The ongoing campaign to demonise A-League supporters has intensified in early 2014. The A-League’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA), imposed wide-ranging sanctions on the Melbourne Victory and the Western Sydney Wanderers for “bringing the game into disrepute by way of the misconduct of their supporters”.
Both clubs accepted the FFA’s sanctions for a pre-match brawl between opposing supporters prior to their December 28 clash in Melbourne. However, if “further misconduct” is to happen before the end of the 2013-14 season, both clubs will be stripped of three competition points and face the possibility of further sanctions.
FFA CEO David Gallop said the unprecedented measures were needed to create to a “safe, enjoyable and family friendly environment in the A-League”. Nobody’s safety should be compromised at a football match but the truth is that its corporate interests that lie behind these measures rather than concern for people’s safety.
Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season last October, the Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Victoria Police, Rick Nugent, signalled an unprecedented crackdown on so-called “hooligans” declaring that the “police have had enough”.
The FFA willingly complied with police orders and vowed to expand the powers of both the police and private security during matches. For example, the private security firm that patrols matches, Hatamoto, has the right to spy on fans and impose up to 20 year bans on attending matches without evidence!
These punitive measures are far-fetched considering an overwhelming majority of A-League matches are incident free.
Levels of fan ‘violence’ at A-League matches are similar to those in the AFL and NRL. Writing in the Herald Sun in March 2013, Simon Hill revealed that at Melbourne Victory matches during the 2012-13 season there had been a total of 36 evictions, or an average of 3.25 per game.
That figure was less than the eviction figures for all AFL games at Ethiad Stadium in 2012 where, over 47 matches, 210 people were evicted, an average of 4 per game.
In the aftermath of the Victory-Wanderers sanctions, much of the corporate press were quick to deride A-League supporters as “delusional soccer folk”. Other writers spoke of an “inferiority complex” that plagues the game. It is clear that some media outlets, especially those with extensive commercial interests in both the AFL and NRL, would prefer the A-League to continue as the poor cousin of the other major codes.
The A-League itself is in a race for profits with the AFL and NRL and therefore the League is keen to weed out those fans that do not fit into their business plan. This includes those who are overly vocal, political and against the corporatisation of the game.
The A-League, like everything else, is not immune from the economic and social processes of the times. Every aspect of the sport is seen by its big business backers as a product to make money off. The attacks on A-League supporters have little to do with safety and more to do with defending profit interests. They need to be opposed.
The best way to achieve a “safe, enjoyable and family friendly environment” is to remove the profit motive from the game and run the clubs and leagues in the interests of the players and fans.
By Conor Flynn