By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Parents of Casey Comets players are threatening to quit the club after a junior soccer coach was stood down and suspended in the aftermath of an ugly incident at an under-10s match.
Mike Somerville, the ex-coach of the Comets’ Hyenas side, was suspended for four weeks for misconduct by a Football Federation Victoria closed tribunal on 2 August.
He was accused of inciting his players to misconduct by taking them to a kickboxing gym session at Sting gym days before the spiteful, abandoned match on 18 June.
It is understood that both the Comets and the opposing side Peninsula Strikers had sought a life ban for Mr Somerville. The Comets had already dismissed Somerville as coach days after the incident.
In a video of the kickboxing session, the instructor taught players how to employ “dirty tactics” out of the referee’s gaze.
“Apparently, you’re playing a dirty side this week,” he said as he swung an elbow at a punching bag held to his side by Somerville.
“The ref has to be away from your vision,” he told the players.
At the subsequent game, a Comets player felled a Peninsula Strikers opponent with a tackle, and then spun and kicked the player in the back.
Strikers coach Troy Hicks allegedly ran in from the sidelines and loudly remonstrated with the eight-year-old Comets player at close quarters.
The father of the Comets player then entered the fray, pushing Mr Hicks away from his son.
Up to a dozen adult spectators entered the pitch, and the game was abandoned at the 15-minute mark.
In his submission on the incident, Mr Somerville described Mr Hicks’ approach to the player as “unprofessional”, “disgraceful” and “hurl(ing) abuse and anger”.
Mr Hicks submitted to the tribunal that he ran out on the pitch to protect his fallen player from further attack. “What are you doing? Stop it,” he allegedly told the Comets player.
“I really think that if I hadn’t got in-between (the two boys) that the boy would’ve kicked (the Strikers player) again in the back or back of his head.”
Mr Somerville, who had pleaded not guilty, is believed to have argued at the tribunal that he clarified the instructor’s advice later at the kickboxing session.
He allegedly told his players that they ought to stick to playing football on the field.
The tribunal is believed to have found Mr Somerville ought to have stepped in and objected to the instructor’s advice to the children earlier.
Mr Somerville had denied to Star News in July that the “bonding” session for parents and children was “training my boys to be violent”.
“To blame the kickboxing is just ridiculous. I’ve never had issues with the other boys.
“The kickboxing lesson had zero to do with how the player behaved. He knows what he did was extremely wrong, but he doesn’t know why he did it.”
Bashar Abuusba, the father of one of Mr Somerville’s players, said up to eight of the side’s 12 families would leave the Comets at the end of the season as a result of losing “trust” in the club.
They were upset that the Comets had sacked Mr Somerville, but failed to lodge a complaint against Mr Hicks’ “violent action against children”.
“Does that give me the right to run out on the field and abuse a player?
“For us, it’s about the incident on the field. That’s why it has made all of us angry.”
Mr Abuusba said the kickboxing session and its social-media publication was a “mistake” that should be learned from. But there was no prepared attack on Strikers players, he said.
He accused the Comets administration of seeking to protect itself from sanctions rather than support its coach.
In a joint statement from the Comets and the Strikers, Casey denied of having prior knowledge of the kickboxing session.
“Neither Casey Comets nor Peninsula Strikers JFC were charged with any offence.
“Both clubs are satisfied that the tribunal has now assessed and resolved this issue.
“Both clubs are working with the children affected, and will support/work with all local clubs and members to ensure … a safe and enjoyable environment.”
Football Federation Victoria had barred Star News from attending the hearing, and has not responded to many of Star’s calls, texts and email inquiries on the matter.
It did not comment on the tribunal’s findings, nor did it make comment on the outcome.
It also did not comment on its investigation of Mr Hicks, who did not return calls from Star News.
FFV has a child safety policy, declaring a zero-tolerance approach to child abuse and that all children have a right to feel safe.
According to the code of conduct, speaking to a minor in an “overly harsh, threatening, intimidating, shaming, derogatory, demeaning or humiliating” way is prohibited.
An upcoming under-10s game between the Comets and the Strikers has meanwhile been cancelled.