Off-Side Set – An attempt at family friendly Ultras

One of the FFA’s mantra about the A-League is being ‘Family Friendly’. This is has been strenuously asserted to break away from the perception that Association Football is a dangerous game to go and watch. And it is waived about when the media goes in its regular outrage about ‘soccer hooligans’.

To be fair if you want to sell a product like the A-League, families are incredibly important. A product aimed at mums and dads is essential to attract sponsors, and give the image that Association Football is akin other codes in Australia.

This of course is a red rag to some active fans that find a ‘family friendly’ atmosphere bland and corporatised. Contro il calcio moderno.

In the early days of the A-League with Melbourne Victory there was an attempt to combine the two. Could active fans stand and chant with their children? As anyone has been to a Melbourne Victory match would know, being in the active areas is not exactly child friendly. The energy the beer spills the language etc. is no place for children. Beside the fact that some active fans in those areas view the presence of children and families with hostility.

So in the early season of Melbourne Victory some of us with kids (and some who didn’t but liked the idea of a ‘different’ active group) created the “Off-Side Set’. The spiel to describe ourselves was thus:

We are a motley group. Our group includes men and women, girls and boys, young and old, We welcome parents with kids in tow. We’re about having fun on the terraces in support of Melbourne Victory, in an environment where anyone can come and join in.

Our small group remained…well small…but in its early days we had our moments. At the outset we decided on our brand of tifo. We decided that had to be fun. Streamers were used (until they were deemed as ‘projectiles’) we had Rocket Balloons, and kazoos (we would create a stirring rendition of Aida with them). I even bought an old fashioned rattle, fancying myself like a 1950’s English football fan. We also had a banner with our logo, designed by one of our group, which is now, alas, lost.

We tried to create a fun group where everyone felt welcome, and where we were not taking ourselves too seriously. Where we would be located was the difficulty. As a small group who wanted to buy general admission tickets it was hard to ‘own’ a space like the real larger groups. At Olympic Park we finally were successful to claim a bit of the Eastern Stand, only for lots of matches to go to the great spaces of Etihad. The difficulty of finding our own space, and the relatively small number of OSS took its toll.  Maybe was 20 odd people doing half-hearted chants with rocket balloons and kazoos amongst silent fans who looked us askance was too much awkwardness for us to take.

The OSS Christmas BBQ 2009.

Ultimately OSS members decided to go to the larger groups. Some liked the relaxed banter of the Southern End, while others like choreography of the Northern Terrace.

Then some of the children, who were at the edge of adolescence, left to go with their mates away from the parents and that was it. By the time the Bubbledome came into being the ‘OSS’ was no more. We are now scattered around the stadiums. I still meet some ex-members, one lives north of me and we regularly meet on the train on the way to games, others I meet when I go for a wonder at half time.

We still have a Facebook Page that I’m not sure whether I should delete. Maybe I’ll leave it there. A reminder of a small and forgotten bit of Melbourne Victory fandom.

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