Last night I had an enjoyable time watching the friendly between Melbourne Victory and Celtic. We lost 1-0, but really in matches like these it really didn’t matter. I was really happy to be watching football again, and on a cold winter night it felt even more like the real thing!
One of the positive aspect of the night was how well behaved the crowd was, no flares, no nasty banners. Fans of both sides mingled. Just chanting and banter. So when I walked out I thought whether the anti-soccer media would comment on this, probably not.
But comments about the crowd behaviour they did, but not like you expected. Victoria police used tweeter to be ‘funny’.
“Game about to start with one person already evicted from the ground. What a waste of ticket money!”
“Score still nil nil. Evictions four,”
“Game over. Celtics 1 – Police 14”.
Football fans were pretty outraged. Now comments on some newspaper sites has told football fans to ‘Harden the F*&k Up’. After all can’t we take a joke? What about the good ol’ Australian stir?
Well there are many issues here.
First of all it is not ‘just another twitter’ it is the Victoria Police. And here is where the purely social, you can say frivolous aspect of twitter clashes with the serious aspect of an organisation which tweets.
If you look through the tweets before the ones about the football, you can read very serious statements about road fatalities and criminal activity. Then we jump to the ‘jokey’ ones about the game in one go. So are police tweets a serious vehicle for communicating to the public or are they a way to show that the police is ‘cool’ and up to date with the way people are communicating today? You can’t be one and the other. You can’t be #VictoriaPolice and #Policearefunny all at once.
The other issue of course is the fraught relationship that has existed between fans and police. Fans already feel somewhat besieged by large sections of the media that tends to exaggerate any incidents at football matches and ignore those at other more ‘mainstream’ sports. The fact that Police chose to make dispariging silly tweets on a football match unlike other sporting events such AFL matches understandingly makes them pissed off.
However there is a more serious issue about this than some silly tweets. Is the fact that it tend to confirm the suspicion that Police has a prejudice against football fans perceiving them to be more of a problem than other fans, even though statistics tend not to confirm this. There are more arrests and eviction at the cricket for example. But the fact that often Police felt necessary to involve riot police at A-League matches with no apparent reason tend to confirm that Police sees football differently. And this was emphasised in the shameful out of the blue front page article in The Herald Sun in February where a policeman accused football fans to be the most violent with no proof whatsoever.
Fortunately things seem to be changing. I am not a member of an active fan group, however I have received tweets from ‘originalterrace’ who said:
Working Football Group met last night. Very positive signs from Vic police. Next step: invite Etihad, AAMI Park & AGC into the process.
And it seems that Inspector Mick Beattie had to make some fence mending this morning apologising to the fans on 3AW (which was good as Neil Mitchell had to acknowledge how well fans behaved). While doing this he acknowledged how well these meetings were going, so he was at pains to distance himself from the tweets.
What concerns me however, is that the tweets betray the prejudice of many in the police force, and that despite all the efforts of the Working Football Group, there will be police, like the tweeter in question, that will persist with their negative attitudes towards football fans and act accordingly.
What is needed is a cultural shift in the police force that doesn’t perceive football crowds as a group of potential hooligans ready to start fights at any moment.