So a match with some flares and predictably the likes of Neil Mitchell have had a field day in slamming ‘soccer’ and its supporters. And predictably this sparked the outraged of many football fans.
Ultimately I am not surprised of what Mitchell has said, he was, is and will be anti-football (I remember during the Sydney Olympics that he didn’t want to call football ‘football) and so most of his listeners.
I would not categorise Mitchell as a ‘shock jock’, he is a journalist, albeit a populist one that can push the buttons to create a story with conflict and movement that makes his listeners tuned in. Mitchell himself is not the issue, the issue is that him (or anyone else for that matter) is in a position to use football as a issue to polarise and contrast. Why is it so? I think because football has bound in itself a lot of issues about how many in so called ‘middle – Australia’ perceives itself and the world.
Australians in the main still suffer from a inferiority complex when it comes to many things. Being an English speaking country at the bottom of Asia, it means that we continuoulsy refer back to the UK or the USA. Whether it is Hollywood, books, or movies we sort of know that there is where is at. However if there is one area where Australians feel that they are better or equal is sport. The fact that it may be a sport that (albeit very skilful and entertaining ) is not played at any meaningful level overseas, such as Australian Rules. Or played relatively in few places in the world such as Cricket or Rugby Union it doesn’t matter. While many may acknowledge that let’s say universities are better overseas, they firmly believe that Australian Rules is infinitely better than football.
So football is seen as a foreign code, as an import. And in the main, people that follow it and play it are ‘migrants’. So it is inevitable that when fans support their team in a way that is seen as not the ‘normal’ way in an Australian context it pushes all those buttons that the tabloid media absolutely love.
Comments after the Serbia- -Australia match such as “several thousand people were involved in this, according to the police,” before later revising that figure down to “2,000 or 3,000” and that fans were changing shirts so they could not be identified or wearing balaclavas came straight from a police spokesmen in an interview before, and were later used by Mitchell.
Wind back to another time when Mitchell went bizzo on football fans in February when the Herald-Sun splashed a story on the front page, that police labelled soccer fans – particularly Melbourne Victory supporters – as out-of-control thugs that leave their officers in fear. Far worse than crowds at any other sport or major event. This comment came out of the blue, where no incident occur before this article appeared in the paper. I didn’t understand why the Police would come out with such a statement.
There seem to be a anti-football mentality in the Victoria Police that fuel this issue. If Mitchell interviewed police and they said that there were a few trouble makers and that overall the crowd was OK, (which is normally what is stated at AFL and Cricket matches) he wouldn’t have any ammunition (sort of speak) to go on his rants.
Of course things like flares are dangerous, and have no place in any stadium in the world, let alone in Australia. But I think that the organised and choreographed support that has now developed in the support of many teams is something that while common place in Europe is still unknown in Australia. So I think that when police is confronted by 200 young men singing in unison they perceive a potential threat.
See it from the Police point of view. In a cricket or football crowd a trouble maker is easily identified and dealt with. A trouble maker amongst a group of chanting late-teens, early 20’s males is a different proposition altogether. Also, while I am not a member of any supporter’s group, reading some comments from the Melbourne Victory forum I detect that there is a small group of supporters that think that they have to follow some of the transgressive way some European supporter groups follow their team to be ‘real’ fans. This does include flares and silly attitudes such as ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards). There is a mixture of cultural cringe and rebellion and also rejection of the Australian mainstream culture here. Cringe that it has to be done like in Europe. Rebellion in breaking the rules, and also a reaction of not ‘be like the AFL’ and being ostensibly not to be seen to confrom to some sort of Australian maintream way of supporting.
The fact is that culturally, football has gone a long way since the bad ol’ days of the 1980’s. For instance, the Australia – Serbia match was broadcast live on ABC Radio, something unthinkable just ten years ago. The anti-football commentators will always be there, because football is a convenient package to push some prejudice buttons. However we still have some way to go, especially with the police. And as any meeting of minds both sides need to come some way. I have heard that supporter groups have tried to liaise with the police, but while in some instances things may improve (especially with some police officers) some are resolutely wary of football crowds and tend to over-compensate in their handling of fans. On the other hand the small groups that believe that to be a real fan you need to take the worst practices and anti-police attitudes from Europe must be marginalised. I think it can be done. If groups that were presecuted by police such as the gay community are now having the Chief Commissioner matching on Mardi Gras I can’t think of any reason why football fans and police can’t work together. Then people like Mitchell will have his anti-football arguments severely diminished. But it requires some good will and leadership from both sides, and I am not sure that exists at the moment.