Does the FFA understand football fans? or are Hatamoto ‘kents’?

What is Hatamoto you may ask? It is not the latest manga cartoon. This is a very Australian company which is engaged to ‘respond swiftly to emerging threats and disruptions’ according to their website.

Hatamoto has been engaged by the FFA to provide ‘in house security management support’. This company was the one who had the bright idea to suggest that all grounds where the A-League plays should have a ‘members only area’ with a specified seat. This was suggested to ensure that any ‘trouble maker’ would be identified. This created a near revolt amongst active supporters who didn’t want a ‘seat’ (as they don’t seat down anyway). Thankfully this rule hasn’t been enforced by the Club or Etihad Stadium, so everyone stands wherever they like anyway. But it shows the mentality behind why the FFA felt compelled to engage this sort of company in the first place.

Shadowy Hatamoto staff are present at matches to oversee what is happening. They are well known to fans now as the cargo pants wearing, Black Polo sporting posse.

Is this Hatamoto or a bad ad for Fosseys?

They are also hanging around fans in the pubs where they gather before matches and build files on certain people. Apparently one fan was startled when one of these Hatamoto characters addressed him fan by his first name, considering he never met this person before.

In Adelaide one fan caught them on his mobile phone filming Melbourne supporters watching the match.

and here is a video again from a supporter (speech bubbles are his!)

Scrolling down the blurb in the Hatamoto website shows probably why this has been done. “We understand the complexity and scope of such events can provide all facets of the security management required including assisting our clients to minimise the impact that poor media exposure can have on their brand and consequently the event”

The names of the people running Hatamoto are on the website for all to see. The main directors are Matthew and Peter Shepherd. It wasn’t difficult for enterprising Melbourne fans to have a search for them on Facebook anyway, so much so that Peter was recognised lurking at a Melbourne Fans Forum. What ensued was hilariously told by Art Sapphire:

Why Dermott asked, was Hatamoto, a counter-terrrorism security consultancy group, being used to control fans at A-League matches. Wild applause erupts. The fans found their hero.

The Town Hall transformed into Tahrir Square and Lyall Gorman all of a sudden became Hosni Mubarak. And just like the millions in Egypt, the fans hushed and waited for the leader of the A-League to speak.

“Hatamoto contract has been extended,” came the answer from the leader.

“BOO! BOO!”

Mr. Shepherd gets challenged by fans.

What a moment. The goal Lyall was defending came down in a tangled heap. The anger in the room was palpable. I thought to myself, if only we were more like the Egyptians and waved hundreds of shoes in Lyall’s face, like the millions who did it to Mubarak.

Hatamoto’s Peter Shepherd, who was present in the venue, was singled out by Dermott. “What skills relevant to football have you got, Mr Shepherd?” Chaos ensued for a few minutes.

Finally, Francis Leach took matter into his own hands and laid down the rules: “The members of the panel are here to answer questions, not Mr. Shepherd.”

So you can see how the FFA sees active fans. One one hand they like the colour, movement and noise they make which creates a great atmosphere which is quite unique in the Australian sport landscape. The amount of times that photoes of the Blue and White Brigade has been placed in publicity material proves this fact. On the other hand they are scared because they don’t control this group and are afraid that their actions can negatively impact ‘their brand’.

It is interesting how this is playing out in the modern corporatised sport environment.

The FFA (as the AFL and the NRL) sees football as a ‘product’ and a ‘brand’ that has to be marketed and protected and fans that ‘obey the rules’ can be used as a tool in the competition for market share, however if they are independent and do what they want to do outside the control of management they are a risk and have to be put back into line.

I must admit that I can understand the FFA point of view to some extent. ‘Soccer’ has had a pretty bad rap in the past with ethnically driven incidents. Also the fact that many in the media either don’t care about football or are actively working for competing codes makes the ‘image’ of football in Australia a crucial part of whether the game succeed. And I want it to succeed. However I do wonder whether the FFA is going about it the wrong way.

They can’t have their cake and eat it too. If they want colour and movement and lots of noise picked up by Foxtel mikes they have to live with an autonomous group which is outside their control.

More worryingly, engaging these sort of ‘terrorist consultant’ betray a certain lack of knowledge about football amongst the FFA.

Again I think that the FFA has been a huge improvement of the previous administration of Soccer Australia that could not organise a pissup in a brewery. I think that a major reason why we have an A-League in the first place, and we have been able to qualify to two World Cups has been because of their organisational abilities.

However I think that many in management positions have been drawn from other sports and they may not be aware that supporting a football team is traditionally very different from an AFL cheer squad. If they continue on this part it could be counter-productive, as this article last year already discussed.

One way that football can create a unique ‘brand’ as they call it is through the way the sport is supported. If you force football support to become a carbon copy of they way other codes are supported it will lose lots of its shine and attractiveness.

Instead of engaging something like Hatamoto and have these individuals in the shadows at matches it would be better if the FFA actively engaged with fans and start a dialogue. It is not guaranteed that everything will be always hunky dory, as inevitably in any crowd there will be some who is determined to create mischief, but I think it will reduce the amount of behaviour which is seen as problematic, if active fans don’t go into the ground already thinking that they are seen as ‘problems’.

Hatamotoout

Updated 7/4/13

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Does the FFA understand football fans? or are Hatamoto ‘kents’?

  1. Great read Guido, thanks for posting. The FFA’s (or the A-League’s) approach to security issues has often been a bit overbearing – I can’t forget the counter-terrorist unit turning up at a Mariners-SFC game in the 06/07 season. Quite comical.

    • Rowdy

      Great work, Guido.

      The focus on not only Hatamoto, but the FACT that the FFA refuse to engage in any sort of meaningful dialogue with active supporters continues to baffle me and it is great that you are bringing that to people’s attention.

      In a conversation with a member of the FFA staff (who I will leave unnamed) prior to the Adelaide away semi-final last season, I pleaded with this staff member to look at the issue of home fans being placed directly behind away supporters and the massive issues that this has caused in the past. She was more concerned about fans ripping flares on the march to the ground and this concern has gone on deaf ears. Safety of the patrons inside the ground is clearly not an important focus for the FFA or Hatamoto for that matter. Despite fans regularly being pelted with coins (and one fan getting badly hurt by a full coke bottle that was thrown) from a section of approximately 25 young Adelaide fans who were directly behind us, Hatamoto’s cameras remained trained on the Melbourne supporters.

      These people have no desire to protect fans or make the gave safer. Their only focus is to antagonise and provoke active supporters, which they have done verbally and through other means, simply so that they can prove to the FFA that they are worth the massive waste of money that is being directed into their business’ coffers.

      Keep fighting the good fight, Guido.

  2. Thanks Mikey and Rowdy.

    I think that the main issue here is not just the suitability of an organisation such as Hatamoto being involved. But the mindset of the FFA in employing them in the first place.

    Rowdy made a very pertinent point about the FFA being only worried about flares etc. They don’t seem to understand that ultimately both they and the fans are on the same side. To ensure the success of football in this country. But from different perspectives. But I think there is enough common ground to initiate a dialogue. But I don’t think in their little corporate office in Sydney they see that.

  3. NUFCMVFC

    Nice post Guido. There certainly are a few questions

    There are issues, and there are some people on the fans side of the equation who do the wrong thing on occasions. There have been problems, my issue is that they haven’t been properly explored, proper solutions aren’t being explored or implemented,

    There seems to be a bit of an ego driven resistance to accepting that in football unlike AFL/NRL, fans see themselves as independent entities, extending from this a reluctance to recognise and engage with fans as stakeholders in their own right (which isn’t necassarily unusual) as it is not something that they have to do in the AFL/NRL, eg Eddie McGuire can sack the Collingwood cheersquad and the like, that is what some of these people in the FFA are used to, buyt if they are coming across, they can bring some good things but they have to come across with an open mind to the fact that things work differently in football and it is understood as good practice

  4. Wertheim

    Interesting. Is it an attempt by stealth to crush “active support”? And why don’t they engage in dialogue with the active supporter? Maybe if you were to approach the problem from FFA or HAL’s point of view you might see it differently.

    What is the problem? A few bad eggs — maybe half a dozen hiding out among a couple of thousand well-meaning, well-behaved active supporters.

    Active support areas wouldn’t too much of a problem if it wasn’t for them being the best place in a stadium for that tiny handful of morons to park themselves. They don’t go to an empty bay to perform their tricks, somewhere they could be isolated, they hide among active supporters, who would have received flowers from HAL clubs long before now but for there still being a couple hiding out in your village. Right now, it would sending the wrong message.

    What would you do to? It’s a prick of a job, like dealing with Marcus Einfeld’s traffic infringements. It’s obvious what’s going on and who’s in the driver’s seat but it’s also a civil society. It would be all over tomorrow otherwise — they’d have had their knock on the door. But knock on the Gweeds door by mistake and Gweeds is gonna go right off. He might take it the wrong way. It’s very difficult. There is an obligation to make sure of who is doing what before taking firmer action.

    The ‘Hello Jason, what’s your name? tactics are not unconventional. If letting people know they’re being watched because they are being watched gives them an opportunity to clean their act up or find another hobby, that’s good. The courts are busy places. No need to clog them up without good reason. And no one goes on watch lists for spilling their beer or singing lewd songs and jumping up and down.

    Eliminating fun is not what it’s about, it’s about making the soccer terraces safe for everyone, and the active supporters figure prominently in that equation. Whether you guys recognise it or not, it’s the active support areas that provide the St Johns crews at HAL fixtures with about 90 per cent of their patients, and only about 60 per cent of those are a result of accidents. It’s that other 40 per cent that’s the biggest worry, because they’re a result of active supporters going another. Injuries from clashes between opposition supporters or security banging their heads together barely figure by comparison.

    Why the lack of dialogue? Dialogue or no dialogue, the problem remains — a few bad eggs. If supporter group representatives had any good ideas for eradicating the problem they would have tabled them long before now.

    Perhaps you could table now your operational plans to send the message that its zero tolerance for unlawful behaviour at the football. Your benchmark for success is simple and straightforward, guided as it by the following zero-tolerance principle: If it is happening, you are in fact tolerating it.

    • You are right that there are ‘a few bad eggs’ Wertheim. But I still believe that the way the FFA goes about it is making things worse, not better.

      Instead of isolating those who misbehave, the heavy security treatment turns them into ‘heroes’ because of this ‘us vs them’ mindset that develops amongst fans.

      • Wertheim

        All respect, Guido, but now is not the time for platitudes or philosophy.

        Standing back has been tried and it hasn’t worked. Things got worse.

        What would you DO that would would make the situation BETTER?

        I await your cleverly conceived action plan, one that contains plenty of verbs.

  5. Wertheim, if it is the case, as is Guido’s main point, that the FFA and the clubs are not directly engaging fan groups in dialogue, then you’re talking past him, not very ingeniously.

    I don’t think Guido is arguing that the FFA ‘stand back’ – quite clearly not actually. He’s arguing that they should use just a little of their PR / security budget to actively engage with the fan groups. So far, from my own observations of many acecdotes, they do the opposite.

    Frankly Guido, I reckon you’re on to it. Rowdy gives a good example of the sort of helpful information which might emerge from such dialogue, which would concievably result in less problems.

    It’s not so much that you disagree with Guido’s article that makes me suspect that you may be on someone’s payroll, it’s that you, despite apparent intelligence, appear to be willfully missing his point.

  6. Lemonparty

    Wertheim, Please explain how intervening has helped the situation? Things were fine 2 or 3 years ago when there was no intervention period.

  7. Wertheim

    Hi Hamish,

    You say Gweeds wants “a little of their PR/security budget to actively engage with fan groups”.

    Good idea. Form your committee, appoint your leaders and get back to us when you’re in a position to say “I am their appointed leader, I speak on their behalf and when I speak with them later, what I say goes”.

    Gweeds well understands the pointlessness of so-called supporter representatives fronting up with their wish lists and expecting the club, security, police and stadium operators to co-ordinate their activities to suit the supporter groups. Why? Because when it is time for reciprocation and for the supporter representatives to make a few commitments of their own, they can’t . They make it perfectly clear that they cannot speak for anyone other supporters, and they have no control over anyone.

    It is a waste of time and money convening such meetings until supporter groups have enough respect for their spokespersons to do as their spokespersons say.

    In the meantime, with supporter groups behaving like a bunch of uncoordinated and undisciplined individuals, what choice does anyone have but to treat them as individuals?

    Get back to us if you can ever decide on a leader.

  8. Pingback: Time for a new ‘Crawford Report?’ « The accidental Australian

  9. Pingback: Fans as ‘terrorists’ « The accidental Australian

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