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Sydney Derby an opportunity for football to turn a corner

Tonight's derby could finish the Wanderers' season. (AAP Image/Steve Christo)
Expert
7th March, 2014
65
2059 Reads

Apart from Mike Mulvey, Josep Gombau and most of their players, there shouldn’t be too much back-slapping for those involved in the A-League this season across club, broadcast and head office levels.

Yet tonight, at the Sydney Football Stadium, the Sydney Derby will provide an opportunity for fans of the two Sydney sides to put their differences and disappointments – and there have been fan protests from both – behind them.

It’s an opportunity to just enjoy what will hopefully be a spectacle not ruined by heavy-handed policing, or Kris Griffiths-Jones.

There is a lot made of the cross-city divide between the west and east of Sydney, and there’s no doubt that a divide exists.

Yet, at the end of the day, fans of both sides ought to recognise the bigger picture at play.

Yes, everyone wants their team to at least not stink, and everyone wants bragging rights, but above all else, everyone wants to enjoy football.

There has been very little love floating around the competition this season.

The Western Sydney Wanderers, for example, have gone from the team everyone in Australia wanted to be a part of last season and the beginning of this one, to a juggernaut that’s now popular to bash.

From being celebrated as the face of the game, they’re now being mocked the country over.

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Rather than sit down in the off-season and work with it’s active support group, the Red and Black Bloc, authorities for whatever reason, decided to poke the big stick.

The Police turned up to Penrith for the Wanderers first serious pre-season game in abundance, as if to send out some sort of PR statement that they were in control.

After the success of last season, it was the wrong message to start this one with.

The FFA claimed they were powerless to control the Police presence, saying they would always take advice from authorities.

This A-League crowd control was a job for the Police and their security consultants, we were told.

Western Sydney’s fans, who chose to be a part of the RBB because it gave them a sense of fun and belonging, increasingly felt their fun was being controlled by ‘Big Brother’.

You can’t bring this, you can’t hoist that, you can’t sit here, you can’t march there.

“Growing pains”, they felt, was becoming a “one way relationship”.

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Worse, every single step they took was being monitored from above. One only had to catch a sight of the Police control room at Penrith on that pre-season afternoon to know they were.

Talk about reinforcing the stereotype. From “football heartland” to “same old trouble”.

Rather than let the Wanderers active support grow organically, and work with them to enable it, authorities have gone down the path of controlling it.

It’s led to a hostile environment, even amongst the Wanderers supports.

The atmosphere, or lack-thereof, at Sunday’s home game against the Newcastle Jets will hopefully be the low point. But that can’t be taken for granted.

As usual, flares are right at the centre of the debate.

The events since the Wanderers Asian Champions League clash with Ulsan Hyundai have only served to remind the fans that flares are unacceptable. They need to heed that advice.

Yet authorities, and it would be nice to see the FFA taking the lead, steering them, must also loosen their grip and accept responsibility for over-Policing.

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The feeling of many across the country is that authorities are trying to kill active support.

That’s dangerous territory for the FFA.

Tonight represents an opportunity for the fans to get a bit of their fun back, and the authorities to loosen up a bit, but for both to do it in a non-hostile way.