Violence among fans. Maybe we are not that different after all.

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There was an incident at the Fremantle vs Hawthorn match last Friday.  A man hit a woman in the throat with his right hand.  This violence towards women is bad enough, but amplified that the woman was trying to protect her children from the thuggish behaviour of this man.  And research proves that men who are violent towards women are also violent towards their children.

As I often do I was reading the reaction in social media.  What struck me was a post in the AFL Memes Official Facebook page describing the incident as ‘disappointing’.  This page is not an official AFL one, but nevertheless I thought that the incident was more than disappointing, and while still early days, I was wondering how something like this will be portrayed in the media.



The tweet above was also in the context that NSW Police wants to place quite strict  conditions for Western Sydney Wanderers fans. 

Of course condemnation came. But it was all in the context of ‘those ferals from WA’. Or ‘isolated incident’.  The narrative was that the action was from an individual.  The sport of Australian Rules football was not implicated.

Let’s imagine if this incident occurred at an A League match, the narrative would have been completely different.  The whole game of soccer would be implicated, it would not be just a ‘feral’ or an ‘violent idiot’ but the game of Association Football itself.

Different strokes for different codes

I have written about these themes before here and here so I won’t go over the same ground again.  But the point that I was making was the way the behaviour of the fans in the two codes are viewed differently.  This time I had a prime example of something happening at an AFL match.

In one my tweets I referred to an article by Melbourne City fan,

I didn’t want to involve McKenzie-Murray in the conversation.  From social media discussion I’ve seen he has had with a few A-League fans,  anyone who puts a different view, even one that agrees with him but also points out that there may be other factors at play is slammed as an ‘tribal violence apologist’.  Someone else did include him in the conversation by retweeting me saying that the violence against the woman was the main issue. Which of course I agreed.




The response from eventually came. Completely missing the point and setting up a ‘straw man’. Maybe it was addressed at me or maybe not.

Geographical determinism  – can geography change fan culture?

Maybe McKenzie-Murray may find it beneficial to read an article by Walkley Award Greg Baum, who has been writing about sport, but especially Australian Rules football for decades.

// this article Baum states:

AFL football must realise it is on a dangerous threshold right now. Friday night’s ugliness at Perth’s Domain Stadium was the canary coughing in the coalmine…..On Friday, at a football match, a man punched a woman in the face. There’s something very awry here.

From accounts received by this newspaper, it wasn’t an isolated incident. One woman wrote a long and aggrieved letter as soon as she arrived home, saying she and her children had driven 1400 kilometres to see Fremantle play, but had been badly shaken by a series of fights in the crowd, including another in which a woman was hurt, as well as an off-duty police officer, and had left before the finish. She didn’t even know the final score.  “What happened in the last five minutes I am not going to forget in a hurry,” she said. “The noises that followed were sickening. We thought the AFL was a safe place to take our children to watch a match. We were wrong.”

Then there were two well-publicised incidents in which Hawthorn players were menaced by spectators leaning over the fence. Neither came to harm, but in these moments, suddenly the fence suddenly looked like a flimsy structure.

And then he goes on to make a very interesting point:

The ascendancy of non-Victorian clubs has meant more big matches in which there has been an imbalance of supporters, teasing out a bullying streak….

On Friday, there was a new twist. Fremantle likes to represent Domain Stadium as a cauldron when they play there, and mostly the AFL plays along, for the sake of the theatre……But the staginess depends on the best of human nature. On Friday night, the worst emerged, again. The niggle on the field spilled over into the crowd, and washed back over itself. The crowd became a mob. Real fury replaced mock, real fists replaced theatrical. Infamously and inexcusably, innocents were hurt.

And this brings out that Association Football is not necessarily that different from Australian Rules Football when it comes to fan behaviour.

Yes. Australian Rules fans’ behaviour has been traditionally very well natured.  I do wonder whether the main reason for that is because it is one of the few codes in the world (in fact is the only one I know) where a whole competition developed within a city.  The VFL, the SAFL etc. had competitions where the teams represented suburbs within a city, rather than a city itself.  So it is normal for you workmates, friends, to support other teams.  And it is normal to go and see a footy match with your mates who were following the opposition.  As Baum aptly explains “there was always an “us” and a “them”, but there was always a “we”, a football community.”

But maybe this culture has changed over the years of interstate team rivalries. In this case AFL becomes more like soccer, more like the A-League where mostly of the  fans mix with are not following different teams.

Let’s take the example in my workplace.  I sit in a space with two Richmond supporters, one Geelong, one Melbourne and my boss is a St.Kilda fan.  People are less likely to develop a ‘us and them attitude’ in this context.  But there is no Fremantle , Adelaide or Port Adelaide fan.  Sure there will be people that support interstate teams in Melbourne but they are not many, but I also wonder whether this is even less likely in Adelaide or Perth.

The end of it is that it is not ‘the sport’ that causes the behaviour but a number of factors.  Soccer has organised support that is there to create an intimidating atmosphere for the opposition, and this can create its own sets of issues.  Same as some drunk/violent AFL fan may turn on some other fan, or express their racist feelings by booing Goodes in the safety of numbers.  The ‘code’ itself is irrelevant.

1 Comment

Filed under Football, Politics and Current Affairs

One response to “Violence among fans. Maybe we are not that different after all.

  1. Alex

    Hi Guido,
    Whatever the code, the violence is always started by an isolated idiot (and probably alcohol). The important thing is what happens next.

    From what I read / heard about the incident, the surrounding spectators immediately intervened to restrain the attacker and prevent anything worse from happening. The surrounding culture said that what happened is not acceptable. No minimisation. No justification. Condemnation.

    All of the incidents you have identified have been dealt with. Not because of the media reporting, but because they are seen as anathema to what is acceptable. That seems to be the difference between AFL and other sporting bodies / communities.

    Giving a contrast to soccer, there is quite frequently condemnation of the media for reporting (even if a somewhat distorted report) of incidents that seems to outweigh any condemnation of the incidents themselves. When the messenger is shot at, it sends the message that the problem isn’t the incident, it is it being made public.

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