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Yesterday the Red and Black Bloc announced their intention to boycott the remainder of the Wanderers’ season, turning their backs – and not as part of a Poznan – on a season that has rarely caught the eye anyway.
The decision, according to their announcement, was based on a lack of communication between the supporters group, and the club management and the FFA. One wonders exactly why a group who brazenly wore T-shirts bearing ‘FCK FFA’ – a cute take on the RUN DMC logo – would expect the football’s governing body to be eager to engage with them.
Suffice it to say, this isn’t the first time the RBB have railed against a punishment they appear to have wholly earned.
Which is it: prawn sandwiches or flares? There seems to be very little middle ground when it comes to active support in the A-League. Naturally there is a very small section of football fans who have romanticised the ‘ultra’ mentality, who revel in wild fantasies of hooliganism and chaos and who see the vibrant, incendiary home support in Europe and South America as indivisible from that.
Football is rough, harsh competition and football supporters are rougher and harsher, the sentiment reflected in each fan and intensified with every reflection, a distilled, condensed embodiment.
Football at its core is supposed to be one of the few leisure activities of the working classes, where the downtrodden and undervalued can roar in catharsis. Fandom is tribal, and tribes war against each other. There is some sense to this, and there is value in preserving the spirit of these ideas.
The word ‘bastard’ is hardly one that should cause a sharp intake of breath these days. It barely registers on the profanity scale. In fact if you were told someone had been arrested for offensive language after saying ‘bastard’ on the street, it’s likely that news would shock you more than the word itself, and it’s highly unlikely the arrest would lead to a conviction.
But how much sympathy should we have for the RBB capos who led the Bloc over megaphone in a raucous ACAB – ‘all cops are bastards’ – chant in front of on-duty police officers and who were subsequently banned from the stadium for five years for offensive chanting? Does the punishment fit the crime? Probably not, but they could easily have avoided it in the first place.
So the latest RBB boycott, for all we know, might stick for good. Regardless of how you view these supporter groups, it’s clear this brand of active support – the imagery of whom, we should remind ourselves, is continually used by the league and FFA in promotional material for every derby in the league – is incompatible with the current climate, a climate set in large part by the FFA.
The Squadron, which is the Jets active support who also wrapped up their matchday presence last year, and the North Terrace, which is the Victory active support, both cited in so many words excessive restrictions on the matchday experience as one of the main reasons for their stepping back.
“Widespread apathy and a loss of ‘mentality’…” the NOrth Terrace said in their Facebook statement. The Squadron spoke of the relationship with police and security forces as “consistently adversarial and aggressive”.
I’ve never led a roaring maw of partisan troops, all chanting as one, all writhing in the ecstasy of victory or wallowing in the agony of defeat. How fragile is that mentality, as they say, and how susceptible to mortal bouts of apathy?
Watch this footage, taken from inside the Manchester City bus as it rolled up to Anfield this week; it seems unpleasant, to be sure, and although City’s Kevin de Bruyne has refused to condemn the Liverpool fans for their behaviour, it surely must have felt that way on the inside of that bus. But it’s also invigorating, isn’t it?
“It was okay,” de Bruyne said. “I don’t mind supporters doing that. I’ve had it a couple of times for my team and it’s a nice feeling.
“Breaking windows is probably not done, but who am I to say something? I am fine with it as long as no-one gets hurt.”
Liverpool apologised to the Manchester City team in the strongest possible terms for this behaviour and vowed to assist the authorities in punishing those responsible. Will this lead to the leaders that rouse the Kop releasing bleating Facebook statements and boycotting the next home game? Probably not.
If you want to wear a ‘FCK FFA’ T-shirt, you actually have to, well, not care what the FFA do or think, even – perhaps especially – if what they do tries to pour cold water on your defiance. Real ultras – if that’s what you’re purporting to be – probably don’t whinge and retreat because of an increased police presence or a few stadium bans.
The happy medium between illegal flares and violence, and a dead, airless stadium must exist. Personally I don’t think chants with swearing should be banned; in a stadium where active support has been driven out, you’d hear the players swearing at one another – or indeed at the referee – anyway.
Nothing about football, historically or practically, is or should be made G-rated. But I also think that active support and the kind of European vibrancy they hope to emulate, can be divorced from the violence and thuggery we still see in the grimier footballing areas of Europe.
Again we’ve come to a false impasse, and it’s very hard to see exactly who’s at fault. The suspicion is that both the RBB and the FFA are, but it’s the RBB who have withdrawn now, and we’ll see how long they stay away and how much damage, if any, their absence inflicts.