Beyond the usual smell of fear, something stinks about the whole Name and Shame Debacle.
From the FFA’s confusing backflips on whether or not banned fans have a right of appeal – and how unjust it’s prepared to let that process be – to the foul name-calling from every side, it stinks.
It stinks of hypocrisy, it stinks of envy from rival codes who can only dream of such active support… and it inevitably stinks of conspiracy and complacency.
It came in the week when it was revealed the SCG was now an official NSW Police-listed “most violent venue” because of the hooliganism of AFL, NRL, rugby and cricket fans.
Thanks to their thuggery, the SCG and Allianz was one of the worst trouble-spots in the state for drunken violence.
In the past financial year, 12 incidents involved police at either venue. There were four at NRL games, three at the cricket, two at rugby matches and two at AFL fixtures.
But despite football being the biggest crowd-puller to the venue complex over the course of the year, only once was there a violent incident involving soccer. Once.
To recap - the other codes had 11 times more violent incidents than soccer… yet football fans are the pack animals, thugs and louts (and even “just like the Paris terrorists” according to one talkback host, illustrating again his vile insensitivity.)
The list of banned A-League fans was apparently shopped around several NRL journos until Rebecca Wilson bit and ran with it, ultimately overshadowing the SCG announcement which would have blotted the reputation of the other codes.
Yet rugby league fans are so unpredictable, one club has called in a terrorism expert to help protect their players from ISIS - and their own code’s supporters.
Security chief Andrew Cook has been hired to help Manly Sea Eagles and last week he told News Ltd: “Terrorism is at the top scale but there are general risks that involves sporting teams.”
Sea Eagles football manager Charlie Haggett warned Nine Network of potential security threats everywhere, including aggressive supporters.
“You’ve only got to imagine a disgruntled supporter punching one of the players in the face and breaking a nose,” he said. “It’s a real issue these days we need to be on top of.”
But police sometimes seem unwilling to crack down on rugby league fans in the same way as they do in the A-League.
The leak came after a bitter public row between NSW Police Association and senator David Leyonhjelm who insisted the policing of A-League games was wholly disproportionate to the threat posed and offences committed by fans.
(Coincidentally, the NSWPA - who branded Wanderers fans "grubs" - were among the first official bodies to Tweet a link to Rebecca Wilson’s article in the Sunday Telegraph on the morning it was published.)
This weekend again saw huge legions of paramilitary-style cops in a massive show of strength in Melbourne with a vast police operation, which Melbourne Victory will have to pick up the bill for.
Despite the intimidating, deliberately confrontational atmosphere created, there was no trouble.
In September though, cops clashed violently in a fistfight with Canterbury Bulldogs fans in an incident caught on video… but no-one was arrested “because it wasn't appropriate,” according to Detective Superintendent Gavin Dengate at the time.
A few months earlier, “eight to ten” Bulldogs fans were set to be banned for life, the club said, for their part in another brawl that saw two men arrested and left a club official with a broken arm.
Fast forward to August and there was this brutal video of more Bulldogs fans fighting on a train, then spilling onto the platform and kicking a teenage girl repeatedly in the head.
And that’s just one club, over just a few months.
I have no idea if Bulldogs are better or worse than any other club or code but while the high-minded rhetoric went on about football fans, a claim was made that rival codes had banned just 19 fans in total, across all sports, compared to 198 in the A-League.
That tells me three things - that other codes are not as intensely policed as the A-League, that it’s far harder to get banned than in the A-League (remember the 8-10 Bulldogs fans facing a life ban, plus the 11 non-football bashings around the SCG? That’s 19 alone, right there) …and that the FFA has an itchy trigger finger when it comes to bans.
More importantly, A-League fans are unable to defend themselves against any allegations made against them, unable to see the evidence against them and unable to appeal any miscarriages of justices.
That actually is the plot of dystopian nightmare novel, The Trial by Franz Kafka. FFA’s sense of justice is literally Kafka-esque.
The FFA defended its record as a responsible governing body by pointing to the long list of names on the banned list as proof it takes security seriously and has acted appropriately to try to stamp out antisocial behaviour.
And they have – but in the process, they killed the great Australian sense of a fair go. It takes a tragedy to unite rival fans, and the death of fair play brought A-League fans together like never before.
Some of those on that list have probably committed offences that earned them a justified ban. Few if any though have ever been charged, or even arrested. Almost none have ever been in court, never mind convicted. Despite the jaundiced headlines, these fans are not criminals… and many were innocent altogether, while some were under the age of 18.
None of them has been able to challenge their ban. And all of them have been tarred with the same brush, whether they were allegedly involved in a violent clash or simply fell onto the pitch in an over exuberant goal celebration.
The publication, the condemnation, the lack of support from the FFA and the utterly unjust banning process it exposed was the final straw.
After years of being herded like cattle and treated as a necessary evil by a governing body wanting to sell the game’s unique atmosphere to corporate partners, A-League fans dropped the mic and walked out.
Stadiums fell silent. The A-League suddenly became a Sunday league where you could hear the players’ shouts and the coaches’ orders and a dog barking somewhere in the distance.
This is your future, FFA.
Selling your fans out – the ONLY people in the stadium not paid to be there – is not a viable business plan.
By all means stay tough on offenders, but be transparent. Institute a fair and just process of implementing bans and allow fans to defend themselves with access to the evidence against them.
Damien De Bohun twisting and turning in the wind, apparently changing appeals policy from one day to the next, reassured nobody – and even on Sunday when he did apparently finally promise on live TV to introduce a formal appeal, it still required the accused to prove their innocence, rendering the entire process meaningless.
You can retain control over who does and doesn't go to your games without having to be a Stalinist dictatorship that operates above the law and without scrutiny.
It may be time-consuming and even costly, but that’s your contract with fans. It’s actually a two way street – you can’t just take their money and treat them like vermin.
And next time someone takes potshots at your prime stakeholders, don’t hesitate to defend them. To do otherwise complacently takes the fans for granted.
Until they fix it, the system stinks – and fans will increasingly smell it for the bullshit it is...
Stadium pics by Eric Berry/www.efcsomedia.net1 comment