Wanderers’ firm message may not reach their bad apples

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    This week Western Sydney Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas sent a letter out to club members. The statement, reinforced with a deliberately stern tone, was aimed at a troublesome minority.

    There is an element within their supportership that has caused so much consternation, not just for the club, but for those in the football community scrambling to avoid being painted with the broad brush.

    Flare-igniting, violent thugs are not representative of Australian football fans generally, and yet the volume with which sections of the media tend to react to inflammatory incidents broadcasts that exact impression.

    The Wanderers are evidently aware of the problem these bad apples cause, for them in particular and the game in general, and have responded.

    “As a club we are looking to bring forward a new era in active support. This has come about due to the number of incidents in our short history which have compromised our club, our values and our culture.”

    After listing various undesirable incidents to have occurred over the last season or so, the statement asserts that these episodes “have proven that the current [active support] leaders have no control or worse, have no regard for the future of the Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club”.

    In rather contradictory fashion, a paragraph lower refers to the flare-ripping perpetrators as “a rogue element”. It seems odd to accuse the leaders of the active support groups of a general lack of control in one breath, and then in the next describe the undesirables as “rogue”.

    Let’s not forget that the Wanderers’ active support has to be thanked for their part in generating some of the most joyous, vivacious Sydney Derby atmospheres in Australian football history.

    That’s where the difficulty lies. A majority of the active support, just like the club, are critical of the flare-ripping idiots. They want rid of the perpetrators as well.

    But the most effective way to eliminate the dirty parts of the supportership is to douse the entire whole in proverbial bleach. Wanderers management is sick of dabbing out stains one-by-one, only for new ones to blot up later.

    “Notice is hereby given that should any of these incidents happen this season, including use of flares or other incendiary devices, violence, pitch invasion, discriminatory behaviour or acts that constitute a failure to live up to the terms of admission into the venue, then the club reserves the right to close down the active support area for an indefinite period as outlined by the club which will lead to the redeployment of non-offending Members to other available seating in the Stadiums during this closure.”

    A hard-line position. One moron with some tearaway trousers and an unhealthy desire to be seen on national television could cause the whole active support area to feel the full force of the punishment.

    The RBB, as tempting as it is to refer to them as one coagulated whole, aren’t in constant communication with – let alone absolute control over – everyone who enters the active support areas at Wanderers home games.

    Western Sydney Wanderers' fans

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    They cannot be expected to take responsibility for the contents of every straggler’s backpack, whether they’re filled with sandwiches and water bottles, or flares and balaclavas.

    Having said this, the infantile, homophobic tifo that appeared at the Sydney Derby last season was obviously the product of an organised effort, made by more than a handful of people. It alone shows that a portion of the active support is at least sizeable and assembled enough to mobilise something relatively large scale, while being obviously inappropriate from the get-go.

    The RBB’s hands are not spotlessly clean, no one is arguing this.

    Perhaps, however, to have firecracker atmospheres at marquee games, you may have to put up with a few imbeciles with actual firecrackers. It will not be a surprise to see a violation occur next season – in fact, the hard-line position is almost goading one out – and the blanket punishment will surely be inflicted in response.

    The club say they want “those who feel passionately about the Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club and wish to lead this active support change to come forward and take part in the evolution of active support”.

    A members meeting is taking place later this month for this reason. The club are also offering membership refunds to those who aren’t on board, or those who aren’t keen on being redeployed to other areas of the stadium should a shutdown occur.

    “Wanderers! Clap, Clap, Clap! Wanderers! Clap, Clap, Clap!”, repeat ad nauseam: is this the bland future of Western Sydney’s active support? It appears as though the club thinks this is preferable to another collection of alarmist Daily Telegraph headlines next season.

    “The reality is that further major incidents that affect the image and reputation of our club may result in the indefinite closure of active support,” the letter ends with. No small ultimatum.

    The fines that have been imposed on the club – which, the statement outlines, are significant when tabulated in full – and the bad press have pushed them to this point. Punishing individuals after incidents occur has become, in the club’s mind, not enough.

    This is a difficult issue, susceptible to gross hyperbole and sweeping statements, as stubborn convictions on how football should be butt heads, like snorting rams. The club may see it this way: ‘if we’re punished with fines or docked points for the misdeeds of these rogue elements, why shouldn’t the RBB be punished generally too?’

    They’re more responsible for them than we are. The RBB – not known for their willingness to be flexible on the subject – might retort: ‘if you want us there, ruffling flags, moshing and roaring happily at derbies, architects of the best atmosphere in the country, then this is an unfortunate by-product we all have to live with.’

    There is a middle-ground, between punching and flares, and a lifeless stadium environment, where vigorous support exists in a happy marriage with social decency. But is this statement, highly oppositional and threatening the harshest blanket punishment possible, the best way to get there?

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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