News Limited are well know for “being for families” and for their official sponsorships for NRL and AFL. However, they aren’t all that well known for their coverage of football – or soccer. They are good at whipping up a moral panic about certain targets, and this time it’s a sport that their half owned station, Foxtel, covers. It seems that they are concerned about the reputation of the code, so they are using their muscle to get it into line. Leading this charge on Saturday was the notorious columnist, Rebecca Wilson, known better for rugby league than other sports. As ever, the article is in italics.
Don’t believe the PR hype. Western Sydney must weed out criminal element, writes Rebecca Wilson
The headline leads the reader in no doubt as to the intent – to say that criminals are supporting the Wanderers, followed by… *gasp* dodgy looking men with tattoos with the flare going off at the Victory v Wanderers game.
THE Western Sydney Wanderers have enjoyed a rapid rise to the top of Australian sport with a team that can outperform just about any other in the A-League. The side’s support base boasts numbers that are so phenomenal they are the envy of all professional footy clubs.
Yes, after just two years, the Wanderers are a fairytale, the darling of the FFA and certain elements of the Sydney media.
Testament to the fact that this is a very, very valuable brand is that the FFA plans to sell the club for nearly $15 million to a private consortium.
“Certain elements” – obviously not the Daily Telegraph. Such success, though, must have a dark side, though, surely…
So what is it about this that makes my skin crawl? Why do I feel extremely uncomfortable when I see the so-called RBB (Red and Black Bloc) in full voice at an A-League game, replete with a lot more than happy ditties and bonhomie?
Certain fans who boast that they are RBB members hide their faces behind masks, rip hundreds of seats out of the stands so they can stand where they choose and smuggle flares into grounds despite a security presence that far outweighs most football games in Australia.
Authorities desperately grappling with the increasing menace of a core group of fans have no answer to the trouble.
I will agree with Wilson on one point – that flares being fired off at stadiums is a very poor thing. It’s something about which every football administrator and commentator agrees. What Wilson is doing, however, is making the actions of those few fools speak for the whole club – so much so that the success of the club “makes her skin crawl”. It makes me pause and wonder if Wilson believes the same of Canterbury rugby league club and the actions of a minority of their fans over the years. Does their continuing success as a club “make her skin crawl”?
Cue the cherry picked photo of a silly fan covering his face.
Let’s continue with Wilson, using England as an outstanding example.
They are generally dumbfounded when it comes to sourcing the culprits, reluctant to ban anyone who dares to drag a row of nailed-down seats out of the concrete.
In England, police have adopted a zero tolerance approach, insisting everyone sits in their own numbered seats.
This is where it gets weird. The first version was like this:
In that version, we see a terrible connection between the Hillsborough disaster and fan behaviour. It’s little wonder that disappeared (that picture sourced from the @LFCMelbourne Twitter account). It’s an edit not credited anywhere, however. Let’s see where Wilson goes with this.
That way, the culprits are far more easily identified and thrown out. There has been very little hint of trouble at any EPL game for years because the fans know they will cop a life ban if they behave badly.
Last weekend in Melbourne, the RBB and Victory fans engaged in a brawl away from the ground, in the middle of the city, that was menacing, ugly and violent. The Wanderers claim the Victory mob had revenge on their minds after a similar riot in Sydney when the two teams last clashed.
Two men, from the RBB, have been charged, one with causing serious injury and another with using a missile during the affray. They have been issued with bans of five years from any A-League games, instead of being handed life.
LIFE! Ban them all for LIFE. Sounds like lynch mob talk. 5 years of being disallowed to see the game you love sounds like a pretty heavy ban to most people – but Wilson is choosing to see that penalty as a sign of weakness. Again, we don’t hear any mention of equivalent penalties for infractions during rugby league or cricket games, where similar behaviour has occurred. Not can stop Wilson from conflating these events:
Both clubs have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute and threatened with the loss of competition points. But authorities are still no closer to guaranteeing a majority of the crowd who come to watch the game will be safe.
Five flares, firecrackers and a surging mass of ugliness from within the RBB caused mayhem at Melbourne’s AAMI Stadium last Saturday night.
I was at that game with my family. Yes, it was bad. Yes, I would have preferred it didn’t happen – I wrote about the game here. But we were under no risk from the flares or crowd. We were in an excellent crowd focused on the game, with the dishonourable exception of the flare blokes – which of course, we see here.
It might only be a “small minority”, as I’m so sick of hearing, but they manage to create a violent atmosphere and continue to ride roughshod over police and security.
Sick of hearing the truth, clearly. It is a small minority. But Wilson insists on conflating their activities to the activities of the entire code, who are “hell bent”:
This is a natural outcome for a code hell bent on protecting its reputation, on pumping up the tyres of the RBB and their “wonderful” fan group that the bad element was allowed to thrive without boundaries.
This is states, even though, as Wilson states, there has been the suspended loss of competition points as well as strong statements by both clubs in terms of the lighting of flares and violence. But Wilson goes on, cherry picking certain events.
At the club’s derby against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium in October, the SCG Trust was so deeply disturbed by a string of incidents that they received briefings from the highest echelons of the NSW Police force.
Hundreds of chairs were ripped out, flares and missiles were smuggled in and let off and the innocents caught in the middle of it were shocked that this could happen in Australia.
“Highest echelons”. Aren’t all major sporting events monitored by a “higher echelon” of police? Isn’t that part of their job? Interesting that it has not happened again. There wasn’t chair ripping going on at AAMI Park, for example.
The defence puts out the statistic dozens are evicted from a Test cricket match or a big AFL game. They are generally charged with drunken behaviour and spend the night in the lockup. This, Wanderers fans say, is akin to their own bad element. But they forget that those arrested are rarely violent, and, if they try anything on, they are kicked out rapidly.
Every piece of AFL and cricket related violence are different? Really? There have been many examples of violence related to cricket, AFL and rugby league – the sport Wilson leaves out here. I personally feel better taking my kids to an A League game than to parts of the MCG or SCG outer during tests, with the drunken, loutish behaviour we have seen in the current series. But there’s a difference with football.
These fans are not part of a gang culture. They do not attend post-match “celebrations” with the intent of accosting rival fans, and they do not go for a quiet drink with missiles in their pockets.
This is where the dog whistling begins – these groups are being characterised as gangs with missiles, like the hooligans we see in Europe. That’s how these supporters are different. European. They don’t act like Australian drunk sport supporters. Note that in the photos of the supporters printed so far are mostly of people of continental European background. So, then comes the kicker suggestion from Wilson:
The private consortium set to purchase the Wanderers has a golden opportunity to shrug off the criminal element in their club.
It can issue life bans, make every single fan sit in a numbered seat and bolster gate checks to ensure the weapons are not smuggled into the grounds.
The RBB might be the mascot for the A-League in the minds of those who have bought the public relations hype but until very bad people are meted out of the core group, the Wanderers have no right to call themselves a role model for anyone.
Aside from the LIFE BAN scream, Wilson wants every single fan go through inconvenience for the sake of the few ratbags. In the entire club. I wonder if Wilson has suggested that for a rugby league club.
It hasn’t stopped there, however. Sunday’s Daily Telegraph had this as their original Front Page Screamer:
Police in Australia have heightened fears that the A-League is experiencing its first hooligan groups
Guess what? Same group that we saw on Wilson’s piece. Useful “thuggish” types, that group.
THEY are feared in Europe and – until now – did not exist in Australia.
But The Sunday Telegraph can today reveal that police have heightened fears A-League football is experiencing its first hooligan football “firms” after identifying groups of organised troublemakers across the game.
Senior police say they are involved in extensive, cross-border intelligence-gathering operations to pinpoint and root out troublemakers acting as muscle for the clubs.
EUROPEAN STYLE Football FIRMS. MUSCLE. Let’s see what evidence there is for this scary talk:
One group that has caught their attention is known as the Northgate Hooligans, which was formed about a year ago and is loyal to the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Police last week filmed RBB and Northgate members as they conducted their pre-game march towards Parramatta Stadium.
Oooh, filming. The “Northgate Hooligans”. Sounds scary. Nothing at all like a group of blokes who enter from a particular gate at their home ground. The fact the police film behaviour is proof of nothing but they are filming things. Sounds a lot like the way all members of bikie “gangs” are dangerous because the police are watching them.
Cue the out of context photo of the flares from the Victory – Wanderers game in Melbourne.
Northgate members were confirmed as being involved in a violent confrontation with Melbourne Victory supporters late last month that left several people in hospital.
Another splinter group, AMOK, is comprised of younger members aged between 15 and 20 years.
Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, Commander of the Major Events and Incidents Group, said police were watching the issue closely and had a “comprehensive intelligence strategy” to keep the matter under control.
“We’re not on the scale of the UK but we do recognise we have a problem,” Mr Clarke said.
“We certainly recognise there are splinter groups that represent a high risk.
“We particularly target these groups and individuals within them.
“We’re talking about a small group of people who have the potential to ruin the game for a large group.”
Sounds like, from the quotes, that the police are monitoring the situation with a “small group of people” and it’s not on the scale of the “firms” situation in the UK. But that doesn’t stop the next line conflating the issue :
English football firms are notoriously violent and routinely clash with members of opposing firms that support rival teams.
Cue a picture of a group of football fans from a different team setting off flares.
Victory fans are lit by the orange colour of a flare the was set off after a goal. Source: News Limited
And it goes on with the European connections…
NSW police have travelled to the UK and worked with its football policing unit to develop a way to control the emergence of hooliganism in Australian Football.
Senior police have also briefed the SCG Trust, which was worried following a spate of recent violent incidents.
Trips to the UK by the police is important news in the context of this, even if the scale is nowhere near the British. But the inference is obvious. The SCG Trust report is interesting – no mention of the people in charge of Parramatta Stadium. One can possibly read here a comment about westies coming to damage the furniture of the inner city. But onwards with the surveillance –
On Wednesday, The Sunday Telegraph watched as diehard RBB supporters marched to Parramatta Stadium for their team’s match against Wellington Phoenix.
Police were filming specific individuals during the march as part of an intelligence-gathering exercise.
Social media sites are also being closely examined by police, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.
Some in the crowd wore T-shirts stating: “Northgate Hooligans” and a man with a loudspeaker, known to supporters as a “capo”, instructed all those present not to speak with the media.
Also of concern to police were a group known as “casuals”, who are more willing to be involved in violence. Authorities are working to pinpoint who these ”casuals” are and which supporter base they are from.
Reporters from the Sunday Telegraph watching supporters, looking for deviant behaviour. Doesn’t sound creepy in the slightest. And considering the track record of News Limited and its reportage of football violence, I’m not surprised no supporters would talk to their reporters. As for the “capo” (more dog whistling against “ethnics” running these groups) – is a man leading the cheers a bad thing? Does that mean we need to stop everyone from calling out cheers to the crowd? Maybe they start watching this bloke from the Barmy Army:
But I digress. The Sunday Tele might have visited the Wanderers at their home ground, but they didn’t get the photos they wanted of hooliganism. So they took more continental European, hooligan looking people with hooligan looking tattoos from the Victory game in Melbourne:
Here’s more about the “Northgate Hooligans” :
The Northgate Hooligans group has its own crest and several members have been photographed with it tattooed on their body.
One online posting made by a loyal Wanderers fan summarised the role of both groups, saying: “Northgate is our firm and guys who like to get into a bit of a scrap with whoever is willing, and AMOK is our youth group with the same mentality.”
ONE ONLINE POSTING. Then the Northgate Hooligans MUST be a FIRM. To use one online posting as proof of anything is sloppy, lazy journalism. It’s like those political journalists who use random tweets as proof of wider phenomenons.
As is often the case with anything like this, there’s a logical explanation. And the Tele prints it, but only after it is acted as judge and jury on the Wanderers and their “Firms”.
An RBB spokesman insisted the issue was a misunderstanding, saying the term “Northgate” referred to the stadium entry point that its fans use when they attend club games.
The “Hooligans” moniker was a “joke”, they said, and both the Northgate and the AMOK subgroups were simply “groups of friends”.
“Nearly every (football) supporter group in the country had subgroups well before the Western Sydney Wanderers was formed,” the spokesman said.
The RBB spokesman yesterday strongly denied claims the subgroups were formed for violence.
That explains the tattoos and the names. While is may be the case that members of these groups may be testosterone driven boys grouping together to act like Big Men, that doesn’t make them a “firm” of hooligans out for violence at every turn worthy of constant surveillance and sophisticated UK style intelligence operations. In any case, what kind of numbers are involved? Hundreds? The article seems to infer that it’s a widespread problem.
Over the past year, about 25 Wanderers supporters have been banned from attending matches, including two who were involved in the violent altercation in Melbourne on December 28.
A further seven fans from Melbourne Victory have been banned, along with nine from Sydney FC.
25. IN A YEAR. There’s been almost that many given fines for running across football groups naked in the past year. Maybe there should be a task force for them too. 25.
This all proves little but that the fans who are out to be fools are being weeded out of the Wanderers and that a group of boys like to be a part of a group and have that tattooed on themselves. But let’s put up a banner that is used to speak for all of the Wanderers, that tars them all with the same violent, aggressive brush:
Curiously, over the course of Saturday night, the Sunday Telegraph has gone instead for a different front page for the issue – an interesting decision. The original article is still in there, though :
But that’s not all for the campaign against football from News Limited. In Melbourne the Sunday Herald Sun has the following front page screamer (courtesy of @GuidoTresoldi):
Secret files reveal violent A-League antics in our sports capital
Police struggle to respond as fans set off flares at Etihad Stadium in 2010. Source: News Limited
THE ugly face of Melbourne soccer hooliganism has been revealed in secret dossiers compiled by police covering A-League games.
Reports outline regular incidents of violence and hostility directed towards rival fans and security staff.
And there is evidence of intimidation of police by the most hardcore supporters.
Fan behaviour became so aggressive during one 2012 Melbourne Heart-Melbourne Victory derby match that police had to retreat and monitor the crowd from afar.
2012. Now two years ago. Nothing more recent yet.
And a report on crowd behaviour at one of last year’s Victory-Heart derbies warned: “It is clear from this match and previous recent matches that crowd behaviour, particularly in the active support area, is deteriorating.”
Last year now. It does raise the question – were there any AFL matches where such behaviour was a. experienced b. reported upon in a front page one year after the event?
A senior officer said this week that a core of about 40 rogue fans were the source of most of the drama.
Three years of post-event police reports and briefing notes have been released to the Sunday Herald Sun under Freedom of Information laws.
40 fans. Doesn’t sound all that widespread and certainly not worthy of a front page screamer. But let’s read on.
Briefing notes for officers also describe soccer fans’ behaviour as “totally different to AFL and cricket”. It states they have a “touch one, touch all” mentality. The dossiers reveal:
A BANNER was removed telling a Victory supporter to “stay strong” after he had been sentenced over an assault in which the victim lost an eye.
SECURITY was pelted with coins and bottles before 500 supporters invaded the pitch in late 2012.
A POLICE unit called for back-up after being surrounded by up to 20 Heart supporters earlier that year.
Totally different from cricket and AFL fans. Un-Australian, clearly. Must be foreign. People who share a communal bond. And again, incidents from over a years ago. But this is a mere foreground for the ever predictable references to the recent Victory – Wanderers game:
Soccer fans riot outside Melbourne pub ahead of A-League clash between Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers.
THERE was regular dangerous use of marine flares.
Most of the post-match reports note there was no trouble and that the crowd was well behaved.
But, even then, police are forced to go beyond their usual procedures for big sporting events in Melbourne.
One notes how officers held back Sydney supporters after a game last year to allow the opposition Victory fans to disperse.
The same method was used in a 2012 game against Adelaide.
Another states extra members were deployed to travel with Sydney supporters as they made their way from Federation Square to a game.
Other members scout around hotels for troublemakers in the hours before kick-off.
Inspector Geoff Colsell, who heads Victoria Police’s handling of A-League games, said a core of about 40 troublemakers was the problem and the vast majority of supporters were like those who back any other code.
He said the small thug element had to be removed.
“They’re not true fans of the sport. They’re using A-League football as a vehicle for violence,” he said.
Again, even the quotes from the police don’t seem to be supporting the hysterical line being pushed by the Herald Sun – the police may have to use different techniques of control, but that’s inevitable due the different natures of the codes of sport. Plus, it’s a SMALL NUMBER. The same small number Rebecca Wilson “doesn’t want to hear about”.
Cue a file photo of a flare being set off in the past – 2012.
Insp Colsell said he did not want parents to think they could not bring their children to the A-League.
He said families were safe at the fixtures and it was essential they not be driven away.
“If they give up, they’ll let the thugs and bullies take over the game,” Insp Colsell said.
The police don’t see a problem outside the small thug element. But then there’s the Wanderers.
He said fan behaviour had improved enormously this season, until last weekend when Melbourne Victory took on the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Before the game at AAMI Park, rivals fans threw rocks and other objects at each other as fighting broke out outside a city hotel. One man ended up in hospital.
Insp Colsell was disappointed a flare was lit at the stadium, the first flare seen at a match Melbourne this season.
The marine flares produce heat so intense they can “burn to the bone”, police say.
Each device burns at about 2500 degrees – the metal tube reaches 900 to 1000 degrees.
Insp Colsell said he had seen a hard plastic chair literally burn to the ground by the intense heat of a flare.
The damage to a human body if things went wrong would be enormous, he said.
Flares are bad. We know that – the flare event was a week ago and every football administrator and commentator have agreed. Yet we have to hear more about flares. But let’s go back to March last year.
The match-day strife last Saturday followed tense scenes when the Wanderers faced Heart in March last year.
A post-event report recorded: “Approximately 100 Heart supporters moved to the northern end of the ground to bait the opposition. For a few minutes it was chaotic as the crowd was becoming very hostile towards each other.”
None of this has happened this heart in Victory – Heart derbies – so why mention it? But let’s go back to the Wanderers, filming their supporters and the trips to the UK that NSW Police have been making:
Victory and the Wanderers were on Friday stripped of three premiership points each after last weekend’s incident, but the sanction has been suspended for the season pending good behaviour from fans.
Football Federation Australia also announced it would evict from A-League games any supporters covering their faces with masks or scarfs.
Police in Sydney are now regularly filming Wanderers’ most extreme supporters, who call themselves “Northgate Hooligans”.
They were involved in the Melbourne CBD violence last weekend.
Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, of NSW police, said: “We’re not on the scale of the UK but we do recognise we have a problem. A small group of people who have the potential to ruin the game for a large group of people.”
His officers have travelled to Britain to learn from expert football units how to deal with soccer hooligans – who have plagued the game for at least 40 years there.
So, the message here is that football is dangerous and bad and full of hooligans – based on police operations, trips and old fights. Talking of old fights, the Herald Sun finishes its piece with rehashes old events, to remind people of the ways football can be violent. It’s not as sensationalist and dog whistling about foreign and “ethnic” supporters as the Sunday Telegraph piece, but it’s still got the whiff of a slow news weekend looking for someone to flay.
This is not to say that the A League doesn’t have a problem – it does. There is a small thug element that needs to be found and banned for a time from the game. But to tar the whole code for it is just the usual sensationalist coverage of football that we don’t see in the Cricket, AFL and Rugby League, the good old fashioned “Australian” codes.
With thanks to Victory supporter @laurencerosen for the links and my other half Claire for the title.