The Eye of the Beholder

Perception is everything. It is so important that it often trumps reality which leads to it being manipulated by many who try to paint the picture they want you to see. This is why the words we use are so critical especially in media and marketing. A crazed gunman can become a terrorist depending on what it is you want people to think of when they see the headline.

Football in Australia is riddled with examples – albeit not quite as extreme as the above one – where terminology is carefully chosen to create the desired image. Some common examples are “clubs”, “members”, and “transfers” in the Aleague. We use these terms freely although under scrutiny they don’t match up to what the common association with these words are. Why do we use them then? They create the image of unity not just between the fans and the teams but also with the wider global football family and are comfortable for us.

If one reads the Club Compliancy written by the FFA and the State Federations you’ll see that the Aleague teams don’t meet the requirements of a club. One crucial aspect is that members of a club from the players, staff, volunteers and fans are all given rights in determining the running of the club which not only doesn’t happen in the national league it’s not permitted. This brings us to the use of “members” which at Aleague level refers to season ticket holders who a part from receiving the season pass and a couple of extra goodies, are not entitled to any representation at the decision making level. The idea of a club and members though are necessary in creating a more connected feeling between the two groups.

In the above cases it is harmless marketing which is merely trying to foster an attachment within a sporting organisation. However, there are terms that are used in the game that are inaccurate and  can be harmful. On the surface it appears to be a trivial matter and while some may use the terms due to laziness or convenience others do so with more nefarious intentions.

Today there was a debate about the difference between flares and hooliganism. While hooligans may use flares and there may be hooligans in Australian football, it is a misconception that any wannabe off the street who wants to light up pyro is a hooligan. In the course of the debate, it was brought up that the term hooligan was used to describe unruly sports fans in Autralia and not the violent organized gangs from Europe.

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SBS The World Game columnist Philip Micallef mentions in his tweet that we don’t have that type of hooligan in Australia. However, the problem is that when people especially outside of football see that word “hooligan” what do they see? The reality of some spotty tryhard? Or a gang of thugs roaming the streets battling each other like we’ve seen depicted in movies and on YouTube clips? Of course when Phil and other football journos use the word “hooligan” their intent is most likely the former but for the non-football media and public they see the latter.

When the non-football media, police and public use the word hooligan they want people to be afraid. They want that fear to be attached to a game that they really have no interest in and certainly don’t care for the welfare of it. Why else when flares are mentioned that the word hooligan and examples of Europe are used? Despite all the anti-social behaviour witnessed around the grounds at every other major sport in larger numbers we almost never see the word “hooligan” used in the media.

No other issue generates nearly as much press as flares especially considering the relative numbers. Why? Because flares are something that can be associated almost exclusively with football. Hooligans is another word that when people see it they create the immediate association with football. This is how marketing works as well as propaganda. Hooliganism is a divisionary tool used by some to push this ethnic and unAustralian narrative against soccer.

Do you think Tom Elliott would lose sleep if Melbourne Victory lose points because of the actions of some idiots? Is Rebecca Wilson at her wits end at seeing the game be run throu the wringer based on a small minority of wannabes? No. They don’t care for football one little bit but they are like scavengers flying around waiting for any sign of weakness. That’s their job though and you can’t hate too much on a parasite for being a parasite (the term parasite was deliberately chosen to conjure the image I wanted you to have of them).

Football journalists and the football public though should be more careful with their terminolgy. We don’t want to fuel the fear and do the work for the anti-football brigade which trust me they don’t need the help. No one wants hooliganism in the game and we certainly don’t want flares either but what we do want is intelligent, thoughtful and responsible reporting. We won’t get that from the mainstream so let’s try and at least do it ourselves.

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