Red Card: Sloppy journalism

Here is what Rebecca Wilson’s article would’ve looked like if she were a journalist more interested in facts than creating controversy.

This is the shame file Australian football bosses didn’t want you to see, the fans who’ve tried but failed to send the sport into a downward spiral.

The not-so top secret document features 40 pages of photographs of 198 soccer fans banned from the 10 A-League clubs, with nearly half hailing from the Western Sydney Wanderers.

While the FFA correctly point out that cricket and rugby league contain just as many if not more bad eggs, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that league has shockingly only 19 banned fans and cricket fewer than that. When will these other codes respond with the same iron fist the FFA have?

The football shame file features ­fans who have allegedly engaged in conduct ranging from violence, assault or flare throwing to general thuggery in a three-year ­­­period up to October 30. More than a quarter of them have tried repeatedly, and often succeeded, to re-enter grounds even after bans have been imposed.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione believes crowd behaviour from some fans is spreading away from the stadiums, where police are witnessing yet not prosecuting horrendous assaults by some supporters on rival fans as they walk to the ground.

“The last thing we want to get to in Australia is putting rival fans in cages like the UK model (from thirty years ago),” Mr Scipione said.

“It should be a privilege and an ­enjoyable thing to attend sport in Australia. Sport must look deep within itself to admit there is a problem.”

The issue has become so serious that Allianz stadium – my husband John Hartigan and close friend Alan Jones are on the SCG Trust – are now moving to ban the local derbies between the Wanderers and Sydney FC until the FFA can further contain the turmoil. This call comes despite a recent report listing 12 violent incidents at the venues  – four at NRL games, three at the cricket, two at rugby games and only one at a soccer game.

Officials now lock down the stadium 24 hours before the local derby contests so seating areas, toilets and even plumbing can be searched. Flares were once located in toilet pipes, planted by a member of the ground staff apparently in collusion with some fans.

Police are at their wits’ end with fans, clubs and the FFA and have completely given up on the other sports. While there have been wide-ranging crisis talks over the issue with soccer authorities, the ­government and police say they are far from solving what could become a problem to rival that in other sports in Australia.

AFL, NRL, and cricket need to adopt the same zero tolerance policy as their A-League counterparts. How can 2000 AFL fans in 2012 be evicted in one season and bans be less than soccer? How do 1oos of fans get evicted from a test series and still bans are less than soccer? Australian sport needs to look at the zero tolerance of the FFA and adapt a similar approach.

The head of the Major Events and Incident Squad, Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart, said that while the A-League is meant to represent What is commonly known as the beautiful game, fan behaviour of those on the banned list is often “ugly, dangerous and extremely selfish”. Mr Stewart said controlling fans was not just a police matter.

“There is a bloody-­mindedness ­within some of the clubs and the FFA that does not accept ­the principles of natural justice. It is their ­responsibility to mend that,” he said.

“The diatribe about us being the fun police comes from those who have an exceedingly huge level of ignorance about the role we play. The zero tolerance comes from the FFA, not us.’’

FFA boss David Gallop admits there is a problem but says anti-social ­behaviour around games goes beyond football’s jurisdiction.

“It’s a problem from parents, school teachers to police,” he said.

“By and large, behaviour within our venues has improved but many of the problems now exist outside the venues.’’

A quick glance at the list of incidences suggests the FFA is correct in their stance on the problem. The figure of 198 banned fans certainly suggests they are taking the trouble seriously.

The conduct, described by one law ­enforcement officer – whose identity we will protect – as “Moore Park mayhem” when Western Sydney play Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium, now ­include vicious assaults on rival fans by some supporters as they walk to the stadium which for some reason the police have not prosecuted anyone for.

“Behave like a civilised human and not some grubby pack animal and you’ll find yourself buying many, many more season passes,” Mr Stewart said.

One of those “grubby pack animals” is a Wanderers fan who is a kindergarten teacher. He has been banned for ­violence and offensive behaviour with no right of appeal and no evidence provided.

Mr Scipione said police have been unfairly targeted for being too heavy- handed with fans when many times they don’t pursue criminal charges. It’s time for the code itself to accept that the heavy-handedness comes from within and the FFA who have even employed a counter-terrorist firm to spy on their fans.

“I sat with Dave Gallop (when NRL boss) and the people at the Bulldogs when they had a terrible fan problem,” he said.

“We sorted the issues out but it ­started within the club and at the NRL.’’

Obviously with several incidents in rugby league over the last season – including an official being injured by missiles – that hasn’t worked and NRL crowds are at their lowest average for a decade as a result.

It is back to the drawing board for the police and the governing bodies of NRL, AFL, and cricket to somehow control the epidemic. One place to start would be looking at the take no prisoners approach from my friend David Gallop at the FFA.

*This is a revision of what Rebecca Wilson and those she interviewed should’ve said if they were being fair and balanced. It does not represent what Rebecca Wilson, the Daily Telegraph or those interviewed believe.


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