East Armidale coach Mark Gwynne has issued a challenge to Tamworth FC in the lead up to Saturday’s Northern Inland Premier League grand final against Armidale’s Demon Knights.
“I would just say to (Tamworth FC coach Greg) Bartlett respect is something you don't ask for, you have got to earn it,” he said, referring to The Northern Daily Leader’s article published on September 8 where Bartlett “demanded respect” from the rest of the competition.
While some clubs have indicated displeasure at the behaviour of FC, Northern Inland Football has labelled the claims as unsubstantiated.
Yet, Gwynne’s challenge for his Tamworth FC counterpart was clear.
“I would like to challenge him just to see if you can play a half-decent, fair game of football and not thug everybody off the park,” Gwynne said.
“To get respect, they have got to earn it and they certainly haven't done that.”
The concerns about the sportsmanship of the premiership favourite isn’t just coming from the East Armidale team, as more than half the clubs within the Northern Inland Premier League competition have expressed concerns to Fairfax Media over incidents which have occurred within the last two years.
In one incident, Easts played Tamworth FC in their round 17 match which saw the referee stand down at half-time and the reserve grade official take over due to him ‘losing control’.
It was alleged threats were made by Tamworth players towards their opponents during the game with one East Armidale player falling to the ground “seeing stars” after receiving an elbow to the temple.
The incident was not penalised and the game continued.
“It all comes down to the guy in the middle, if he pulls the crap up early well there shouldn't be any of it,” Gwynne said.
When contacted by Fairfax Media, Northern Inland Football general manager Julia Farina disputed the concerns raised.
“No formal complaints have been received regarding the ‘comments’ you are quoting,” she said.
“I have spoken to Demon Knights president who are extremely excited about the weekend and game against Tamworth FC.
“Have you spoken to Demon Knights about their success this year in Premier League and Reserves first time since 1985 both are in grand finals, and second grade locals, teams in every junior competition grand finals?
“Northern Inland Football have processes and procedures to handle complaints regarding games.
“We would be deeply disappointed to see a negative, unsubstantiated article published on the eve of the grand finals series across our region.”
READ MORE: Demon Knights eyeing off grand final glory
Despite her concerns the claims were unsubstantiated, South Armidale president Joe Campbell was another club official to go on the record.
He said earning respect among the competition went beyond on-field results.
“If it was just about the results on the pitch, fair enough, everyone give them some respect because they deserve it, but it is the whole package,” he said.
“It is the package off the pitch that really upsets everybody.
“I will be blunt and I will say it is an embarrassment on the organisation.
“It is an embarrassment on NIF because they have been getting away with it for too long.
“You have the people on the sideline and people that should know better just yelling abuse constantly and at a level that's threatening of referees and threatening of people on the sideline.”
Campbell said he had an example from earlier in the season where mid-game dispute was quickly forgotten after the siren against Oxley Vale Attunga but he said that was not the case when a similar incident occurred against Tamworth.
“We got into a slight heated argument with OVA, walked up after the game, shook hands, had a bit of a cuddle and laugh and we were friends again and off we go,” he said.
“I went to do that after the Tamworth FC game and they told me to ‘f--- off’.
“That is what really gets to me, that sort of behaviour.
“They were 3-nil up, they got a penalty, we missed a penalty and then they carried on, yelled and screamed and said ‘jam that up your arse’.
“It was like 'are you serious? We are on the bottom of the table, we haven't won a game and you are still firing those sort of comments at us?'
“It is not professional. If you are too passionate about your club, you can't look at things both ways, especially after a game, and that is what got to me.
“If you can't shake hands after a game and move on, why are you there?”
In 2017, The Armidale Express reported on an incident in a reserve grade match which involved one of the current first grade players.
Fairfax Media contacted Bartlett about the criticism of his side, but the Tamworth FC coach said he had no comment.