Could a ‘welcome refugees’ banner happen at an Australian soccer match?

German football fans at Bundesliga matches

German football fans at Bundesliga matches

It has to be said that one of the most heartening things regarding the recent refugee crisis in Europe has been the expression of support by many people in the streets, but especially by football fans in the stands.


The question is. Could something similar happen in the A League or the FFA Cup?  Could we see a ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner at the match between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United on the 22nd of September?

Well the answer is probably no. For a variety of reasons.  Here I discuss what are in my opinion the main ones.

The social context is different

Australians in the main are wary of introducing politics where it is felt does not belong.  I remember when I first came here that one of the rules of going to a BBQ was ‘no religion and no politics’.  This extends to our sport.  You can see this in the continuing booing of Adam Goodes. The message here from the booers is that by introducing the issues of racism, aboriginal dispossession etc. does not belong in footy.  Same the feeling that political expression does not belong in the stands.  This is reflected in the way the clubs were created.  Some fans of the traditional clubs such as South Melbourne or Melbourne Knights that were prevented to join the A-League accuse the A-League teams to be ‘plastic franchises’ and while I don’t agree with that terminology, it is true that they were a creation by the Football Federation Australia (FFA) to provide a ‘clean slate’ free from any cultural ‘baggage’.

There was a discussion on a refugee banner on Facebook among some members of Melbourne Victory’s Northern Terrace. An active fan group. One member said:

I don’t think it would be good for the NT, no. Part of our unity comes from the fact we are not political. This is a fact of life for a team that was founded on the FFA’s initial ‘One club, one city’ model – it inherently encompasses and attracts all walks of life.

The kids who ended up making up the AU’s, Horda’s and Nomadi’s of the terrace didn’t have clubs to choose from based on their politics like you do if you grow up in Hamburg, Berlin, Verona or similar. There’s even a lot of cross-politics within those sub groups…… we (don’t) have to be left wing or right wing. We function as a political body, but with an apolitical stance on issues that don’t relate directly to us/football.

It is interesting that while active groups often refers to overseas practices for inspiration (chants, marching to the ground and -alas- flares) in this case unfurling a political banner doesn’t seem to resonate.

The FFA/clubs may not allow it

Since the advent of the A-League the FFA especially has been paranoid that the fans may express ‘sectarian’ views that could somehow remind people of the old NSL.  This mean that any banner that hasn’t been approved can be removed and the fans holding them up ejected.

This is not banners that say something nasty about some other ethnic group. It could be about anything. Apparently a Melbourne Victory fan was violently ejected for holding up a banner which stated “FOOTBALL IS FREEDOM” so you can see that anything more contentious such as supporting refugees would give the FFA/clubs kittens.  It would be quite a courageous fan to risk eviction, or even worse cancellation of membership and bans for future matches to hold up such a banner.

What would be great to happen would be a clubs encouraging this message themselves. Like St.Pauli and Borussia Dortmund did earlier this month.  But frankly, in the Australian context, I can’t seeing it happening.

Embed from Getty Images

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