(picture taken by @ludbeyheraldsun)
Two things seem to be happening regularly in the Australian media at the moment. One is ALP leadership speculation every time there is a bad Newspoll and soccer hooligans commentary by commercial media every time something bad happens.
A small mercy is that it is not as bad as it used to be. The fact that the A-League is much less of a marginalised sport has allowed mainstream sport journalists such as Francis Leach, or Gerard Wheatley to realise that going to a football match is an experience that is fun and safe.
But it can’t be denied that there is an element that likes to do some mischief let we say.
This leaves us football fans in a bit of a no win situation. On one hand we can’t really condone any wilful damage, nor any action that can be dangerous. But on the other we feel affronted by the usual commentary (all by followers of the other football codes) that paints the fans of our sport as a bunch of dangerous criminals. Adding to the injury is knowing that even worse incidents at AFL matches have hardly been mentioned.
I discussed the issue about why football crowds are perceived differently in another post that I wrote when again incidents got the conservative media out in force.
Fans know that like shonky builders and horror neighbours commercial media especially is at the ready to write ‘Soccer Shame’ headlines when any incident occur. So why these events still persist?
David Hards writes in his blog that sometimes us football fans can be our worst enemies. He writes:
We must be smarter A-League fans, stop the flares, save the chairs and pull your heads in. Real football fans work tirelessly improving the image of our games, countless hours are spent by players and staff promoting the game through all facets on the community and our reputation is tarnished by those few who cannot move forward with the league itself.
Flares, crowd violence and a poor media reputation should have been left behind when the A-League established itself and relinquished the ethnicity ties of the various clubs the NSL represented. On the most part this has worked with great success but we must remember we are only as strong as our weakest link.
A similar sentiment is expressed by Adrian Musolino :
Without the flares and bottle and chair throwing, there would be no story.
So sure, the media may overplay what’s going on in the stands. But deprive them of the excuse and the headlines would inevitably disappear or the media become more desperate to seek a negative A-League story……
So, to the active supporters out there, behave. Sing, dance, chant, cheer, make banners, boo the opposition and so forth. This sort of atmosphere is what differentiates football from other codes and will help attract new fans and keep them coming, therefore helping the A-League to grow in stature.
But don’t resort to the flares, violence, chair throwing, racist chants and so forth. They don’t add anything to the fan experience and only fuel the negative headlines.
Meanwhile a Victoria Police statement said that: “There are some issues with the soccer that in some ways we don’t totally understand. I’m not sure why it happens”
Perhaps I can venture an explanation. Before I continue I have to say that mine are opinions based on impressions that I have gathered by reading football forums, social media and by observing people at football matches. It is not based on a survey or formal research, but here is goes.
One comment about the chair incident from Facebook
Regardless of the chairs that were broken, we’ve already adopted to footballing culture from Europe decades ago…it is something that no one can prevent! If thick minded people think that soccer is just a sport to watch with no atmosphere (flares) then what’s the point of being a spectator?
Criticism of the type of support the FFA wanted back in 2004:
Yeh, overseas flares are a norm, they are not seen as violent, they add better atmosphere to games, you MVFC have listened to the Australian media too much.
No wonder you will be boring supporters, you will just sit there and occasionaly clap like its some game of golf.
Look at the other clubs like Perth & Adel Utd, never seen them wankers light one flare at a game, boring!
People may go to football matches for a variety of reasons. But perhaps there is a small minority that really doesn’t care about the A-League, doesn’t care about whether the sport of Association Football becomes a major one in Australia, and probably doesn’t care about their team either. They only care about themselves.
Maybe they are young and immature. Maybe they don’t care about football’s image because they are so self-absorbed that all they really care is big-noting themselves in front of their mates, showing how brave they are in ripping a flare or breaking a chair and throwing it without being caught. Maybe they are thrilled by the ‘danger’ of doing something ‘dangerous’.
When I see active fans, especially those who do the choreo they seem to be male and young. While 99% of them are only interested in jumping, chanting and waving flags, I think is really just a few that are using it as a selfish way of big-noting themselves.
I am no skip – they do it over there but we don’t do it here.
While the ethnicity issue has been largely taken out with the advent of the A-League, there seems to be a persistent belief amongst some fans that if we don’t copy what they do overseas, then we are not ‘real’ football fans. A great example of sporting cringe. These individuals go to sites like these drool about the flares in Europe and think that something like that has to be reproduced in Australia. When you point that the Australian sporting culture is different they snide that it is an inferior one, and tell you to ‘piss off back to the AFL’ where it is bland and boring.
And here is the issue that perhaps those who take flares in the ground, those who use the idiotic initials of A.C.A.B (All Cops Are Bastards) those who do damage, are wannabe Ultras and use football as a vehicle first for self-aggrandisement as explained before, but second also as a rebellion against the ‘Australian’ culture, that include the AFL and the NRL. Criticisms by soccerphobes in the media can actually enhance this feeling of isolation and perhaps even motivate them to misbehave even more (You can criticise me all you like you skip bastards, get fucked the lot of youse, here’s another flare!). I think many couldn’t care less if there were only 500 people at a match, as long they were ‘true fans’ like them (unlike wishy washy AFL types). Couldn’t care less if football became a marginalised, ignored, irrelevant sport again as long as they can get their jollies at the weekend (in fact it could be argued that the NSL almost reached that point).
So can this behaviour be changed? I think it can but it would require a shift in the belief of not dobbing. In Australian culture dobbing is already a crime. This is enhanced by the fact that it seems that even if active supporters don’t like flares, or misbehaviour (I’ve read one being really pissed off that hours spent in creating a banner was ruined when someone ripped a flare when the banner went up) seems reticent to report them to security. With the chair issues at the Melbourne Heart section how long this went on? I don’t think 100+ chairs could have been broken in seconds. If someone alerted security the responsible people would have been ejected and only a few chairs would have been broken. The fact seems to be that even those who disapprove won’t ‘dob’ someone else to the police or security. There still may be the feeling that dobbing is always a low act.
So like other youth behaviour (albeit a minority) such as binge drinking, taking risks with driving etc. which is resistant to change, I think that unfortunately it will be very hard to eliminate flares or other immature acts by some individuals. You can lecture all your like about ‘pulling their head in’ but I think this won’t change many unwanted behaviours.
It has been proven by psychological studies that some young people who misbehave tend not change their behaviour with punishment (in fact may make thing worse) but will from peer pressure. So perhaps instead of evicting offenders and charging them, they will be identified and later other active fans will meet with them and tell them that they are dickheads and their actions are not wanted in their group, and next time they will be on their own, maybe things may change.
May not work. But maybe worth a try. Otherwise we will be caught in this merry-go-round of: ‘incident – anti football media hysterics – football fans being pissed off’ forever.