did it occur?

“I have sat as a coach in enough meetings where the FFA talk about the image of the game and the reputation of the game, and how they want it to look. That banner was not a good image.”

A spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that FFA were “aware of the banner and currently investigating the matter.”

Merrick said O’Donovan and McKinna were, at the very least, owed an apology.

“If we had lost the game, I couldn’t say anything,” Merrick said. “It would be seen as sour grapes or deflecting attention. We have won the game and I want to know how that can happen. If we did something that was disrespectful, we would get a ‘please explain’. Whoever is responsible for it, they should be apologising. The apology should not only be to Roy but our CEO, who did so much for the Mariners,” Merrick said. “The guy they have had a go at – the CEO – coached them to two grand finals, won a premiers plate, won a pre-season cup. Then, as an operations manager, he was involved in two more grand finals, winning one. He has done so much for that club and now they are having a go at him. I never expected them too stoop so low.”

O’Donovan, who spent two years at the Mariners before joining the Jets this season, played down the incident.

“I saw it [the tifo] before the game and I was thinking to myself ‘that’s a good looking snake,” said the Irishman, who scored a hat-trick in the Jets’ win.

In a statement, Mariners chief executive Shaun Mielekamp described the banner as “light-hearted banter”.

“It's important for the league that we let fans be fans as long as their actions are appropriate,” Mielekamp said. “It is important that their actions are not politically driven, discriminative or incite violence, however we do not see it as our place to censor passionate support. When active support steps out of line, the first group of people to voice their concerns are their fellow members and we have not received any negative feedback from our members who took it as lighthearted banter which is the way it was intended. We have been in contact with FFA and are working through the process to ensure that future banners are fully compliant with all regulations.”

Wanderers were fined $20,000 in February after members of their supporters group put up a banner at a Sydney derby of Sky Blues coach Graham Arnold performing a lewd act. The penalty would have been more severe had Wanderers not taken action to ban 14 members responsible for the Tifo.

Meanwhile, Merrick said he was unlikely to make any changes for the opening home game against Perth Glory on Sunday.

“I am pretty old-fashioned,” he said. “I like to have the 11 best players in and if they are doing their job they stay there. The next best boys sit on the bench. I don’t change the squad very often.”