Segregating Soccer Supporters
Last week I joined more than 20,000 other spectators at Adelaide Oval watching Adelaide United play the Melbourne Victory in the A-League soccer. By all accounts it was an excellent game with the local team prevailing in a 2-1 victory.
I say ‘by all accounts’ because I missed much of the on field action. Unfortunately, my attention was continually drawn to the action off the field.
My first sense that something wasn’t right was when I noticed that the visiting Victory supporters were isolated in a fenced off area with a narrow corridor and two chain wire fences between them and the locals. Within the corridor were a collection of a dozen police officers wearing fluorescent yellow jackets keenly observing the crowd.
Being a regular AFL supporter, I have never seen a physical barrier between rival backers at a regular football match before. In fact, I have sat supporting my team amongst a sea of opposing fans (in Melbourne and Adelaide) suffering nothing more than good-natured jeers and some well-timed humorous barbs – many of them from my oldest son who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the Carlton Football Club.
Things were clearly different at the soccer. There were the obligatory chants that added a great deal of atmosphere to the stadium. Some of them were quite clever and many were hard to understand for the unfamiliar but they seemed to hit home with the regular crowd. They also seemed to get the desired response from the opposite numbers who retorted in kind.
What appeared to be good-natured barracking descended into farce when flares were launched from one supporter group into the other. Though clearly dangerous, the exchange of these illuminating markers continued through much of the match.
Other, indeterminate objects were thrown as the police struggled to contain the more excitable elements within the crowd. Their response was to increase the ‘corridor’ between the rivals by moving the wire fences apart. This was done on multiple occasions until there was nearly 20 metres of ‘no man’s land’ separating the rival clans.
I witnessed a number of people forcibly removed by officers for undetermined offences, which unfortunately seemed to agitate the warring parties even more.
The difficult job of our boys (and girls) in blue was compounded when the Victory levelled the score. Their supporter group rushed toward the containment line in a surge of bodies that flattened some officers and threatened to bring down the security barrier.
This prompted a similar response from United fans and I was spellbound by the potentially violent confrontation that looked likely to occur.
Fortunately it didn’t. The police contained the situation and the match continued without any significant incidents.
While this unruly behaviour was confined to a tiny section of the enthusiastic crowd, my sense of disappointment that we have such problems at Australian sporting events was palpable.
In attending hundreds of similar events over the years, I have suffered the good-natured slings and arrows of rival teams without ever feeling uncomfortable or threatened. Having stood shoulder to shoulder with the Barmy Army when Australia have won and lost the Ashes and cheered for the Blues in a sea of Pies, sport in Australia has always been a way of bringing people together – regardless of our individual teams.
If soccer aspires to grow its support amongst the broader community it needs to put a stop to the anti-social behaviour that requires isolation and segregation of some supporters from others.