Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Sunday 31 January 2016

The violence that dare not speak its name

This post was brought to my attention 30 January 2016. It probably makes a more effective argument than the whole of the article below it. A professional emergency worker, who really doesn't like soccer, tells his truth about the relative behaviours of football crowds. And while I'm sure he has missed some unsavoury incidents at the soccer, his experience accords with mine.

Violence in Australian Rules Football Crowds

3rd Update May 2015. Previously updated May 2014

I thought I'd done with this. I thought that the media had got over its obsession with sokkah violence now that the ethnics had been evicted from the game. But after the A League Grand Final and the attempt by media to exaggerate if not invent violence I might be back on the horse. The thing that swayed me ultimately was the unreported (by the media) violence at the MCG yesterday during the game between Collingwood and Richmond while an almost wholly peaceful AAMI stadium was celebrating Victory's dominance over Sydney. 
Channel 7 in particular was seeking evidence of soccer violence by putting feelers out in twitter before moving on to questions about an under-age suburban game. Pathetic.
'Soccer hooligans' on the march to 2015 A League Grand Final, with helpful notes from 442
A cold night at the footy?

Adelaide fan helped out of Adelaide Oval by cheerful officers
after spilling red cordial on himself early in season 2015


We are led to believe that violence in Australian rules crowds is unusual and random. Violent incidents are not seen to represent a significant or consistent pattern of behaviour. When they do occur they are interpreted as sitting outside the normal behaviour of spectators. In recent times there have been some incidents that have come to the notice of the media, often via their capture on mobile phones. Even allowing for the rise in their reporting, these examples seem to me to be exceptional. Yet the media perhaps goes one further and suggests that these incidents are so exceptional that they might as well have not happened. They are certainly not remembered as the basis of a pattern of behaviour cited the next time such violence might occur. Indeed, sometimes the violence is likened to what is supposed to happen at other sports.

Violent behaviour has occurred consistently for well over 100 years in Australian rules football crowds at the elite levels and below. From revolvers being fired by policemen frightened of unruly crowds to bashings on a collective or individual scale, footy crowd violence is infrequent but not as rare as some would have it.

In 1924 a frightened policeman was moved to fire his revolver in order to disperse a crowd at a Port Melbourne VFA game when a portion of the crowd had attacked him.

June 1924. While not typical, this is not a unique event.

And shortly after the Second World War spectator violence became a common theme in Melbourne newspapers. In 1946 the Argus reported a particularly nasty moment at Port Melbourne when a crowd incensed by the umpires needed to be broken up with the use of batons.

This phenomenon was reported around Australia. The Northern Miner, a newspaper that served the north Queensland mining town of Charters Towers, reported a rising tide of crowd violence in Melbourne in 1948.

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.
Oh for youtube in the 1920s and 1940s! Indeed, the youtube era has allowed us to see some fairly ugly moments up close. The brawl below is from a pre-season cup game at Docklands in 2009.

To be fair the police in this clip seem utterly incompetent, understaffed and unable to nip the escalating brawl in the bud.

This one from 2011 is more contained, being between two Hawthorn fans at Subiaco.

Ian Warren suggested nearly 20 years ago in 'Violence in Sport - The Australian context' that violence was a constant in Australian rules crowds even id the determinants of that violence changed over time.

In the first half of the Twentieth century it was often connected with fans taking umbrage at perceived player violence against other players.
Participant violence in Australian Rules persisted, but declined dramatically during this period [1940-1982]. In the years during and after the War several games were characterised by recurring violence among players which led to minor intrusions onto the arena by spectators.
Warren argued that there are historical phases of violence in footy crowds which map onto social developments. Since 1940 the tendency to mass violence has been effectively mitigated:
an increased and more systematic police presence at football venues meant that the nature of crowd disorder was mainly confined to minor incidents amongst the crowd itself.
The majority of on field instances were sporadic in nature and occurred with far less frequency than in previous times. Data collection is incomplete for this period, but it appears that of the 12,000 VFL and VFA games played during this time, only 10 were characterised by major participant and spectator disorder. Most of these occurred in a series of violent matches in 1945, where the VFL final series in particular saw a number of deliberate assaults being committed by players which "disgusted" members of the crowd (Argus, 1 October 1945).
Since the end of the war, isolated examples aside, footy violence has lost its sense of mass and/or collective disorder. Policing and crowd control methods as well as new social attitudes have tended to eliminate the possibility of older form of collective violent action. When violence does occur. the periodic, observed brutality has been of the short, sharp and isolated kind in the main - though when the lights went off at VFL Park in the mid-1990s the spectre of mass, anarchic disorder seemed clearly to be haunting the culture.

Interestingly, the commentators (the usual suspects) seem perhaps a little pleased that the punters could behave in such an anarchic manner. Perhaps this pleasure over a bit of large scale disobedience is a nostalgic hankering for the golden days of large scale brawls and riots at the footy.

Yet footy fans don't need the cover of darkness to reveal their nastier elements. Only a few years earlier, poor police preparation had been a significant factor in a particularly violent encounter between Collingwood and Essendon during which at least 20 "mini-brawls" erupted around the ground. A police spokesman referred to earlier violent games during the season but suggested that this was by far the worst.
Police 'not Ready For Footy Brawls'
Sue Hewitt
26 July 1992
Sunday Age

POLICE yesterday admitted they were unprepared for the brawls at Friday night's Collingwood-Essendon game that led to 180 people being evicted from the MCG and 11 arrests.

The police field commander, Senior Sergeant John Fraser, said yesterday that it was the worst violence he had seen at a match this year. He said he would be seeking to double police strength at MCG matches and would discuss with his superiors further restrictions on alcohol sold at the ground.

Fighting inside the ground started at 6.30 when four to five people brawled behind the eastern goals. Four police were injured. Police reported several other incidents, including a fight in the Keith Miller bar in the Great Southern Stand where, it was alleged, a broken glass was used.

More than 88,000 fans, the biggest crowd for a home-and-away game this season, watched Collingwood defeat Essendon by 22 points.

Senior Sergeant Fraser said there were times when he feared for the safety of the public and police. Twenty "mini-brawls'' erupted around the ground in areas normally trouble-free.

Seventy police were on duty to control a crowd that had been estimated would reach 70,000. They were unprepared for the 88,000 turnout, he said.

Senior Sergeant Fraser said there had been a few fights at the Collingwood-Carlton centennial match and at the first night game between North Melbourne and Carlton on 10 April, but Friday night's violence was worse.

The Opposition spokesman on police matters, Mr Pat McNamara, yesterday blamed a statewide police shortage for the problems.
The conclusion we can reach is that it is patently untrue that that Australian Rules Football is conducted in an atmosphere of universal, good-natured tolerance. Historically, footy crowds were as capable of unruliness, disruption and discontent as any other sports crowd.

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.

2) The following image is of a Carlton supporter who was bashed by Collingwood supporters outside the MCG in April 2011. The victim had admonished a group of men who were abusing some older spectators and was "brutally attacked from behind leaving him with extensive injuries including a broken jaw, several smashed teeth and temporary blindness in his right eye."

3) At the Port Pirie A Grade Grand Final in September 2012, umpire Paul Fitzgerald was "bashed and seriously injured in front of thousands of spectators during an A-Grade grand final." This incident reached its conclusion when the perpetrator was jailed for 7 months.

Paul Fitzgerald

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
From Herald Sun
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. 

Yet none of that which goes before should take away from the fact that 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. Is it too much to ask that that kind of consideration be extended to other sports and activities?

Note before previous update: Two more examples of the thing that doesn't happen: violence between or by AFL supporters -- this time after Collingwood's visit to Adelaide in 2014 and after the 2014 Collingwood v Carlton game at the MCG. My previous update was in September 2013 after the Carlton v Richmond Final. Just found this on youtube from 1993. Adelaide v Carlton at Waverley.


  1. So out of the thousands of games of football, and articles, you have managed to find 20 to 30 games that have some sort of violence attached to them, and you claim that this demolishes the idea that football games have rarely been violent !, yet those statistics would actually re-inforce the opposite of your claims.

    Get a life you miserable little cunt, promote the game you like without tryng to run down another sport.

    Your pathetic agenda is very transparent, grow up.

    1. I agree that the vast majority of footy games are concluded without spectator violence -- though violence is not rare. My agenda is a comparative one because I believe that a similar truth applies to soccer. Yet the general perception is that soccer is always violent.

      I'm interested in your language though because it is disgraceful and perhaps indicative of the kind of bullying and latent violence that attaches itself Australian rules football, a good game spoiled by the involvement of violent-minded people like yourself.

    2. Not interested in soccer, and whether there is plenty or a lack of violence, could not give a fat rats clacker.

      But your statement that the vast majority of football games are concluded without violence, would then mean that violence is rare, but you state that it is not, ... that is a contradiction, and that contradiction fits your agenda, so you run with it.

      My language quite frankly, is what you deserve !, you have a pathetic, childishly transparent agenda to run down one sport to make another look good, in fact you are actually doing what you claim has happened to soccer.

      You are indeed a miserable little cunt.

    3. Keep it coming mate because every post you send will prove my point. You don't seem to understand that language also can be violent. And that suggests that you wouldn't recognise violence when it was biting you on the backside.

      You and I have a difference of understanding about the meaning of 'rare'. Fair enough. I've put up about 80 examples (out of hundreds of examples) of footy crowd violence covering 100 years. To me that suggests violence is not rare but is out of the ordinary.

      In any case an argument about the meaning of a term is less significant that the substance of the piece and that is footy crowds have been a site of violent behaviour for over 100 years. You can't wish that fact away.

      One thing: you are starting to perhaps get some insight into how soccer fans feel when their game is described unfairly by the media.

      Keep your language decent if you want to engage in a discussion.

  2. No, it is not a misunderstanding, you are wrong, thousands upon thousands of football games, and you have a miniscule of articles and no doubt all to a varying degrees of what can be interpreted as violence .... thats rare in anybodys language.

    Apparently language can also be violent to you, so god only knows what you consider crowd violence to incorporate, and of course how low you will stoop to run down Australian football, which is a very long way i suspect.

    The more i have read your site, seen through the smarmy use of language and tiny little sniper shots at football, it appears to me that you are some sort of high grade troll, i guess all that public money that paid for your education was not wasted after all !!.

    And here's some more violent language that initially you were interested by, but now apparently i am not allowed to use.

    I actually feel sorry for you, beause you are a pitiful little cunt, and yes, you get the language you deserve.

  3. Sigh. I've let this one through as well. Largely because you are digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself. You are so angry that you are both irrational and increasingly abusive. Moreover, you look like a coward who is hiding behind your anonymity.

    Rare. I would say things that happened once in a blue moon like floods in Brisbane or violent deaths in footy crowds (only two in one hundred years). Things that occur monthly are not rare, even while they are uncommon.

  4. It's a good thing that anonymous is not a football fan or his head would probably exploded many years ago from all the one eyed Australian media reporting.
    Best for him to stick to AFL, the aggressive aspect of the sport seems well suited to his aggressive personality.

  5. Just in case anyone is under the illusion that this is a site of academic rigour and objectivity: it's not. It's a place where I get to riff on my obsessions and biases - and I have a few.

  6. LOL. Classic. Do you think he was for real, or a parody? The best parodies are the ones you can't tell if they're taking the piss or serious. If you are a sane man taking the piss 'anon' I tip me hat to you.

  7. Haha. Hadn't occurred to me Bruce. Maybe. Convince me and I'll publish the latest effort.

  8. If anonymous is truly a representative member of the AFL support, it is a bit of a concern! His overuse of profanity indicates a limited vocabulary, and the chip on his shoulder is clearly enormous.

  9. "it appears to me that you are some sort of high grade troll"

    This guy is abusive, doesn't disclose his name and calls you a 'troll' BWAHH HA HA HA HA!!!!!!! Quick get that black kettle!!!!!

  10. Our anonymous troll is keeping it up. The abuse is worsening and seems even more personal. I won't be reading or publishing any more of it.

    I hope some footy fans can come on and disagree with me without resorting to abuse. I'm a polemicist and there will always be moments in my arguments that invite legitimate criticism.

  11. It's a shame Anonymous resorted to personal abuse because he/she appeared to otherwise raise possibly valid questions, such as what constitutes a pattern and how is "rare" defined.

    As an unabashed Australian Rules fan, my initial reaction was to ask: what was the point of highlighting these instances of violence? But my suspicion is that you are trying to demonstrate that this is what some sections of the media are doing to soccer. If that's the case, then I think it's a point well made.

    I'd prefer not to see such violence associated with a particular code or sport unless their is an absolute need to do so as part of demonstrating a correlation.

    I think your response - "you are starting to perhaps get some insight into how soccer fans feel when their game is described unfairly by the media" - to our abuser who hides behind anonymity, is a valid one.

  12. Thanks gigs I think the deeper point is that there are historical patterns of behaviour that shift. At one point in Melb we had the kind of violence that was similar in kind to the violence we associate with English soccer, ie gangs fighting outside grounds in a planned and co-ordinated way. Footy has lost that but I argue that any sport that relies on identification, passion and physicality always has the potential to erupt in spectator violence of the limited, controlled kind that we see often enough at the AFL level today.

  13. Maybe I'm wrong to see anything as clear as a pattern but the violence happens more often than the standard narrative allows.

  14. the initial 'Anonymous' poster is what in common parlance is referred to as a douchebag :)

  15. Australian football and violence is an interesting topic. Before I comment I love both codes and play australian football - usually in a violent manner....

    I was at a SANFL in 2000 where a Central District supporter ran onto the ground at 3/4 time and assaulted a Woodville-West Torrens Player. In the South Australian Amateur FL they are implementing a zero tolerance due to an increase in violence.

    An american study (sorry cant provide the reference atm) theorised that there was an element of aggressive behaviour at aggressive sports (College Football was the case study). Add to this theories of group dynamics and diffused responsibility I believe it is extremely likely that violence is common in most forms of football crowds.

    Interestingly Scotland has had excellent record of reducing violence for an array of reasons - not least reducing alcohol consumption. The SFL/SFA took matter seriously long before other nations.

    James H

  16. Address The Issue Not Finger Point18 May 2015 at 20:03

    i think the real issue for neutrals like myself is how the governing bodies of the two sports handle the issue. like you alluded too, this is an ongoing issue in all forms of sport. its how people address the issue, that counts. AFL to State Leagues and right down to community sport are going out of their way to implementing a zero tolerance approach. this has been drummed into supporters of AFL for sometime, to where people are not tolerating racism/sexism/homophobia etc nor do they tolerate violence. this is demonstrated by footage over the weekend of AFL supporters breaking up fights between different supporters. the clear majority of AFL supporters do not tolerate it and do not want it at their game. Also demonstrated by spectator/player life bans or club participation bans off the back of violence in the game

    which brings me to A League and the FFA. they do not seem to want to tackle the problem, as it cuts to the core of their fan base and active areas that provide the colour and atmosphere that attracts people to their games. they seem to be conflicted on the issue. nothing is being done to address flares within stadia, that has seen 2 children burnt in one season. in the last month, others have been hurt by active areas throwing seats and full water bottles from the stands. nothing is being done to address crowd behaviour outside of the stadium, that has seen flares being thrown at families and patrons exiting the venue. Even albeit it a small minority of active area supporters are now calling on their supporter groups to address the issue and complaining of not wanting to really tackle the problem. When pushed on it they highlight that it is a venue security/state police issue. Yet they are also the first to complain about increased police presence, or really any police presence at all. Ive never heard of another sports supporters complaining about police presence

    the growing concern is that there seems to be more and more instances of opposing active groups looking to find each other out and engage in violence. for instance its well known that WSW is not a venue you hang around in opposing club colours. on the weekend, the pre-game of both active groups was carefully scheduled at two different locations with police monitoring both as they entered the stadium. After the game the police had to keep opposing supporters in their after match venue until they had cleared the area from home team supporters seeking to attack the away group (one was arrested and move on notices were issued). There have been other examples including a riot but the point is these actions are not condemned enough and are defended as media vilification or a bit of harmless fun

    i've yet to see any of the above occur in another sport in Australia in the last 20 years. i've never heard of supporter groups having to be segregated like that and if that was an issue you'd bet the AFL would be investing millions to change the behaviour. i mean they change their own rules of the game, to avoid physical contact as to not shy "mums" away from the game out of fear of their child being hurt. Families are the priority of the AFL, I’m not sure you can say the same for the FFA/A league

    1. Thanks for the comment. I largely agree with you about the afl being more proactive in relation to this issue and that soccer does have this cancer in its fan base that needs to be cut out. I guess I'm not as confident as you are about the reduction of violence at the footy. Nor do I think the problem of violence at the soccer is a large as you suggest. I attend 2-3 games of soccer a week and I see little aggro and violence.
      But I will think on this and give a further more considered reply.

    2. the other thing i'd add is that i think the real issue facing ALL sports, isnt policing inside the stadium but around it. there seems to be more issues of violence occurring outside it now. similar to alcohol related violence in venues, when they started to control that and ban patrons it started to shift outside the venues

  17. Until 2008 I used to stand at Kardinia Park. Not anymore. I saw 4 violent crowd incidents in the previous 5 years in the standing area at KP. Blood spilt, spectators thrown out, not a word in the compliant media.These are not an isolated incidents. I can talk about many more I witnessed as a kid at Victoria Park and once at the Western Ova. In the early 1980's a Carlton supporter was killed at a (then VFL) match. Crowd violence leading to death, yes it happens at the VFL/AFL.

    1. Thanks unknown. These are certainly the kind of incidents I mean. While they are not representative of the vast majority of footy fans they happen more frequently than comfort would allow.

  18. I am- like many Australians- a follower of many sports .
    Yes there has been crowd violence in many sports over the years -although perhaps by international standards perhaps not excessively so
    While the administration in all sports always condemn such violence there alsoseems to be plenty of apologists for such behaviour in the soccer ( or is it sockah these days ? ) community even it appears by newly appointed Labor hack Supreme Court judges .( look her up )
    The identification with criminality ( terrorism ? ) with balaclava wearing and the whole angry man syndrome baiting rival gangs -sorry fans - is something unknown in other sports in this country in any organised way ( although I understand it is pretty common in outlaw bikie gangs )
    For what it's worth I enjoy this blog but really wish that you would stop being an apologist for criminality by always ( well regularly ) gong on about how those nasty racist hypocritical Anglo -Celts are far worse and by the way so unworldly and provincial
    Methinks you protest too much on this subject

    1. Not always, not regularly, but occasionally I get fired up when I see the hypocrisy in the media. Indeed, I have spent the last year of my research looking closely at the Anglo-Celtic aspect of Australian soccer history and have ignored the violence issue. Your comment about the Labor hack judge is poorly made and possibly defamatory. I have as you say 'looked her up' and I think that the article criticising her is a disgraceful piece of gutter jornalism.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Michael Christiansen2 April 2016 at 08:49

    There's idiotic random violence (often alcohol fuelled). In the AFL in Melbourne in particular we have seen the move from the early '80s of scattered suburban grounds trying to cram in 20-30,000 fans with dodgy facilities, and the last vestiges of the classic suburban rivalries (granted some of these might have the old catholic v protestant roots) - to now a ground rationalised scenario with the MCG run by the MCC and Etihad run by private operators, the AFL works with the operators and security and crowd control, alcohol serving and a variety of other measures has created a very much more secure spectator experience - heck, there's not even umbrellas allowed inside the MCG!! Publishing references to events of 1924 or even 1992 are pretty well out of date.

    However - in contrast to soccer - the media interest was lured via repeated action in the old NSL days. That action being based on ethnic rivalries (rather than suburban). And these tensions were very real. Pre WWII soccer was 'British Association Football'. After WWII it became W@gball. Now my parents came out in the '50s from Northern Europe. Some Australians were more welcoming than others however also some 'new Australians' were more open to welcome than others.
    The tensions of the time would be reflected through sports. Ethnic based soccer clubs became key bastions for minorities (Sth Melb Hellas, Sunshine George Cross, Melbourne Croatia etc). The violence that often erupted around these was more serious than simple idiots on beer. Ethnic tensions within Australia challenged Australian sense of identity. Of course it would be reported upon.
    So serious a load of baggage that the NSL eventually got disbanded and via intervention of federal Govt we saw the FFA est'd and the A-League 'created'. There remains a media 'reflex'. And the active supporter groups who tend to model themselves on European examples are suspected as being their own 'ethnic enclaves' within the 'clean' visage of the HAL.
    Then of course there are the flares. These are dangerous, illegal and not seen (in such regularity) in any other sport in Australia (other than the Syd-Hobart yacht race).

    It's taken until recent months - it seems - for the message to start getting through both to the FFA and to the supporter groups. The level of resistance and defense of the indefendable by soccer keyboard warriors would so often loose sight of the real issue and engage in juvenile race to the bottom. The examples of trying to compare the number of evictions from a 20,000 crowd at a 90 min soccer match to 75,000 at the MCG on Boxing day spending about 6-8 hours in the venue. Trying to compare evictions when at the cricket people would be evicted for relatively minor 'offences' such as starting a Mexican wave, smuggling in alcohol, and beach balls (not flares) would be seen as the item to prohibit. (last time I looked beach balls are not illegal).

    It's this misguided defending of the faith the riles so many supporters of other codes. The blame game by these soccer keyboard warriors is deflection 101. Acceptance of responsibility and culpability not being acknowledged as the very thin skinned defence would seek to do anything other than acknowledge that flares just should not be seen anywhere near a public sporting crowd.
    The irony in Australia is that from pretty well the late 1870s on there has been 'football code wars' through the media by keyboard warriors. That's about 140 years of it. That at least is healthier an obsession than ethnic based sports and violence. However - even that sporting rivalry had it's exposure during the FFA's poorly made FIFA WC bid in 2009 that saw F.Lowy seek to engage a Govt bulldozer to plough through the AFL and NRL in particular. Thankfully that failed however - soccer has covered itself in glory and code (not the local hack players) has earned some new enemies who may have been ambivalent otherwise.

  21. I appreciate your comment. There are some errors of fact and problems of interpretation in it though. Soccer is called soccer after ww1 for a start. And the NSL was not a hotbed of ethnic violence. One punch up (between Knights supporters) in the 50 or so games I attended does not a bed of violence make. There were some cases of ethnic hatred exacerbated by contemporary tensions. But these were a tiny fraction of the games played in the NSL.