July 21, 2009
An eye-gouging incident in an under-12 rugby league match led to a car-park brawl between parents that left one with serious head injuries.
Now police are investigating who threw the first punch following the game at Glenwood sports oval on Saturday.
Gary Harling, 42, is recovering in hospital and will reportedly need facial reconstructive surgery.
Some witnesses told police he had intervened in an argument between parents from rival under-12 teams. Others say he threw the first punch.
The match, between St Patrick's and Blacktown City's under-12 teams had finished in an 18-all draw about 30 minutes before the fight erupted, St Patrick's coach Bobby Mercer said.
Mr Mercer said he had stayed behind after the club's presentation ceremony to report the eye-gouging incident during the game.
He denied allegations Mr Harling was the aggressor.
"I came down [to the car park] to see Gary with his hands up in the air - I was about 30 metres away at the time - separating the two parties," he said.
"And then he gets decked, hit, put on to the ground, belted, picked up again and kneed."
Mr Mercer said he called triple-0 after trying to stop the fight.
"[Mr Harling] was lying in a pool of blood on the ground. At the time I thought he was going to die," he said.
Up to 15 Blacktown City supporters lingered in the car park after the match, Mr Mercer said.
"One of the parents in our side was walking over talking to his son and they got set upon by one of the people from Blacktown City," he said.
A crowd gathered and, at one point, St Patrick's parent Nicole Price tried to get between her partner and another man who were pushing each other in the chest.
"My partner's turned around because my children are screaming and the guy's proceeded to go after him with his first in the air," Ms Price said.
"Then Gary's walked over and the man hit him, the [the man] grabbed his shirt, pulled it over his head, held him with one hand and then proceeded to upper cut him with the other.
"Gary fell to the ground face first, the guy's picked him up again, and gave him another couple of punches."
Blacktown City officials referred all questions to Penrith Panther's Junior League manager Don Feltis, who did not return phone calls today.
But one Blacktown City parent, who witnessed the fight but did not want to be named, said Mr Harling threw the first punch.
It is understood other witnesses have made similar statements to police.
Mr Mercer said Mr Harling was a "small inconspicuous fellow who did nothing but try to mediate the fight between the two factions".
Police said their investigations were hampered earlier on because few people who witnessed the brawl bothered to make statements to police.
But Inspector Mal Murphy, from Quakers Hill police, said a number of people came forward today.
NSW Rugby League general manager Geoff Carr said the argument, which children witnessed and were dragged into, was unacceptable.
"This particular incident was in a car park some distance from where the games were played," Mr Carr said.
"But nonetheless parents need to take some responsibility for their behaviour."
NSW Rugby League operates a Sports Rage program that requires parents to sign a code of conduct.
Mr Carr said the league had suspended children from playing in the past and even suspended clubs.
"We believe we're making significant progress but there's that small minority of people who aren't getting the message," he said.
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