Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Das Libero: Football Violence in Melbourne

Das Libero: Football Violence in Melbourne:

The first soccer match I went to at Docklands stadium was about 10 years ago, between South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights. A decent (12K or so) crowd turned up but the vast stadium looked empty. I had gone with a Southend-supporting pom whose thoughts on the game were predictable and dreary. Anyway, we went and stood with the noisy band of South Melbourne supporters who were making the best out of a bad lot at the northern end of the ground. Chants included "Ooh Aah Serbia!" to taunt the Croatian opposition supporters and their regular run of positive chants directed at their team.

At one point a supporter fell and broke a chair, at which point the song became "broken chair, broken chair, broken chair!" It was an accident; no-one was punished and no-one was blamed. We moved on.

On the weekend just gone a few more chairs were smashed at a soccer match at Docklands, around 170 and most of them were deliberately broken. Perhaps that's a measure of just how far soccer has come in Melbourne. I hope that flippant comment is taken as weary sarcasm because I am not condoning the stupidity of chair smashing. I wish people who do that deliberately would just leave the game, forever.

But, the double-standard and the hypocrisy of the Melbourne media never fails to astound me. The scales are not balanced. We know the pattern: 100s of cricket arrests and ejections: boys being boys; supporters bashed and hospitalised at the footy: one-on-one Aussie blokes being Aussie blokes; 1 soccer arrest + 170 broken seats: apocalyptic violence and threat to social fabric. 

Then again, why should I be astounded? Channel 7 has a stereotype of the dickheaded soccer supporter that it likes to portray and when the dickheaded supporter acts according to type . . . voila! Nor should it be forgotten that 7 is in the pocket of the AFL and is quite happy and quick to give negative headlines to a soccer fixture that is starting to become of of Melbourne's big-ticket sporting events. It's telling that Channel 9 mentioned nothing of the damaged seats and preferred to go the wholly positive route.

The Melbourne/Channel 7 stereotype runs: Footy is a violent game, but one where all the violence happens on the field; spectators co-mingle in sweetness and light sharing sandwiches and thermoses of tea. Soccer is a game where so little happens on the field that the passions erupt off it. Given that the game is largely supported by wogs then it's no surprise that violence occurs. The only surprise is that there aren't more knives being used.

It's a nonsense; but it is a nonsense that has nonetheless taken root in the belief system of a city. It's hard not to see it as a product of the xenophobic resentment of foreigners following the arrival of European migrants in the post-war period. Prior to that soccer received plenty of negative press but little of it pertained to perceived spectator violence.

Looking at the history of spectator sporting violence in this city, far more brutal and terrifying events have occurred at cricket and Australian rules football. Even in recent years footy has kept up with many ugly incidents. Soccer has had its moments as well, to be sure, but they pale into insignificance by comparison.

It is of some interest to ponder two things: 1) how soccer rose to be seen as the code of spectator violence, even as more severe violence was occurring elsewhere and 2) how the real history of footy spectator violence faded into the mists of time as if it never, ever happened, thereby allowing present day footy spectator bashings to take on the character of isolated events without a pattern, a context or a history .

This is from 1948, reported in, of all places, the Charters Towers paper, The Northern Miner:

Football Violence

Brawls in Melbourne


Three brawls occurred during a football match between Port Melbourne and   Williamstown at Port Melbourne today.
Foot and mounted police escorted the umpire from the ground after the match. Two of the brawls. were between players, and one between spectators.
Just before the interval rough play developed into a free-for-all, involving nearly half the players. Trainers and a boundary umpire broke it up, while the remaining players continued the game. Another ugly scene followed a collision between two players. An umpire intervened.

At the same time, some of the spectators began to fight They were quelled by police. Other examples of violence at Melbourne football in the past month have been:  
On April 17, detectives were bashed by a mob of 200 outside South Melbourne Cricket Ground. 
On April 24, police with batons, and a mounted constable, had to intervene to break up a brawl which developed in the outer ground during the last minutes of the Carlton-Fitzroy Victorian Football League game.  

On May 1. after Preston had beaten Prahran at the Australian Rules Association match at Prahran, police with batons had to protect Umpire J. Egan from 300 angry Prahran barrackers.


  1. Yes, perception and media bias is an issue. But there is a problem. Looking the other way, or pretending it is not there, will not get rid of it. I am sick of these people using soccer as a vehicle for this kind of behaviour when they would not consider acting this way at other sporting events.

  2. Yes. I agree ultimately Paul. These dickheads need to be expelled from the game. I guess I'm riffing on the notion of how soccer in Australia came to be seen as a forum for this kind of behaviour when crowd violence was such a small part of what happened/happens at games. Even while the media 'abhors' violence/bad behaviour, it quietly maintains the notion that this is what happens at the soccer thereby giving it a weird kind of legitimacy.

  3. The best revenge is to live well, as the saying goes. The tabloid media, in particular, has not been a friend of domestic soccer for many years. And the 30 second grab of commercial television is almost always going to focus on sensationalism, whether it's depictions of crowd misbehaviour at soccer, civil unrest in Western Sydney, or the 'scourge' of boat people. In the context of the A-League, there have been so many positives in a stellar season. The motto "we are football" has befitted 99.99% of the fans. It's hard to deal with the .001% who behaved, as you have succinctly put it, like dickheads. What were they thinking? Perhaps the problem is that they weren't thinking. Motorcycle racing in Australia used to have an enormous problem with fans fighting police. It was resolved once the biker communities engaged in what might be called self-policing. That is, they agreed on a code of conduct befitting the event, and police backed off from their TRG approach. This was about conflict resolution between violently opposed groups, which is hardly the same as the vandalising of seats at Etihad. However, my point is that fan groups themselves have to take responsibility for what they consider to be acceptable, or the risk is that authorities will do it for them (which we don't want to see). Now I don't for a second imagine that either the Heart or MV fan groups condone the smashing of seats. That being so, some leadership is needed to indicate to any "dickheads" that they will not be made welcome by the FANS should they conduct themselves that way. The slogan is "WE are football"; just who we are is the question. 99.99% of people who attend A-League games are, like other sport lovers, great fans. The .001% tempted to behave like dickheads need to persuaded by their peers that this is not acceptable. A final, brief, point. The news story you mention from 1948 is not untypical. During the 19th century and much of the 20th century sport was replete with episodes of violence - particularly in respect of gambling, corruption and alcohol abuse. One of your passions, cricket, was particularly noted for riots about umpiring decisions - particularly when gambling on results was rife. So much Australian sport history still to be explored and written. Thanks again, Ian, for a stimulating article.