It's counter-intuitive I know but the deep resentment displayed by some commentators towards soccer might well be because its violence is not violent enough. It is not 'real' violence. From the 'simulation' on the field to the 'performances' on the terrace, Aussie commentators find the lack of direct, personal, manly violence deeply troubling.
In the debates about the relative levels of violence between codes, soccer supporters often point to fights and bashings at AFL/Rugby League games. The latest kerfuffle about the moronic destruction of 170 seats at the Melbourne Derby is a case in point. Footy commentators outraged by the vandalism are blithe in their response to suggestions that their own game has some fairly violent moments.
Their response takes a number of forms: 1) outright rejection of the notion that violence occurs in footy crowds; 2) dismissal of the significance and frequency of such events; 3) the categorisation of such moments as 'organic', disorganised and unstructured; 4) the refusal to acknowledge a pattern. The response we rarely get but one which lies behind the first four is that the violence is at least authentic. Real passion (not the kind that animates the socceristas' flag waving, tifo tossing, bravado-ridden chants and mock challenges to other supporters) will sometimes result in isolated moments of brutality in footy crowds. But they are limited and manageable. (Indeed, this very interpretation was backed up a week after this article was written by footy commentator Baz Blakeney)
The following examples are from recent crowd trouble in AFL, with one from South Australian local footy. When footy commentators reject the idea of violence at the footy they are in effect ignoring the pattern and significance of such moments of thuggery. But the ultimate truth is I suspect that many don't really have any problem with what is happening because these examples are 'appropriate' expressions of limited and controllable passion.
1) The following image is of a man who was bashed in the lift at the St Kilda-Richmond match at Etihad stadium in June 2012. It's the kind of image that points to the existence of behaviour that many footy commentators refuse to acknowledge. The fact that it happened in a lift speaks unintentionally of the invisibility of footy violence.
4) Collingwood supporters are unfairly characterised by many as being 'feral' and unruly. This video footage is from a game at the MCG when some Collingwood supporters turned on each other suggests that occasionally that reputation may have been justly earned.
5) Demon's player Nathan Jones' father bashed outside the MCG in 2009.
There are many other examples that could be cited: the 12-year-old boy who was grabbed by the throat and abused by a grown man at the MCG in 2012; the woman who was punched in the face at the same venue two months earlier for having the temerity to ask a some supporters to tone down their language; the abuse from the crowd at Subiaco that led Geelong's Brian Cook to appeal for crowd control measures to be introduced; the 2007 brawl in the members at the MCG two weeks after a more extensive one at the same place; the Port Power fan left in a coma after his team played Collingwood in 2004. Forgive me for seeing a pattern here, while there will be many who still don't see it.
That said, there are a hell of a lot of footy spectators who don't cause trouble, 10s of thousands in fact. And it would be a mistake to tar all footy supporters with the brush of their game's thuggish moments.
Back to the Melbourne Derby. One arrest (in a crowd of over 41,000) and 170 broken seats. It's a truly mad world when the following image can evoke the spluttering rage of the footy commentariat far more readily than all the above examples of footy violence combined. The photo does not indicate the aftermath of a riot as it has been described. The easy and relaxed attitude of all, including the security guard, is more suggestive of a post-pillow fight warm down. And this, in the end, is probably what annoys the tough-talking, violence-loving footy brigade most of all.