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.