There has been much furore overnight over an article posted online from a certain media outlet regarding proposed police crack downs within the active area where the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) congregate at Parramatta Stadium on Western Sydney Wanderers’ home matches.
Some of the proposed changes include no “standing shoulder to shoulder or compressing” and no “clapping above the head” along with no standing on seats, no marches, no standing in aisles, no jumping, swearing, no capo stand and anything else you can think of that makes football, well…football.
Most of the reactions from fans could be considered an overreaction. Let’s not assume anything at this stage. These are restrictions “proposed” by the Parramatta Local Area Command. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will be approved.
The RBB have issued a statement to confirm these proposed restrictions and that dialogue is indeed occurring behind closed doors. What comes out of these meetings is yet to be seen.
A lot of the anger on social media overnight was aimed at the club for not backing their fans publicly. This is nothing new from the club. They have never liked to participate in a war of words in the media over things that are being negotiated behind closed doors. The same thing happened during the player pay dispute in December 2014. Only once the issue was resolved did the club come out and issue a statement. But frustrations from fans are running rampant. Most are sick and tired of being treated like criminals for merely going to a football match and enjoying themselves. Having public statements from the club when issues like this are raised would go a long way in alleviating our fears and concerns and knowing the club had our back.
Let’s not forget that practically all the marketing material and videos involving the Wanderers feature the RBB heavily, either produced by the club or by the A-League/FFA themselves. There is a history of this in official A-League promotions, dating back to the “Fan Made” campaign from early on in the A-League to the “You Power The Game” campaign recently. How can a club/league use the atmosphere and fan interaction as a selling point on one hand, and then watch it all be taken away (or lead the sanctions themselves) by the authority figures on the other.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Casting our eyes back on on December 2013, when the infamous “Bourke St Brawl” in Melbourne occurred between Wanderers and Melbourne Victory supporters, I maintained on the subsequent episodes of Around the Bloc that it was a set up. It was strange to me that there were no police around the pub that the away fans were congregating, despite being advised in the weeks prior where the Wanderers fans would be (as is standard procedure). Its only minutes after the incident that the authorities showed up and then marched the Wanderers fans to Federation Square and held them there for a period of time before escorting them to the stadium.
What came out of this incident was the tougher restrictions on away ticket sales. Now, only members can buy active away bay tickets and usually only one ticket is allowed to be purchased per membership. Head of the A-League Damien De Bohun came out and publicly decried zero tolerance towards anti-social behaviour and continued on his rhetoric of a “family friendly environment”. This was an attempt to stifle travelling support and restrict non-members from entering the away bays. One could argue it was to keep an eye on everyone now that they knew who bought what ticket. It was all very convenient and the A-league moved quickly to impose these restrictions. It’s almost as if they needed a good excuse to implement them. The lack of police in Melbourne on that fateful day still raises alarms that this was all premeditated by the authorities.
On the last round of Season 2014-15, Western Sydney wanderers hosted Perth Glory at Parramatta Stadium. Wanderers were fighting to avoid the wooden spoon, Perth were playing for nothing as they had been dropped to 7th position due to salary cap breaches. Basically, this game was as low risk as you can get in the A-league. Yet when we arrived to the stadium we saw tens of riot police officers behind the north end of the stadium where the RBB stand. There were a lot of new faces amongst the police ranks which was a bit concerning. Having regular members of the police at home games promotes a mutual respect and understanding from both sides, and it is easier to work through situations if they occur.
Some of these new faces were wearing Strike Force Raptor uniforms (which is an anti criminal bikie gang squad). Some argued that the riot squad share uniforms and there is no proof that these men were actually from the Strike Force. Regardless, it sent a clear message to all the fans that had chosen to watch their team in the last round of a very forgettable season.
During the first half, a flare went off in the middle of the RBB. Riot squad and security rushed to the scene and it resulted in one police officer spraying pepper spray indiscriminately in a wide arc in a crowded group which included women and children. A 13 year old boy was caught in the crossfire and had to be taken to hospital – despite official reports stating otherwise.
Now it is our understanding that there is actually a process that was agreed upon by the RBB, club and Police if a flare does indeed go off. They are supposed to wait until half or full time and then quietly remove the offender if they are 100% sure who let off the flare. In this instance, the Police ignored the agreed process and acted on their own accord, and instigated the ugly scenes we all saw first hand in and out of the stadium.
One has to question why.
And now with these new restrictions being proposed, it is starting to make more sense. Was the overreaction by the Police at the end of last season a premeditated response in a way to justify their presence, cost and these sanctions? I’m personally starting to believe it is.
From the very beginning, from the very first fan forums, this club was meant to be built for the fans and by the fans. They listened to us for our name and colours, our coach and values. They need to start listening again because if it wasn’t for the fans, led by the RBB, this club would definitely not achieved the success it has had over the past few years. The way things are heading, there won’t be any fans left in the north, south, east and west stands.
Time for the club, the league and everyone involved in the game to stand up and tell the Nanny State of Australia that This Is Football, go and educate yourself with experts in Europe and stop intimidating your fans and their families before they all stay at home and this beautiful game of ours dies a slow death (again).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the entire Around the Bloc group.