If David Gallop hoped his press conference would allay concerns of some sections of A-League fans and draw a line under the ‘name and shame’ saga, he will be disappointed.
There’s a feeling in some quarters that his belated response after returning from an AFC function in India was underwhelming.
This is on top of personalities in other media outlets voicing their dissatisfaction of Damien De Bohun’s handling of the matter, which has been the proverbial straw on the camel’s back leading to some to call for the A-League chief’s resignation.
These opinions seem to be in tune with the opinions of the A-League’s Sydney-based fans, with Sydney FC fans feeling some of the top brass’ positions have become untenable, and Western Sydney fans feeling Gallop’s press conference was shambolic.
Both have declared an intention to boycott the active areas in their respective home fixtures this coming weekend.
Melbourne Victory have no imminent home games so it is unclear what the intentions of the North Terrace are at this time.
However, the discourse from Melbourne fans is beginning to revolve around the FFA’s ‘zero tolerance’ security paradigm blends with the high-profile approach of local authorities following the noticeably heavy presence of police at the weekend’s game against Adelaide, in which they staged a 30th-minute walkout.
It is useful to constructively consider David Gallop’s press conference from this perspective in order to better understand where the fault lines lie.
Gallop said, “the appeals process needs fine tuning”. He also said, “we have a zero tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour at A-League matches”, and that “we don’t make decisions (to ban people) without clear evidence. The confidentiality of that is very important to getting the perpetrators.”
This is reasonable on paper but what sounds good as a public relations sound bite doesn’t necessarily equate to effective results on the ground – or rather, in the stands.
This is perhaps why there has been a cynical response from a variety of fan groups.
The FFA’s security paradigm is based upon the premise that disorder occurs at football games merely because of the presence of some anti-social people. This is underpinned by the FFA’s security advisors, Hatamoto, who have a counter-terrorism background.
This somewhat infers the institutional thinking within the FFA that perceives fans – active fans in particular – as a ‘problem’ of which to be suspicious. If that is the case, it may go some way to explaining why they have not been inclined to vigorously defend fans as much as some would like.
The powers that be at the FFA should perhaps consider that such thinking towards a stakeholder isn’t conducive to engendering positivity in return and so they should consider the role of their attitudes in the current predicament.
Presumably Hatamoto are responsible for acquiring much of the referenced intelligence or “clear evidence” referred to, and the people the FFA deem anti-social are consequently banned for their infringements of the FFA’s spectator code of conduct.
What these evidence-gathering methodologies entails is a matter of speculation, but it is worth considering that the FFA are reluctant to divulge them if they would be considered problematic from a public relations standpoint.
When Gallop reaffirmed the FFA’s zero-tolerance policy, he presumably declared that outside fine-tuning the appeals process the FFA have no intention to explore ways of reforming their security paradigm.
Sadly if they persevere with this position it will not lead to resolution with sections of the fan community, and tensions will continue.
It needs to be considered (once again) that modern school of thoughts consider disorder occurring at football games as a process of interaction between various groups. These can be fan-to-fan group interaction or fan-to-security or fan-to-police interactions.
The way in which police and fans interact can either escalate disorder or de-escalate disorder irrespective of whether there are ‘hooligans’ present or not.
It is useful to consider some of Gallop’s comments to perceive what the FFA’s desires in this situation are: “You provide a wonderful atmosphere. Do it in a positive way. Help us grow the game.”
Now it’s worth considering the intentions of A-League fans, and active fans in particular.
Their intentions revolve around being able to freely articulate a localised form of football’s international culture.
This involves things like a free-moving general admission environment as it allows easier socialising, more fluidity and artistic dynamism, and the creative use of items such as drums, flags and megaphones.
Tensions have arisen over the years when stadium policy has not been conducive to such items.
On top of that FFA policy mandates (on the advice of Hatamoto) fully allocated seating in active areas in the form of ‘home end membership’, which has put it directly at odds with fans.
This has led to needless tensions when some spectators want to sit in an exact seat on their ticket and it clashes with the mindset of other fans with an ‘active areas as a GA’ mindset. This has the potential to escalate when stadium security or even police are used to enforce the allocated seat policy, especially when a zero-tolerance approach is used, because an avoidable disagreement over a seat can easily escalate into a banning offence.
All of these issues are roadblocks to fans being able to create a “wonderful” atmosphere in a “positive” way.
On top of that, high-profile policing that goes hand-in-hand with a zero-tolerance approach fundamentally alters the vibe of football events – and the marquee fixtures in particular – from having a carnival atmosphere. Instead, an atmosphere of foreboding results, which is as off-putting to families as anyone else.
And it certainly isn’t in-step with the FFA’s stated desire for a “wonderful atmosphere” at games.
For tensions to be truly diffused and resolution to occur the FFA need to re-visit why there are public order issues at some games, and need to alter their attitude towards fans (among other stakeholders).
Crucially, the FFA need to fundamentally alter their security paradigm from a zero-tolerance strategy to a ‘friendly but firm’ approach and adjust their policies accordingly.
This means Hatamoto needs to go.
Hatamoto needs to be replaced by advisors who have experience in football, who understand its fan culture, and can educate and advise stadium security as well as relevant police authorities on how to apply an effective ‘friendly but firm’ approach in a football context.