Should I stay or should I go?

Rebecca Wilson’s ‘name and shame’ article of people banned from attending Aleague matches has predictably and rightfully caused quite a stir. Labels placed on football fans such as ‘louts’ and ‘thugs’ were thrown out there by Wilson, and she and shock jock Alan Jones even managed to liken the Paris terror attacks to what happens at Aleague games.

These types of attacks are nothing new to football and they’ve been happening as far back as the 1950s with the rise of many immigrant-backed football clubs. Attacks have even come from within the game with former FFA chairman Frank Lowy saying that it was like World War III every weekend in the NSL. Football and it’s devoted followers have always been easy targets for the mainstream. Fair to say football doesn’t always cover itself in glory either.

The attacks of Wilson and Jones are nothing new or unique to the long-suffering football fan, and to be a fan of football in Australia has involved a lot of suffering. In this particular case though there has been a breach of trust with confidential ammunition leaked to the hired gun, Wilson. While the FFA are ultimately responsible for the existence and distribution of the identities of those banned, it’s highly unlikely that they’re directly responsible for the leak.

One might look at the SCG Trust which Alan Jones is a member of as well as John Hartigan who has a personal relationship with Wilson. However the source of the leak is far from the only issue that is concerning. Apparently minors had their name and image posted in the Daily Telegraph as well as people who have no criminal convictions nor any evidence that they were rightfully issued with banning notices. The highlights the concerning nature of a lack of an appeal’s process or any show of support for the fans as a group by the FFA.

One can understand the frustration that is felt by those that spend their time and hard earned money on supporting the game and their team every week only to be largely ignored. It is often said fans are the lifeblood of the game but is this truly understood at the top? Time and time again the FFA pass on the chance to demonstrate solidarity with the football public so it is no surprise if this last incident is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The FFA have to create a truly open dialogue with fans and not these fan forums which are more a chance for fans to listen to what direction they will be led.

Already active fan groups like the RBB and North Terrace have thrown up the possibility of a boycott or walk out during matches this weekend. Other fans have proposed protest banners or chants at games while many will just carry on business as usual. Every one has the right to take the action they feel appropriate and are comfortable with. Solidarity doesn’t just have to be in the form of doing the same action but can simply be respecting the action taken by others. Whatever action an individual chooses to take should be solely guided by what you feel is right. Any action though must be undertaken with sincerity and conviction and not just because you’ve been pressured into it or shamed into not doing it.

It has been suggested that a walkout or boycott is the wrong action and that instead people should turn up in bigger numbers. This might be true if the intended target was to show the anti-football brigade what for but as mentioned above, the Wilsons of the world are nothing new. The aim is to grab the attention of those who should be supporting their fans such as the FFA and most of the clubs. Where is the outcry from every club as to the treatment of their fans? They have had some of their own members wrongfully banned from attending games. They have had their own fans refused the right of appeal, something that all citizens in democratic societies generally have when accused of wrongdoing. They have stood by as their own fans have been labelled as ‘thugs’ and ‘grubs’. Today WSW released a supportive statement from John Tsatsimas which is a great start and to be fair their fan group has copped the most flak. It would be great if this spurred on other clubs to follow suit.

It is understandable as to why drastic actions such as walkouts or boycotts are seen as the only way to get through to clubs and the governing body. Will it work? No one can know how effective any action will be until it is undertaken. However, inaction by and large doesn’t facilitate a change in the status quo. The status quo at the moment, if the statements by the FFA and the silence from the clubs are anything to go by is, “we don’t care about you.”

Metrics though is something that is clearly cared about. Attendance and TV ratings are the biggest driving forces in modern sport and anything which threatens these will likely garner attention. The mere mention of walkouts and boycotts has seen scared some with vested interests to get on the front foot and say that it will mean the enemies of football will win. This would be true if it was simply about the story but it is not. They have even less subtlety encouraged more people to attend to really shove it up Wilson’s nose but again that would be great if that were the issue.

This is about being heard by the those who’ve been granted the honour of safeguarding the game and representing the interests of the football public. The broadcasters, the governing body, and the clubs need to not just realise but show that the value of a fan goes beyond just the price of admission, the cost of a scarf, or a subscription fee.

Hopefully something good will come from this and football can finally achieve the solidarity that it has strived for but so far failed to achieve in Australia. Football is here to stay and it is down to each and every stakeholder to shape it’s future.

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