The ‘Red and Black Bloc’, as you’re doubtless aware if you scanned the back page of a newspaper the last couple days, are supporters of Western Sydney Wanderers.
They’re the noisy, shirtless, wild-eyed ones with the tattoos and masks dancing about amid the red smoke of flares, chanting and posing, and providing all that high-octane ‘atmosphere’ so beloved of television and tabloid snappers.
The Bloc’s self-perpetuated image is of ‘hard-core’ supporters. It’s overtly male, ‘tough’, intimidating. They beat their drums as a metaphor for their chests. They posture and pose.
It’s kids’ stuff, mainly, a step up from the schoolyard. It’s what some young men do. And it is largely harmless.
Even the flares. They don’t look good, perhaps, at least to those marketers who’d perpetuate the (absolutely factual) idea that a day at the football is safe for the kids.
Yet in 12 years of A-League has a flare actually hurt anyone?
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Yet in the mind’s eye of some folks, most of whom would never have actually been to an A-League football game, the RBB is Australian version of those scary ‘firms’ and ‘ultras’ of Europe and South America, the poor disenfranchised man-children whose desire for identity – and because they’re not smart enough to think of something more useful to do – sees them organise knife fights on Facebook.
The late journalist Rebecca Wilson – she didn’t miss anyone, Bec – wrote an incendiary piece in the Sunday Telegraph in November of 2015 that kicked off fan boycotts, summits, state and Federal privacy hearings, and much finger-pointing, fear and loathing.
The paper published a list of 198 people listed in ‘secret police files’ who were banned by FFA for alleged offences, which, according to Wilson, made for “shocking reading that, once read, will see every football-loving family cringe with horror”.
“Soccer in Australia is at risk of becoming on a par with the worst of the English Premier League and European soccer turmoil,” added Wilson.
Later she told broadcaster Alan Jones: “Some of the extent of their offences would make your eyes water and would seriously make you question whether or not you would ever go to any A-League game at all. What it shows is there’s a much larger problem there and it’s a cultural problem within the sport.”
And football fans kicked up a stink. They met with David Gallop and demanded to see the evidence against them. They negotiated that a ‘ban’ would be an ‘intention to ban’ during an appeals process.
And one-time lawyer Gallop did his best. And it all sort of petered out to nothing.
And here we are, again, and the Red and Black Bloc are on our back pages, again, this time banned from their supporters area behind the posts because someone let off flares. Again. And they appear mighty miffed about it.
Now, I’m not sure that families will ‘cringe with horror’ because football in Australia could become as it has been in Europe where fans of Millwall and Chelsea, Rangers and Celtic, meet up to riot and be hosed down by water cannon and herded around by mounted police.
Hasn’t happened yet, anyway.
But if you’re an RBB boy who’s been involved in violence and intimidation – or basically anything for which you may be jailed – and fancy yourself as part of the hard-core, spear-chucking, militant wing of a bloody football team, then, well, you’re a fool. And you can tell your story walkin’, Bubba.
Watch the game in the pub. And stop being a dickhead.
Letting off flares? I don’t give two stuffs, personally. I actually reckon they look good.
Atmospheric. Pictures in the papers look cool.
But! The FFA and the club and the cops and the people who run the ground say you’re not allowed to let them off. Then someone let them off. And that’s why the RBB’s banned from the Active Area behind the goals.
Failure to understand that it’s someone within the RBB’s fault that this is happening is immature. It shows an inability to take responsibility for one’s actions.
Some in the RBB believe they’re being targeted. And that’s because it’s true.
A copper friend of mine says the RBB are targeted by police – and Hatamoto, the private security spooks who sit among fans and film them – because of ‘history’ and ‘intelligence’, effectively what they’d call ‘form’.
Before any event, police make a recommendation to organisers about how many police and security people will be required given the crowd numbers and makeup. There’ll be a risk assessment from that. And if risk is assessed as high, numbers will be bumped up.
And here’s the thing: if you look like a duck and quack like a duck, and your website is effectively a recruitment tool for wannabe flare-waving dudes in skull balaclavas whose overt message is “join us and you’ll be scary, too”, then you will be targeted.
If you put up signs at games that read “We are not here to take part, we are here to take over” and “All Cops Are Bastards”, even in code, then that will frighten a certain sub-section of middle Australia who fear anarchy.
And those whose job it is to keep Australians safe – the police, people who could struggle to necessarily see a difference between anti-social behaviour and this brand of ‘football culture’, and whom you have described as “bastards” – they will target you. Truly – what do you expect?
Furthermore, while we’re on the lecture circuit, if you don’t exactly shrink from that tough guy image, indeed you actively embrace the notoriety and flip the bird to the world with your tatts and jaw-jutting ‘tood, and there’s a history of mayhem by a small minority within your ranks, then you can’t whine about being targeted when you painted the target on yourself.
Consider the video front and centre of the RBB’s website.
To the tune of Cliff Yin’s Pyrotechnic, a call-to-arms sort of riff from the album This Is War, we see: pirates; tombstones; skeletons; and men in masks holding flares.
There’s cartoon Spartans and a bucket of flames and thick smoke.
A group of men bop about in the ‘ruck’ of a march doing that funny, push-shovey fight-dancing thing young men do, slam-dancing or something. And it’s quite the hoot and obviously enjoyable for those involved. But it doesn’t look friendly. And that’s on purpose. The Bloc boys want to look cool, and tough.
At the end of the video there’s black-and-white footage of a group of faceless men in hoodies walking under a dark tunnel, perhaps signifying that Bloc members aren’t afraid to walk under dark tunnels.
Perhaps it signifies they’re not to be messed with should you, too, be walking under a dark tunnel and be part of another group (gang?) of flare-waving men in hoods.
Or perhaps – and this is my tip – it just looks cool to those enamoured with the message that the RBB is cool because after all the fun of banging on drums and waving your scarf and bopping about and letting off flares – and the enjoyment that comes from being ‘notorious’ – you can walk under tunnels at night with your posse.
Could be just me. Don’t reckon it is.
And here we are.
Where are we? In the tunnel, friend. And flares aren’t showing the way.