Ian Kerr - The Thin White Line
Vilification in the media and a limp defence from the game’s governing body has left A-League fans on the brink of a boycott of this weekend’s matches. What started as a typical media attack on football fans has swiftly escalated into conflict between supporters and the Football Federation Australia.
The names and photos of 198 A-League fans who had been banned from attending matches were published in Sydney’s Sunday Daily Telegraph. This is not the first time that mainstream Australian media has attacked football fans, but this was the first time that the privacy of fans was breached. Fans can be banned from attending A-League matches on the scantiest evidence and without any right to appeal. Some of those whose names were published were under 18 at the time of the supposed offences.
The FFA’s response was appalling. It dithered. It dallied. It released a limp 37-word statement. It didn’t stick up for the fans.The article and the FFA’s pathetic response provided a rallying point for fans, who renewed calls for an appropriate appeals process for banned fans.
Last weekend, active supporter groups including Melbourne Victory’s North Terrace and Western Sydney Wanderers’ Red and Black Bloc staged walk-outs at the 30 minute mark of their matches. Media pressure intensified on the FFA to introduce a fair appeals process for fans. Until last Sunday, the FFA refused to budge.
The FFA’s announcement that it would implement an appeals process should have marked the end of the controversy. Far from it. The FFA has made a dog’s breakfast of its attempts to reconcile with fans. Fans are now planning a boycott of this weekend’s round of A-League matches.
Alex – South Melbourne FC
In the wake of Rebecca Wilson’s article that ‘named and shamed’ 198 people who had been banned from attending A-League games, fan walk-outs, protest tifo and lack of attendance dominated week 8 of the season. Although, in the scheme of things, 198 people do not represent the whole of the A-Leagues active fanbase, many have taken it to heart, as an attack on their beloved game. In the last week, fans have been likened to “suburban terrorists”, saying that even those who support the banned fans should be banned themselves, for being just as active in the ‘carnage’ they cause. The football fraternity has not taken kindly to these comments, and truly for the first time in Australia we see the uniting power that football has, bringing rival clubs together in protest against the ruination of the game in the media.
Personally, as someone who adores the roar of the crowd, the hugging of strangers next to you and beer flying through the air, I can appreciate the comments made about active fans and violence; we’ve all seen some questionable things. I do not, however, believe that these opinions come from people well informed enough to make judgement on fan culture that has been going on before the A-League, through the NSL era and even beyond that. Unfortunately naivety has won, and members of the public are choosing to see only what the media presents them. This last week in football journalism will again taint what football is trying to be in this country, and what it already is everywhere else, the world game.
The recent fan protests serve to alert the FFA that the fans do not need football, but football is nothing without its fans, and because of this, a new appeal process must be set in motion in an effort to undo the harm that those 198 bans have caused. If not, the future looks grim for the A-League, as fans will move to find other outlets where they can actively support a club without fear of having their names smeared into the dirt.
Tim and Luke – Brisbane Roar
In terms of the protests it's been hard for us because our club hasn't had a home game throughout this so we haven't had a big public forum (other than Facebook etc) to express our opinions as a supporter group.
One of our friends was one of those named and shamed in the "shame files" this gremlin journo has released for ripping a flare and we all 100% know he wasn't the one that did it, yet without the formal appeals process he's serving a 5 year ban for a 'crime' he didn't commit. The club and the FFA are power hungry and like to assert that at every possible opportunity and it's the fans that are affected. That's really the crux of the issue, is that these 198 individuals have been slandered in the media when there is no avenue to prove innocence because the FFA is too spineless to offer a process where wrongly accused can clear their name. We're not trying to protect people who are serving deserved bans for assaults and serious misconduct inside stadiums, we understand that clubs have a duty of care to other patrons, but when pulling a harmless flare costs you a 5 year stadium ban plus repercussions involving employers, family and friends when the anti-football media attack the game, it isn't justifiable.
Other issues such as minors being named, which is an offence in Australia, and the fact that only football has been targeted when other sports, namely rugby, AFL and cricket have higher numbers of crowd problems with one of their stadiums being put in the country's top 10 worst venues for assaults making it the first sporting ground to ever make the list, made it quite obvious it's an attack on a fast-growing sport that has the potential to overtake those that their news organisations profit off.
Tatiyana – Westen Sydney Wanderers
Its official, Football Federation Australia have lost the dressing room. This weekend, for the first time in a long time, (maybe even the first time ever for some) thousands of Western Sydney Wanderers’ fans will not be attending our team’s home game. Nor will many A-League fans across Australia be attending theirs.
There is a league-wide boycott.
The football community of Australia has been pushed too far and has finally had enough of a governing body that believes it is untouchable and acts as though it is above the law. The statement found on banning notices issued by the FFA says it all. "Please be advised that Football Federation Australia (FFA) is not a government agency and as such the obligation to adhere to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice does not apply to our organisation. For this reason the FFA will not consider any appeal." We have never accepted the ‘no appeals’ policy and now that it has come into focus, it is clear that the clubs, the players and the football media feel the same. The appeals system that the FFA has put forth in response to the harsh criticisms they faced is not accepted either. A system that puts onus on the fan to provide substantial evidence in order to prove their ban was unjust. So basically, guilty until proven innocent. That is not how things work.
We are fans, not felons. (Though even convicted felons are innocent until proven guilty). As stated by the Red and Black Bloc and the North Terrace, the boycotts will continue “until the FFA is able to work out and implement an independent and transparent appeals process agreed upon by all parties including every active support group.” Since the suits at the FFA don’t think this matter is urgent enough and are happy to wait until the next board meeting in February, it looks like I’ll be having a few free weekends over the summer. Though the boycott is something I’ll be doing with a heavy heart, the players’ stance that they are willing to support us just as we have supported them over the years offers some solace.
No fans, no football.