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.
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.
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’.