Fights before a game, flares with big bangs at a match and the inevitable discussion between fans about what is good and bad behaviour at the football and with soccerphobes who like nothing better for incidents like these to happen.
Time to jump on the computer and write a blog! Hang on. I’ve expressed these opinions before. Ah yes! It was February this year during the infamous ‘Broken Chairs’episode.
So here we are again same arguments swirling around the same way.
If you don’t want to re-read that post I copied and pasted sections that I think are relevant to the discussions at the moment.
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).
In my post back in February I mused about how to solve this issue. It is a problem that will recur precisely because it is a selfish behaviour. The difficulty of solving the problem is precisely because, as I stated above, those who engage in it don’t really care about the growth of the game in Australia. They don’t care if the families and what they erroneously define as the ‘prawn sandwich brigade‘ fans stop turning up. As I said they would say would welcome it.
Peer pressure and change of attitude
Many times we hear that these are a ‘minority of idiots’. But they are able to exist because they hide behind the active fan that while not particularly a fan of flares do not condone them either. Flares in itself do not signify violence as such. But they are potentially dangerous. They are a flame that has been designed to attract attention in times of emergency. Such as on a vessel in trouble on the sea. They have not been designed to be lit amongst groups of people tightly standing in a stadium. If we reached a point where instead of feeling empowered, the flare ripper was isolated from its fan group this may remove the desire to stand out. How to achieve this is the difficult part. But I believe this can be helped by the way fans are able to express themselves. Which takes me to the next point.
Don’t crack a nut with a sledgehammer.
This goes back to a previous post about the restrictions that Melbourne Victory has imposed on its active fans. This has led to them going ‘on strike’. I believe that the more fans are allowed to express themselves in safe ways, the less there will be a desire to do acts which are more transgressive, and rebellious such as ripping flares. Someone will point out here that the Western Sydney Fans are allowed to express themselves quite freely and they still brought the flares in (regarding violent act outside the stadium, that’s a different matter altogether, and it’s purely a criminal/police matter in my opinion) but I’m looking at the long term here.
I don’t know about other A-League teams, but it seems to me that Melbourne Victory has regularly gone overboard with controlling misbehaviour. One example is engaging shady ‘anti-terrorist’ security surveillance, which increase the feeling of mistrusts and feeling already labelled as a troublemaker. The other is to arbitrarily restrict their space and their banners. I would say let’s encourage safe support. Overhead banners, streamers, coloured cardboard whatever.
We don’t need to go to Europe or South America to see what can be done. We can look at the USA Major League Soccer, and especially at the Portland Timbers that from the look of it has a much more organised and large active support than A-League teams. Before the end of the national anthem there is a massive streamers throw. (go to 1’17” if you don’t want to go through the whole anthem)
That is an example of what can be done. Now I remember that Melbourne Victory banned streamers because they thought they could be missiles, or again with flares they could constitute a fire hazard (which is true). But I believe that more of that support is encouraged, the less likely fans are going to want to be more transgressive, and more importantly other fans will be pissed off if their displays get ruined or cannot be done.
From my observations at Melbourne Victory matches, the more active fans can express themselves in a safe manner (and using a type of tifo that is inspired from overseas, but it’s safe) the less likely it is for them to use flares or other unwanted behaviour. So let’s get the streamers, cards, balloons and flyovers and let the active fans be creative!