Who is policing the police at football games?
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The sight of police wading into fans at Edensor Park on Tuesday night was as predictable as this column. Yet the question must be asked – who is policing the police at football games?
If I was a mole operating deep within Football Federation Australia to create internal divisions around the game, I would schedule a friendly between an A-League club and a former National Soccer League club.
That way, eight years of brooding anger at seeing their club relegated to second-tier status would be all it took for one rogue fan to make a statement and create negative headlines across Australia by disrupting the match.
Sadly, scheduling a night-time friendly between Sydney United and Western Sydney Wanderers at Edensor Park is simply begging for trouble.
Even if the United fans are nothing more than boisterous, their actions will be monitored not only by mainstream media sniffing a juicy story, but also by certain members of the police force who act as if the average football fan just stepped off a Viking longship in preparation for the next pillage.
What is it about the police and football in Australia?
I might be the most innocuous looking human on the planet but step inside a football ground as a ticket-holder and suddenly I feel as if I’m on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
The menacing gaze, the sneering contempt, the pack mentality and constant need to be a visible presence – I’ve seen it all when it comes to policing at football games and I must say it’s not a pretty sight.
According to several eye witnesses at Edensor Park on Thursday night, a lone spectator set off a firecracker, prompting a number of police to swarm United’s home end.
With police struggling to physically get to the offender, by most accounts officers simply pepper-sprayed the fans around him and then lashed out at anyone else who happened to be standing in the way.
Now – I wasn’t there, and I’m not trying to deliberately paint an unflattering account of the police.
But I have been to enough games to know that for some reason it’s deemed acceptable for many law enforcement officials to treat football fans as aliens who deserve to be wiped from the face of the planet.
I don’t know what it is about the round-ball game that riles security forces so much, but time and again I have felt threatened by the presence of security guards and police at football games.
In fact, I once wrote about a grim encounter with Suncorp Stadium’s ever-zealous security brigade and have had similar experiences on the Gold Coast and in Melbourne since.
I fully applaud FFA’s decision to hand down five-year bans to those involved in crowd disturbances over the past few weeks because I don’t want these kinds of so-called supporters ruining the match-day experience for everyone else.
But by the same token I have to wonder why it is these types of crowd disturbances become front-page material when we all know anti-social behaviour occurs at every other sporting event in the country.
“Eleven arrested and forty five evicted! Police officer assaulted! Thirteen people banned from the stadium for six months! Insane, they need to crack down and question what is happening in this code. Absolute disgrace. Oops, sorry, that was the arrest figures for State of Origin II last year.”
So goes the popular meme doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday courtesy of the Sydney United Supporters page.
It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for genuine United supporters but surely FFA will think long and hard about how pre-season fixtures are scheduled in the future.
And in all the media coverage surrounding this latest crowd disturbance, one question remains unasked.
Who is policing the police?
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