The ‘us against them’ mentality has been strong in Australian sport this week. Pity there’s no point to any of it.
As you all know by now, 170 seats were ripped up at the Melbourne Derby between Victory and Heart at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
When the media began to cover this incident, A-League fans were outraged at the attention a crowd-related incident was once again being given.
AFL fans, no doubt seeing images of damage to what they might consider ‘their stadium’, didn’t keep their outrage quiet either.
As a result, the two groups collided.
It was like a water bomb full of insults, double standards and ignorance had exploded all over the internet. The airwaves and newspapers weren’t spared, either.
The round ball camp alleged that their code was treated differently by the media.
The egg ball camp alleged, well, all sorts of things (including the outright ridiculous, such as the claim soccer crowds play up because it’s such a boring sport).
The concept of mutual respect had been thrown out the window.
And there was no point to any of it.
Let’s get one thing straight. If 170 Etihad Stadium seats are broken by fans – be they futbol fans, footy fans or AC/DC fans – it’s going to make the front page of the Herald Sun.
And it’ll have nothing to do with an agenda or so-called ‘vested interests’. Etihad is a venue that has multiple tenants who hold significant value to the community and is also considered a local landmark.
An incident involving not one or two, but hundreds, of seats is newsworthy.
Let’s get a second thing straight. The media do, in fact, tend to put more emphasis on crowd incidents at association football matches than those at other sports. There’s no need to deny it.
The typically alcohol-related behaviour of spectators at cricket, horse racing and Aussie Rules events make barely a ripple in the Melbourne media. On the other hand, barely a ripple at a derby match can lead to typically over-the-top behaviour in the Melbourne media.
Let’s get a third thing straight. The media scrutinise different areas more intently for different sports. The FFA might cop the worst of the crowd incident stories, but is it front page news when one of their players sleeps in and misses training?
When is their illicit drugs policy ever in the news? Do the nights out of mid-tier players get reported?
Has a player yet to play a senior game been front page news for having a relationship with a former teammate’s ex-girlfriend and owing less than $1000 to another teammate?
In the same way fans of the Sherrin must deal with stories of drugs because of a past that’s included Ben Cousins and stories of drunken antics because of a past that’s included Brendan Fevola, fans of the world game must deal with stories of crowd incidents because of a past that has included flares and clashes between fans.
Let’s get a fourth thing straight. Sweeping generalisations about fans of a particular code or group of people are not on.
“Melbourne’s soccer fans set a new standard in idiocy last weekend” was how Rita Panahi opened her Herald Sun opinion piece the other day.
There are a number of questions to ask about the piece in general, but let’s just stick to that opening line and do a little maths.
Even if we generously assume the 170 seats were each destroyed by separate individuals, and add ten more people for flare-lighting, 180 out of a crowd of 41,203 represents just 0.4 percent of the crowd in attendance. That means 99.6 percent of the crowd were well behaved.
In what world is the behaviour of 0.4% indicative of ‘Melbourne’s soccer fans’ but the 99.6% not?
Let’s get a fifth thing straight. Australian Rules football is not getting an easy run from the media over the Essendon drug story that came out this week. It might be fun to pick out a single article and say so, but there’s no way you can say the story has been buried.
Yesterday afternoon you could log on to the Herald Sun homepage and without even having to scroll down, you’d be confronted with links to three different stories on the issue.
Channel 9 have commissioned a special out-of-season Footy Classified episode tonight to delve into it.
It’s been the lead TV news story two nights in a row. Despite Tuesday’s press conference revealing little, the next morning the papers were filled with new information that had been dug from well below the surface.
The idea that ‘Australia’s game’ gets an easy run from the media is popular in some quarters, and you can understand the argument the code likes to ‘frame’ stories in a certain manner, but the scrutiny of the game is real and is immense.
Let’s get a sixth thing straight. The views and comments of 3AW’s Tom Elliott deserve nothing but condemnation. He was responsible for the “soccer is a boring game” accusation, which was about as helpful as providing a fork and a spoon for a plate of steak.
To then bring Hillsborough into the debate was truly disappointing.
He was taken out of context originally and was talking solely about the issue of segregation, so the initial Twitter uproar was somewhat misplaced, but the fact he brought up the tragedy at all in relation to last weekend should at the very least to lead to a meeting with 3AW management.
Now, let’s get a seventh thing straight … or, let’s not.
If you’ve got this far, you probably get what’s going on.
Both sets of fans are right and both sets of fans are wrong. Some of what they say is bang on, some is well off target.
Ultimately, they can keep throwing grenades at each other until the cows come home, but unless everyone on each side takes the time and effort to become truly informed on what’s happening either side of the fence, there really is no point.
In fact, you don’t need to jump the fence to realise there isn’t a point.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the reality is football and football aren’t all that dissimilar.
There are winners and there are losers. Tales of triumph and tales of failure.
In the space of a couple of hours, hopes and dreams can be crushed. Alternatively, they can be realised.
Each season provides a moment where this is truer than any of the games before it. In that moment, a champion is declared, and all who witness it are shown the rewards that come with hard work, sacrifice and dedication.
Kids are inspired to get outside the house and kick a ball. They are given heroes to look up to and try to emulate.
Supporters of all ages get to enjoy that special feeling of being part of a shared common desire that instils this weird yet highly comforting sense of belonging.
All of this is true of both codes. It shouldn’t matter that one code is more popular globally and the other more popular in Australia.
It shouldn’t matter one is low-scoring and the other high-scoring.
It shouldn’t matter one is played on a rectangle and the other an oval.
It shouldn’t matter one has a small section of fans who are idiots and the other has a small section of fans who are idiots but cause less damage to property in the process.
It just shouldn’t be so hard for supporters to adopt a stance of mutual respect. Because at their core, both codes offer the same thing.
I’d go as far as saying the marketers have it wrong.
We are both football and we both made Australia.