RBB’s silent protests show fan engagement has a way to go

Joe Gorman Columnist

By Joe Gorman, Joe Gorman is a Roar Expert

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    Western Sydney Wanderers fans represent one half of the derby magic. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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    Last weekend, the Western Sydney Wanderers supporter group – the Red and Black Bloc – staged a twenty minute silent protest at Parramatta Stadium.

    Their silence was a statement of solidarity in opposition to the treatment of their fans by Hatamoto, and the subsequent bans placed on several supporters by the FFA.

    It follows similar silent protests staged by Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United fans this season.

    In case you’ve missed it, Hatamoto are a private security company that the governing body hires to police the terraces at A-League matches. They’re infamous for their heavy-handed and punitive treatment of active supporter groups.

    Their presence in the stands has led to a severe lack of trust from many fans towards the FFA, who have, on more than one occasion, used evidence given by the police and the security company to excommunicate fans for lengthy periods.

    Recently, several Wanderers fans were banned after two incidents – one at the W-League derby in Campbelltown in January, and another which occurred outside the inner city Royal Exhibition Hotel.

    Still, the issue here is not whether the accused parties are guilty, but rather the treatment they have received from both the FFA and sections of the media.

    Administrators, paranoid at the prospect of screaming tabloid headlines, have embarked on a zero tolerance approach to unruly fan behaviour. It’s understandable after decades of battling to change public perceptions of ‘soccer violence.’

    And it’s not just enforced in the A-League.

    The Dandenong Thunder were hit with a $40,000 fine and lengthy crowd lockouts after an incident last October. All fans of the Albanian backed side will be punished for the incident, while the fine is potentially ruinous for the community run club.

    But at least the Victorian club have had a right of appeal. The Roar spoke to representatives of the RBB, who say that there has been no similar process afforded to the men in question.

    To make matters worse, the accused are still yet to be presented the evidence that has informed the FFA’s decision.

    “We value the burden of proof, the right to a fair hearing and the impetus on the accuser to provide sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of the accused,” explained spokesman Matt Adamson.

    “The response received (from the FFA) by those who attempted contact was one of disdain and dismissal.”

    Indeed, football administrators need to realise that there is a fine line between zero tolerance and show-trial punishments.

    It’s easy to simply write off individuals as “troublemakers” and “hooligans.” It’s even easier to lecture fans on “ruining the games for everybody else” in an attempt to gloss over the problem and appease the tabloid press. But that is just stating the obvious.

    There are times when a united front is good for the game. But the flip side is that it can allow people to fall through the cracks.

    The Red and Black Bloc have closed ranks, demanding that – at the very least – their mates be given a fair trial.

    It’s not just the FFA who should be listening to this. It’s pleasing to see that this issue has received some coverage by the media.

    More work needs to be done, though, to help fans make their voices heard. After all, it is the responsibility of journalists to look after people, not power.

    Many will say that the game is bigger than a few wild fans. It’s a perverse attitude. Surely a more responsible and inclusive policy would be to support and aid the self-regulation structures already in place.

    Self-regulation is an important part of this debate. Many groups have been doing it for years, perhaps best illustrated by leaders of The Cove at Sydney FC.

    The self-regulation work of all active supporter groups is a thankless task that is usually ignored by the press.

    In this regard, perhaps fans groups should look at joint efforts to make their voices heard. A supporters union – backed by autonomous fans groups – would give them greater strength in numbers.

    But while the RBB paid tribute to the North Terrace in Melbourne and fans in Adelaide, you’d be hard pressed to get these rival fans to come together in any meaningful way. Still, it’s an issue which transcends club loyalties.

    Red and Black Bloc representatives say that they pursue a policy of “individual responsibility.”

    In this regard, it’s clear that their main problem is with the process. They have a point. Surely it’s not too much to ask for the FFA to provide evidence to prove guilt beyond doubt.

    When the Wanderers traveled to Gosford a fortnight ago, there was security everywhere.

    Police sent in the dog squad and highway patrols to monitor fans. It seemed that every security measure short of the Army were there to make sure the natives didn’t get restless.

    There is a common perception that the governing body pursues these zero tolerance policies in order to show that its cracking down on ‘rogue elements.’

    Kind of like those nebulous and grandiose promises to crack on ‘gangs’ or ‘crime’ by politicians before an election.

    Big on style, but lacking in substance.

    Particularly when the FFA has been quick to use colourful images of heaving supporter bays to promote and sell their product.

    Increasingly, it is the match day experience that has drawn new supporters to games, thanks to the work of supporter groups from Perth to Wellington.

    Someone should remind the FFA that it’s unwise to put the ‘talent’ offside.

    Indeed, the silent protests speak directly to this point. After several appeals to the governing body have been ignored, the RBB’s statement reads: “We believe that the only way to make our voices heard is to make our voices silent.”

    Which was plain to see on Sunday evening. It was an eerie and uneasy feeling at Parramatta Stadium for the opening twenty minutes.

    Wanderland it was not.

    It’s become a cliche, but the fans are quite literally the lifeblood of the game.

    Without the RBB, the Wanderers would be a non-entity.

    That goes for all other A-League clubs around the country. It is those groups that provide the identity of clubs that marketing packages never will.

    Ultimately, the media and the FFA should be responsible to fans.

    Guilty or not, each individual will benefit from a democratic collaboration between supporter groups, the FFA and the press.

    Otherwise, the ‘we are football’ slogan will look increasingly empty.

    Joe Gorman
    Joe Gorman

    Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • March 13th 2013 @ 10:51am
      Hospital said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      Hi Joe,

      Interesting idea re: a fan supporter group association or union. I guess it may be hard, but when anyone from journos/tradies/etc from across the divide also come together perhaps there is hope.

      Good piece.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 11:55am
      nordster said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:55am | ! Report

      Interesting article, Joe.

      I find it fascinating this veneer, zero tolerance approach. I guess i object to it on a logical level and do support the individual responsibility stance of the RBB. The idea that policy or reactions should be determined by tabloid media perceptions or misperceptions just rubs me the wrong way. I have similar issues with other areas of public policy.

      “Particularly when the FFA has been quick to use colourful images of heaving supporter bays to promote and sell their product.”

      There’s little doubt that the crux of the issue….discharge of flares….have in fact helped build atmosphere and active support at Wanderland and even u could argue MV active support. Especially in the early years. So while FFA may be careful to crop out the smokies themselves, the surrounding passion and borderline mayhem has been fueled partly by the presence of smoke and colour. FFA are wanting to have its cake and ban it too in a sense.

      The league early on has been dogged by perceptions of plasticity compared to other supposed “real” football culture from europe, which active or ultra style of support is part of. The use of flares at wsw in particular has helped to break down that barrier…like it or not…and has acted as a bit of a visual sign that the league is ‘ok’ to follow for some elements. These are the same folks who contribute the most to the beginnings of active support imo.

      So the league really has benefitted from flares and this has also strangely been fuelled by the tabloid media reaction. Also dont discount that many in the broader crowd like the smoke and colour …as inconvenient a truth this may be….they do dislike the fact that its an excuse for tabloid media to paint the game as ‘hool’ riven though. If there were a middle ground where smoke/colour effects could be incorporated without the hot-ness of actual flares…then we could all eat a little of the cake without the media hysterics.

      • Roar Guru

        March 13th 2013 @ 12:18pm
        Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        Can’t say I agree with this. The atmosphere is created by active supporter groups working together to form chants and music. For some individuals to somehow claim the credit for this hard team work because they rip off a flare is both disingenuous and an insult to those who bust their guts and wallets week in week out to bring alive the pageantry of the crowd. Flares are for the giggles of a few kids only, the crowd is much more than this.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 12:20pm
          nordster said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

          I agree that active support does develop into this broader experience no doubt and exists beyond flares absolutely…but im not solely attributing the success of active support to the flares…only that it has had a role in building the beginnings of it IMO…a slightly more nuanced argument…

    • March 13th 2013 @ 12:08pm
      WSW said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

      Great Article and spot on at least you knew the reasons why the RBB did the ” 20min Silence For Our Brothers Banned”

      Interesting that you mentioned this:
      “Guilty or not, each individual will benefit from a democratic collaboration between supporter groups, the FFA and the press.”
      Having only moved back to Australia in the last 4 years (I was in Europe for 15 years). I must say I really don’t feel like I’m in a Democratic Country.

      RBB’s 20 minutes was such an emotional feeling for everyone in the Active Bay. As the 20th minute approached hearing the Stadium singing RBB, RBB, RBB… Gave everyone in the RBB goose bumps, what an extraordinary feeling.
      Having the support of the majority of the Wanderers Supporters just goes to show how much the RBB has done for the Club.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 12:17pm
      Benched said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

      Joe, great article.
      It’s refreshing to see the actual issue getting some press. That is, the unfair process and draconian system the FFA holds over the fans.
      For the life of me, I cannot believe in this day and age that people can be banned without seeing any evidence, having witness statements supporting their innocence refused and an appeal process non existent.
      It was clear to everyone at Parra Stadium on Sunday, that active supporter or not, the entire support group was behind the RBB. To hear the Eastern and Western Grandstands chant for the RBB in the 19th minute was surreal.
      Wanderers fans truly are ‘shoulder to shoulder’.
      That is power. Look out FFA.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 12:55pm
      KP said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

      Dandenong Thunder were fined because a young girl (10years old) suffered burns to her face and another (12years old) suffered burns to her shoulder following a flare being thrown by their supporters. The club received a huge fine because the supporters weren’t prepare to “dob in their mates” and help the police apprehend the offenders. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/soccer-fans-silent-on-dangerous-flare-20121101-28l4d.html

      Flares are simply not justified. The damage it can cause far outweighs a 5minute thrill.

      If/when flares are lit in supporter blocs – is self regulation happening? Once a flare is lit – is the perpetrator pointed out by the supporter bloc and do they assist in police efforts in apprehending, or do they also “look after their mates”.

      I’m not saying Hatamoto dont have anything to answer for but as you said: “The self-regulation work of all active supporter groups is a thankless task that is usually ignored by the press.” Is it happening at RBB?
      If they are then why are they most prevalent for flares? What actions have RBB done to make Hatamoto identify them as a problem group? Same issues happened with MVFC – they put all sorts of strategies in place to make life easier for both sides.
      Stop crying “WHY ME” and work out why they see you as a threat and alleviate those fears.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 1:18pm
        Brick Tamlin of the Pants Party said | March 13th 2013 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        This is true there are elements(however small they may be)to the WSW and Victory support that obviously need to be monitored and snuffed out,Glory have been around for 16 years and correct me if im wrong but there is no Hatamoto presence at NIB on matchday.There must however be a system in place for banned supporters to be shown evidence and what not because mistaken identity and whatever else can easily occur and at the moment you have no platform to clear your name.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 4:05pm
          KP said | March 13th 2013 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          Yeah I agree on the need for recourse/ ability to appeal on incorrect sanctions that may be placed upon yourself. Surely a Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT in Victoria would deal with these situations I’m assuming) would be able to deal with those wrongly dealt with in these situations? Particularly if they’re able to prove they’re innocent. Although, as I’m gathering from the article, its not just being banned but why they’re banned isn’t being explained. Makes it hard to prove your innocence when you dont know your crime!

          I’m just over the same numpty’s who claim the club for themselves, throw a few flares, then cry foul when they get more police attention.

          • October 28th 2014 @ 9:05pm
            Rick said | October 28th 2014 @ 9:05pm | ! Report

            I agree. In NSW, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) is apt to deal with any sanctions that the FFA may hand down to an individual supporter. The FFA performs a function that is largely of a public nature so I don’t see why people cannot get any decision reviewed by an administrative tribunal. Surely, they have a case here.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 4:30pm
      Towser said | March 13th 2013 @ 4:30pm | ! Report

      Bottom line is that “Active support ” is magic at a football match. The bigger ,the more colourful,the louder the display the better it appears to the rest of the onlookers be they at the ground or on TV.
      If that active support can engage the rest of the crowd as the Wanderers do all the better.
      The FFA would do well then to remember that this active support is along with improved standard of football on the park what puts the best butter on the bread rather than drippin.
      Therefore put it on a. pedestal ,say the majority are good & do anything to maintain it & let it grow organically.
      Sort out the nutters,the pests so they dont upset that growth by an even handed system, but dont approach it from the angle of nutters & pests are Active Support as has often been the case by both security ,FFA & of course the media.

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