Recently the Western Sydney Wanderers issued a CEO statement to confirm that a simmering dispute between the club and the police over the match behavior of active fans has been resolved.
Whew. That was close.
Discussions between the club and the police over some of the draconian measures the police were proposing, most of which the club had opposed, had been going on for five months. The matter was threatening to come to a head before reason and cool heads finally prevailed.
According to media reports prior to the matter’s resolution, proposed restrictions on the active fan group, the RBB, included the following:
— Removal of banners and flags or risk confiscation
— No march for any games
— Zero tolerance for swearing, including in any chants
— No standing on seats. Including children
— No standing in aisles
— Police to engage the aisles to prevent crowd movement between bays
— One member per seat, with no jumping / side by side movement
— Capo to be a “positive influence” on the crowd otherwise be removed, along with the capo stand
— Signing of a “terms and conditions” for person(s) using the megaphone, and this person to meet police and club before each game
— OSG police to continue to be used in the northern stand with a small presence of uniformed police
— If these conditions are breached, the game will be delayed or other action required in relation to venue management, at the direction of the event commander, until the issue is resolved
Our understanding is that these reports were exaggerated. Yet in the final resolution the police did back down on some proposals, among them the ban on the pre-match march and the threat to remove the capo unless he was, in the opinion of police officers, a "positive influence" on the crowd.
In the club statement Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas made the following clarifications:
- There is no ban on the pre-match march based on the continued adherence to protocols that apply for any organised public gathering;
- There is no ban on standing, clapping, singing or jumping up and down within the venue;
- All approved concession items including flags and banners will still be allowed in the venue as per the pre-existing venue terms of admission;
- There is no ban on the approved capo stand or the use of loud hailers based on pre-existing terms of admission;
- Overcrowding of bays, standing on seats, blocking aisles, repetitive offensive language will be managed in accordance with established terms and conditions of entry. These policies are in the best interest of public safety and should be adhered to at all times by all spectators. These terms of entry have been in place since our first ever match.
That’s a relief. One has to wonder what the police were thinking in the first place. For example banning the pre-match march, from a meeting place to the home game venue, has become a revered tradition for the club’s active fans. Banning it would have amounted to police bullying. It’s difficult to see what purpose the ban would have served apart from staffing budget savings for the police who patrol the march in a quest to keep public order.
I have been to many Wanderers home games. From my usual vantage point, around 50 metres from the western stand where the RBB congregates, apart from some flare throwing (which IS against the law) I witnessed no anti-social behavior. What I did see was a spectacular and disturbing police presence: blue-uniformed officers lined up at the top of the stand and a monstrous white police van nearby at the ready to cart off would be offenders to the nearest cop shop. From what I saw the van provision was never activated, not once.
What I have to deduct, as a football fan myself, is that once again this is a case of a cultural gap between the police, and what they perceive as appropriate sporting fan behavior, and the active football fans and how they see themselves and their role in supporting their team.
What the good old Aussie police and security authorities see as appropriate behavior is for spectators to merely spectate, stay in their seats and occasionally jump up and cheer when a goal is scored. This may be true in other sports but it has long ceased to be the case in football.
Football fans, in particular the active ones, are not spectators. They do not come to games to spectate but to support and actively participate. They see themselves as the collective 12th man, a vital contributor to their team overcoming its opponent. Hence the singing, the rumbling, the big flags and tifos, and the chanting of insults.
It is this which provides football games with an atmosphere and a match experience unrivalled in other sports. The fans and the fan culture are an asset that enriches the game.
Hearteningly what the police have agreed to is a commitment to de-escalate police presence and activity at Wanderers games. This is a good thing. An overkill of uniformed police officers at a football match sends a terrible message about football as an acceptable sport and serves the hungry opportunists in the media intent to discredit football as un-Australian.
On the reverse side it feeds the suspicion out Parramatta way that the local police authorities are actively playing a part in discrediting football, a suspicion, believe me, that is prevalent amid the conspiracy theorists among football lovers in Sydney’s west.
A crisis has been averted. Good. And the club, for the way it has handled it, has to be complimented. RBB members will be, as they should be, happy and satisfied by the way the club and its management has backed and supported them.