Published as ‘Crowd antics not manufactured’, Geelong Advertiser, Saturday, 7 April 2007, p. 35
We saw both sides of the world game this week.
St Kilda president Rod Butters talked about recreating the atmosphere at Melbourne Victory games to brighten up AFL matches.
He thought that the crowd at the Victory helped create the spectacle, while AFL was becoming less dramatic, more tactical, with fewer contests and hence less on-field excitement for the fans.
So more involvement off the field is to be encouraged.
Then in Scotland a group of students from a Catholic, Gaelic football-playing school visited Ibrox Park, the home of Glasgow Rangers, seen for much of the last hundred years as the bastion of militant Protestantism in Scotland.
And finally, on the good side, Roddy Forsyth reported that The Tartan Army of Scottish international supporters consumed the equivalent of 265,000 pints of beer in three days but caused not a skerrick of trouble at the European championship qualifying match with Italy in Bari—despite the fact that Scotland lost.
The Bari Traders’ Association said, ‘our members made more than they would in three months—it was like our best Christmas ever.’
And then on the other side you had the shocking scenes of violence at matches in Rome and Seville, with the fans of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur being caught up in clashes in which the local police wielded their batons as if they were out to maim anyone caught in their path.
Fears that we are getting back into the cycle of violence that occurred in Europe and South America in the 1980s have resurfaced.
Because the game is so popular you can almost guarantee that there will be one incident of mayhem around the globe on any given weekend and if the focus is directed at it, then it will provoke all the old stereotypes about hooliganism and football which used to be trotted out.
The media has a responsibility here because by conveying the impression that football fans are violent, mindless morons, they help to contribute to the demand for ever more punitive measures for dealing with them.
But today’s football supporters are young vibrant people who want to enjoy their games and the Melbourne Victory fans are a great example.
Though they can be foul-mouthed and sometimes intimidating en masse, they are primarily engaged in making the experience something in which the whole crowd can participate and they are independent of the club.
The Blue and White Brigade, which forms the core of the home support, leads the chants, choreographs the displays and produces the majority of the banners on display.
The atmosphere is created despite the public address systems and the ersatz attempts to whip up crowd support.
Indeed the public address often comes in at the most inappropriate moments drowning or disrupting spontaneous chanting, singing and recognition of key moments in the game.
So suggestions that ‘we need to give our supporters and people at the game another or additional experience’, as Rod Butters is quoted as saying, are misconceived.
The fans of the round ball game are creating their own new experiences based on European and South American patterns of crowd participation, but almost entirely without the violence that continues to mar events overseas.
When there are very few away supporters in the crowd, as happens at most Victory games, the home fans colonise both ends of the ground at Telstra Dome and sing and chant to each other across the stadium.
So if you want the atmosphere then you have to give the fans the chance to create it, rather than try to impose it.
That is the real lesson from Melbourne Victory.