It is mighty tough to write a football article in Australia right now without mentioning the disastrous weekend of officiating that saw VAR become the central point of A-League discussion.
Football fan culture has always been hugely fascinating to me, from the huge choreographed displays of colourful pyrotechnics, the flags and the banners to the noise generated by the fans singing in support of their favourite team.
If you support a football team, going to their games is the focus of your week, and whatever the result is at full-time, you can be sure it will set your mood for the days that follow while you analyse every aspect of what happened.
But for many members of an A-League club’s ‘active area’, football matches aren’t just matches; they are the coming together of weeks of planning for a tifo display as the players enter the pitch. They are standing, singing and chanting to be their team’s 12th man.
Players around the globe have acknowledged how important these fans are in getting them over the line, to grind out a 1-0 win or to lift a team to a last-minute equaliser when things aren’t going so well.
A loud football stadium will give you chills as you hear it come to life, so the question must be asked: why are authorities all over the country doing their best to kill active areas?
Melbourne Victory’s opening game of the season against Brisbane Roar is a prime example. While Victory lost 1-3, AAMI Park was rocking as fans were thankful to be able to get through the turnstiles and see football for the first time in almost one year.
At the time of the game Victoria was in the midst of a 20-plus-day COVID-free streak, yet football fans were targeted by authorities, and when Victory’s next home game rolled around, this time against Perth Glory, both north and south active areas were unavailable for fans to buy tickets in. Why? Because apparently COVID guidelines were not followed the first time.
Officials want fans to sit in silence for the majority of the game, to stand and sing when they’re told to but then to sit again.
These same officials allow us to go to pubs and clubs later the same night and stand without masks and a severe lack of social distancing, so what is the difference? Football fans are always looked down upon and seen as second-class citizens.
Look at the tennis this week at Melbourne Park – fans are able to stand and make noise for their favourite players. Incidentally these venues are operated by the same trust as AAMI Park, so it can’t be said that different operators have different rules.
We are thankful that we can go watch our team in person – many football fans around the world still can’t – but all we ask is that we are allowed support our teams with our active areas in a COVID-safe way.
Jock Stein, the legendary Celtic manager, once said, “football without fans is nothing,” and that is very true, but a stadium without its passionate active area is a very bleak prospect too.