Today the Football Federation of Australia handed down their punishment for the crowd behaviour at the recent Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers at Etihad Stadium. Well, when I say crowd I specifically mean the Western Sydney fans in the Red and Black Bloc. The penalty handed down was for the away fans setting off detonators and around 18 flares. A $50,000 fine and a 12 month suspended 3 point deduction was meted out to a Western Sydney team guilty by association.
It wasn’t an enviable position for the FFA or CEO David Gallop who were caught between a rock and a hard place. Western Sydney fans broke the golden rule of never never go viral with your behaviour or interfere with a broadcast. Melbourne Victory’s North Terrace showed their experience by the precise timing and quantity of their incendiary device use. The fact that the game was momentarily stopped by the flares in the RBB section meant that there would be no sweeping that incident under the carpet. The horses had bolted to write the headlines and tweet their outrage.
In amongst all the back and forth and accusations the minor North Terrace transgression was largely ignored. Respected football writer Michael Lynch admitted he had missed the flare as he was busy writing up his piece on the game and ‘incident’ just moments beforehand in order to meet his deadline.
If you ever were going to do something a little naughty at the football then that was your time because nothing was going to divert attention away from the RBB stopping play. This is fair enough too from a journalist perspective because 18 flares that interrupted the coverage is by far and away the bigger story than one flare after a goal was scored causing no interference in play. We have to be rational about the outrage and keep it all in perspective. Looking at the manner of reporting rather is much more important than what is reported.
Some of the justification and condemnation has been well-thought out and intelligent but a lot has been emotive, irrational and ultimately unhelpful. We have had the nationalistic response pushing some nostalgic ideal from a bygone white Anglo era of a mythological Australian culture.
The irony of Daniel Garb arguing against Copa 90s Eli Mengem’s example of other countries around the world embracing flares while using “our sporting culture” and the “EPL” shouldn’t be lost. Daniel though is correct in his condemnation of flares being used in Australia under the current regulations but the argument should be a legal one or one of individual preference. Pushing the “our” and “Australian way” type of argument in any situation is bordering on Reclaim Australia and Pauline Hanson levels. The existence of the discriminatory National Club Identity Policy as well as the past forty years of shoddy treatment and scapegoating of “traditional” clubs is testament to the dangers of this thinking.
We have seen the trademark hypocrisy in Australian football raise it’s head. Condemning others while failing to look at one’s own backyard is as much a part of Australian sport as the beer snake and Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi.
Forget that Victory fans ignited a flare themselves the same game, that they with Western Sydney were given a suspended sentence back in 2014 to fix their crowd behaviour, but only in October last year at the Melbourne derby earlier this season were 4 flares set off inside the stadium and a further 25 set off outside. More concerning then the flares were that a 9 year old boy was injured by a water bottle being thrown. This is on the back of an incident late 2014 when a woman and a 12 year old boy were injured as flares were used during the Melbourne Victory versus Brisbane Roar game. Supporters of other clubs without sin can cast the first stone as long as when casting that stone it is not caught on tape, that’s a 5 year ban.
Rivalry is what drives sport but we can’t let that blind us from the truths we must all face if we are going to continue to move forward. If everyone spends more time looking inward and improving their own lot then you’ll fine as a collective we will be much better off. Self-policing is after all the buzzword of this week in football.
Without a doubt Tony Ising and Paul Williams are correct that the suspended points deduction is a soft penalty and likely to not have any long term affect. It must eventually reach a head when drastic action is taken. How many times can we rinse and repeat the same thing before we wise up? After all the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and hoping for different results.
When the flares were lit up on the weekend the first thoughts many of us had were along the lines of “here we go again”. The headlines were already coming into view with the non-football media chomping at the bit, saliva splattering everywhere in their eagerness to be unleashed at the stupidity of the soccer hooligans giving them even more ammunition.
Billy’s concerns above were shared by many including veteran sports journalist Ray Gatt who has seen it all in our game. The odd thing was though what ended up being the case was the flare ammunition being used more by football media than non-football media. It seemed like they were inspired by Eminem in 8 Mile when in his rap battles he would insult himself first to take the power away from his rival. Obviously the football media decided the best way forward was to say everything that usually the non-football media get off on saying. It was an interesting approach and looks like it has worked. I’m sure Rebecca Wilson and all the wannabe Wilsons had began to pen their Soccer Shame stories but they were rendered redundant by the football media’s preemptive strike.
Now to the victim mentality aspect which is something ingrained in all football supporters in Australia. It’s the patch we get on our half half scarves sandwiched between Tifo making and flare ripping. Social media has seen many examples of this over the last few days. The idea that Western Sydney is being unfairly targeted over this issue is a little difficult to understand. We have blatant disregard for the laws within the game being captured live on television so the media and the governing body have their hands tied. Yes, the Victory have escaped this time but that doesn’t take away from the fact that wrong was done by a section of WS away fans and subsequent punishment had to be doled out. It really isn’t anything personal from the FFA nor most of the media who really do know they need WSW and the atmosphere their fans bring.
If we haven’t learnt by now that since the round ball game began to take root in Australia back in the 1880s that we have been under a microscope from the whiter wider Australian public then we never will. The mainstream media and general sporting public are more than happy to get their Liam Neeson on when it comes to that ethnic game which is trying to hijack our peaceful and civilised society. They don’t know the game but they have a special set of skills to hunt down and exploit any negative towards it. This will never change until we change.
What we’re experiencing now is just the routine pandering and placating of the mainstream by making a token sacrifice. Instead of a sacrificial lamb the FFA are choosing to use an effigy of a lamb. After all the Wanderers along with Victory are 2 of perhaps 3 teams that keep the league’s head above water so one must tread carefully with how to handle them. You have this deep seeded need to appease those who either have no interest in the league or the game balanced against trying not to slaughter your cash cows. It is an almost impossible task.
The FFA and security already have rules in place of what to do with individuals that misbehave at games. Wilson’s “198” article more than highlighted that people have been dealt with that have lit flares as well as partaken in other anti-social behaviour. That should be enough even though we know it never will be.
Asking a team to control what happens in away stadiums is ridiculous and as mentioned before nothing more than a token gesture to placate an angry mob. Flares are prohibited from being used inside stadiums in Australia, it is this simple fact alone that should mean “don’t use them”. However, being a realist you have to accept dickheadedness will always find a way.
What needs to change is how we react and by that I mean every one whether you are strongly for, strongly against or somewhere in between. React with intelligence and logic not fear and emotion. If you want to debate for or against flares do so to your heart’s content but using them is a no-no whilst they are still prohibited. The FFA need to be strong in whatever future action they take but any action they take needs to be only in concern of the game and it’s stakeholders, especially the fans.