Flagging the fans offside

Geelong Advertiser, 29 October 2008, p. 17.

It may turn out to be a storm in a teacup but the proposed and then rescinded banning of Eureka flags at football matches involving Melbourne Victory was an own goal for the code. As the fans themselves point out, the Eureka flag was flown at the very first Melbourne Victory games and has been there ever since, even if now it is less evident than Victory and Blue and White Brigade and other banners. Questions arise about whether the Football Federation of Australia instructed security at Telstra Dome to announce a forthcoming ban or whether this was an interpretation placed by the security company on the Spectator Code of Conduct which the FFA has introduced.

Sometimes one wonders whether the FFA realises how lucky it has been to have Melbourne Victory and its exuberant, noisy and boisterous fans. Even the club sometimes gives the impression that they are a necessary evil. But when they are not there in force Telstra Dome is a morgue. So the problem is how does the code encourage the atmosphere without the occasional incidents of unacceptable behaviour which occur? Here the responsibility comes back to the fans themselves on the one hand and the media on the other.

Victory fans have always prided themselves on their passionate but independent support for the club. They have never become an official part of the club organisation though they expect to be consulted by the club when changes are proposed to the arrangements under which they watch matches. Because they consist of a number of separate groups this makes getting their co-operation on contentious matters very difficult, so one can sympathise with the FFA, the club and the security organisations when they describe the problems they have faced in evolving acceptable policies and having them implemented. The fan groups are reluctant to be seen to be policing the behaviour of their members but the more they can do to inhibit violent or provocative activities the more they can ensure that the majority will not be treated unfairly by the authorities.

At a National Youth League game at the weekend, the referee drew the attention of security to some foul-mouthed abuse from a group of fans on the terracing. A couple of security people went over to the group and spoke to them and from then on there was no further incident. Obviously it is more difficult to achieve similar results in a crowd of the size of that at Telstra Dome for the A-League game against Sydney when a season-high 31,546 were present. But here too proactive work by police and security in general defused a number of situations, though some fans were uneasy at what they saw as heavy-handed action by some officials.

As for the media it is about time it dropped its premise that football fans are just an explosion of ethnic tension about to happen. Victory fans are drawn from all groups in Australian society and they are very largely members of the domestic population, not migrants as was the case in previous soccer booms. They are just as likely to be seen at footy or cricket matches as at the round ball code. So the very few incidents of unacceptable behaviour which do occur need to be treated as such and not the harbinger of a breakdown in society.

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