Must A-League fans be treated like criminals?
I attended the A-League clash between Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC last weekend, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. It wasn’t the result that bothered me, but rather the heavy-handed antics of the Suncorp Stadium security personnel.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have to deal with security staff up in “prawn sandwich land,” but after deciding to drag my long-suffering wife along to the game, we pitched up in the away stand with the rest of the Sydney FC fans.
Here we were treated to the sight of a crack squad of ‘operations staff’ who spent the entire game harassing away supporters.
From the opening whistle to the minute referee Michael Hester blew for full-time, there was not a single moment when Sydney FC fans were not being pestered by a constant procession of overly obnoxious security personnel.
And before anyone highlights my obvious Sky Blue bias, I’ll point out that I’m well aware of the reputation that precedes Suncorp Stadium staff.
My Brisbane-supporting friend Andrew hasn’t missed a Roar home game for years, and he was quick to warn me about watching games at Suncorp Stadium.
For their loyalty to a club losing fans quicker than Alex Brosque goes down in the box, Andrew and his mates have been told to keep quiet, forced to switch bays and informed that if they carry on like bona fide football fans, they’ll be permanently shown the door.
Things have at least been better ever since the club’s Marketing and Commercial Manager met to thrash things out with them – but it’s still a hard slog for away fans.
At one point during the Sydney game, four members of the local constabulary took up a position near the top of the aisle to join the three operations staff in overseeing just 70 away fans.
One officer stood directly in front of my line of view – despite his job appearing to consist of shuffling along anyone who was hindering another patron’s enjoyment – but do you think he appreciated it when I asked him to move?
My first two requests were summarily ignored, so much so that I assumed my officer friend was suffering from hearing loss.
But my third request – delivered less politely than the first two – was met with sheer contempt, as the officer snarled that he “was moving” before delivering a glare that could curdle milk.
Now, I appreciate the good work police do – they’re one of those services that everyone’s thankful for when you really need them – but the sight of four officers bored witless and seemingly itching to wade in amongst fans was a tad disconcerting.
For comparison’s sake, I celebrated my birthday at the Gabba as Australia cruised to victory over Pakistan in the first of the one day cricket internationals.
Played just four days before Australia Day, the atmosphere was a veritable tinderbox of alcohol-soaked nationalism – or quasi-racism, depending on your stance – fuelled by a hot summer sun.
The police worked overtime in the outer, evicting drunken fans, breaking up feuds and generally keeping the peace in what can occasionally descend into a brutally hostile atmosphere.
Their actions at the cricket were appropriate, but their presence at Suncorp Stadium was over-zealous and largely unnecessary.
It’s all well and good for the FFA to produce advertisements featuring bikini models telling us to “give it a whirl,” but some of us live in the real world, and it contains fans who like to stand and sing boisterously at football games without the aid of multi-coloured beach towels.
Yet the fans lauded on TV for producing an atmosphere are the very same consistently targeted by security personnel for doing so.
As much as it’s frustrating to focus on the negative aspects of the A-League, the treatment of away fans across the country is a clear blight on the game.
Either the FFA should liaise with security personnel in a manner which makes it clear that away fans are a necessary feature, or they can look forward to ever-dwindling crowds as a vital demographic turns its back on the game.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman