Professional Footballers Australia has slammed the FFA for their repeated failures to get Melbourne's three A-League clubs across the Victoria-New South Wales border.
Attempts to move the A-League's three Melbourne-based sides out of Victoria turned farcical overnight, with Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United once again prevented from leaving the state while waiting on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport.
"What the players and their families have had to endure over the past 48 hours is unacceptable," a PFA spokesperson said.
"The lack of clarity, the ad-hoc planning and shifting commitments have left the players embarrassed, frustrated and entirely lacking confidence in the process.
"Whilst the situation is complex, what the players require is simple; a reliable and feasible plan that does not shift the game's inability to effectively manage these challenges solely on to players and their families.
"Responsibility sits with FFA to present and then execute an achievable resolution that will ensure the completion of the A-League season and does not create further distress for the players."
Following Monday evening's frantic endeavors to get across the NSW border before its COVID-19-enforced closure -- one that was ultimately foiled by fog in Canberra -- players and staff from Victory, City and United returned to Melbourne Airport on Tuesday evening to once again try to catch an FFA-chartered flight to the ACT.
They planned to travel onward to Sydney following a handful of days in the nation's capital; operating on the assumption that exemptions to cross the border were forthcoming. NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro had declared earlier on Tuesday that his government was keen to work with the FFA to ensure that the season could resume.
While still in buses waiting on the runway, however, players and staff from the three clubs were informed that they would be required to undergo a previously unknown, but mandatory, 14-day quarantine upon their arrival in Canberra before they could travel on to NSW. Such a quarantine would have to be undertaken without being able to leave their lodgings to train.
With Victory and United pencilled in to re-start the suspended A-League season next Wednesday, City and United supposed to play each other four days after that, and a two-week halt in training incompatible with their continued participation in the league, a mutual decision to cancel the flight was promptly made between the clubs.
Players and staff, for the second straight night, were then forced to return home to families that they had just said goodbye to for up to seven weeks.
"We did absolutely everything we could to get the players and staff out of Victoria by midnight tonight, but in such a rapidly evolving situation, unfortunately it was just not possible," Head of the A-League Greg O'Rourke said in a statement late on Tuesday.
"We are in discussions with the NSW Government, and we will continue to seek the exemptions necessary for the teams to travel.
"Given the strict league and club protocols our teams have been following since 2 June 2020, combined with the fact we have not had any players or High Performance Staff return a positive COVID-19 testing result, we feel that we have a very good case to gain the exemptions and get the teams to NSW to complete the A-League season, and we will make every attempt to do so."
One player caught up in events told ESPN that there existed palpable anger among he and his peers, stating that they were "just confused how it turned out like this," while others described events as "beyond a joke" or "crazy hard times."
"Obviously everyone is frustrated and can't believe it happened twice in a row," another player told ESPN. "It's just not fair on us or our families to be treated like guinea pigs and just go and do whatever the club tells us to do without any formal confirmation before leaving.
"Some of the players in the team have kids and families, so it's hard for them."
In addressing Tuesday evening's events, O'Rourke attempted to strike a conciliatory tone with the players and staff affected.
"I'd like to sincerely thank the players, their families and staff from the three clubs for their understanding and commitment this past 24 hours," he said.
"The disappointment of getting prepared to travel out of Victoria to prepare for the restart not once but twice has been most frustrating for them, and we can assure them, the clubs' members and fans that we are all committed to overcoming this evolving challenge and to play football again."
Though a third attempt to move Victory, City and United to NSW remains the most likely option looking forward, the possibility of the three clubs remaining in Melbourne to play their outstanding fixtures against each other has been floated in some quarters.
Such a plan, though, would mean staging games within a city that just re-entered lockdown.
Victoria announced 191 new diagnoses of COVID-19 on Tuesday, breaking its previous record of 127 set just a day prior. In response, its Premier Daniel Andrews moved to re-impose stage-three restrictions throughout metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire Council for the next six weeks -- starting from 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.
Those living in the decreed areas will be barred from leaving home for any reason other than to go to work (if doing so from home isn't an option), shopping for necessities, exercising or to receive or provide medical care.
Schools will not resume as planned on Monday, with the vast majority of students set to now return to distance learning, and community sport, including grassroots football, has also been suspended.
Western United striker Besart Berisha, though, wouldn't be opposed to the concept of playing in Melbourne, with the Kosovo international posting on his Instagram account: "Let's Smile! It's just crazy what happened!
"After two times trying to go to Sydney to finish the season and to not be able to do that, I hope Victoria can make it happen to finish the Melbourne games here."
Though refusing to be definitive in their answers, citing the extraordinary circumstances of the past 48 hours, representatives from the three clubs and the PFA told ESPN they didn't expect a third late-night dash to the airport when contacted on Wednesday afternoon, while a spokesperson for the FFA confirmed that negotiations with NSW authorities surrounding exemptions remained the federation's number one priority when it came to continuing the season.
Despite the back-to-back late nights, Victory, City and Western all trained on Wednesday -- with City and United's squads undergoing COVID-19 testing to aid negotiations over border crossing exemptions -- and it is understood that the PFA has sent a checklist to the FFA outlining steps it wants to be taken before players are asked to attempt another exit from the state.