Home » Media » The Unspoken Histories That Still Hurt (or How Australian Football Fell Between the Narrative Gaps): Part Two

The Unspoken Histories That Still Hurt (or How Australian Football Fell Between the Narrative Gaps): Part Two

In my previous post I attempted to explore the recent culture war being waged against football by certain demagogues within mainstream Australian media, and by those vociferous in supporting or echoing them through social media, newpapers, etc, within the context of how the sport’s Anglo-Australian history has been forgotten or is ignored. The rabid virulence propagated by the likes of Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones betrays not just their underlying xenophobia, but also their blinkered ignorance that WASPs like them have played football, watched it, enjoyed it and actually prefer it to other, in their view more ‘Australian’ football codes.

I would like to continue this analysis on a second theme, based on another historical ignorance or forgetting, which in this case is not based on what has occurred in Australian football’s tortured history. No; in this post I want to tackle the hypocrisy of the attitudes shown by those who continually live under the spectre of, or circulate with vivid passion, the villainous ‘soccer hooligan’, when it comes to crowd violence and illegal behaviour. Whether it be someone like Jones linking your common or garden member of the RBB or Squadron or North Terrace to terrorists in Paris, or NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart talking about ‘grubby pack animals’, there is a willful demonisation of the worst aspects of the (very small incidents in number) of anti-social behaviour at football games, yet over the decades other sports have had their moments of violence forgiven, excused, or even celebrated.

To illustrate the ignorant prejudice held against football in this country when it comes to violence, here is a random post from Twitter:

CSJlnP7UYAENPKk

Annie does her best to get in her two (cheap) shots, vis-a-vis the non-Australian aspect of the sport of football plus the ‘riots at the soccer’ that result in ‘destruction and deaths’. I wonder how comfortable she would feel reading this about cricket’s history of riots and destruction:

India v Pakistan, Asian Test Championship, first Test, 1999
The first three days of the Test passed without incident. On the fourth afternoon, chasing 279, India were well placed on 143 for 2. Sachin Tendulkar was on 7 when he clipped Wasim Akram to deep midwicket. He took two runs and was on his way back for a third when substitute Nadeem Khan hit the stumps with his throw from the deep. In the ordinary course of events it would have been a straightforward third run, even with the direct hit, but Tendulkar collided with Shoaib Akhtar, who was waiting close to the stumps to gather the return, and as a result was out of his ground, even though he may well have been just inside the crease at the moment of the collision. Steve Bucknor referred it to the third umpire, KT Francis, who, after a long delay, gave him out. The huge crowd erupted and started chanting “cheat, cheat”, pelting Shoaib with bottles and other objects as he returned to his position in the deep.

Eventually the umpires took the players from the field for an early tea and it was only after personal pleas from Tendulkar and ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya that the match was able to resume. However, trouble broke out again on the final day when India were reduced to 231 for 9. Wisden reported: “Spectators started burning newspapers in the stands and hurled stones, fruit and plastic bottles on to the field. The match was held up for over three hours as about 65,000 people were removed by police and security men. The crowd’s anger was still concentrated on Tendulkar’s run-out, but there was little viciousness in the riot; it was born of disappointment rather than anti-Pakistan feeling..” It only took Pakistan 10 balls to complete their 46-run win, but they did so in a surreal atmosphere of only 200 spectators in a ground that could hold 90,000.

Of course Annie and her fellow anti-soccer-hooligan advocates put such a disgraceful example of crowd behaviour in the context of ‘well it doesn’t happen here’. Funnily enough, our very first Australian Prime Minister had a brush with cricket hooliganism:

“To resume my account of the disturbance on the ground on the Saturday. I asked Gregory on what grounds the objection was raised, and he said at first general incompetence, but afterwards admitted that the objection was raised on account of the decision in Murdoch’s case. I implored Gregory, as a friend, and for the sake of the NSW Cricket Association, which I warned him would be the sufferer by it, not to raise the objection, but he refused to take my view of the case. Looking back in the midst of this conversation, I found the ground had been rushed by the mob, and our team was being surrounded, I at once returned to the wickets, and in defending Coulthard from being attacked was struck by some ‘larrikin’ with a stick. Hornby immediately seized this fellow, and in taking him to the pavilion was struck in the face by a would-be deliverer of the ‘larrikin’, and had his shirt nearly torn off his back. He, however, conveyed his prisoner to the pavilion in triumph. For some thirty minutes or so I was surrounded by a howling mob, resisting the entreaties of partisans and friends to return to the pavilion until the field was cleared, on the grounds that if our side left the field the other eleven could claim the match. I don’t suppose that they would have done so, but I determined to obey the laws of cricket, and may add that for one hour and a half I never left the ground, surrounded the whole time, with two short intervals, by some hundreds of people. At about five o’clock the crowd was cleared off somehow. I then took the opinion of the Eleven as to changing the umpire, and it was decided nem. con. that there were no grounds for the objection, and that we should decline to change him. I informed Gregory of the decision, whereupon he said, ‘Then the game is at end’. On Coulthard appearing from the pavilion groans arose from the crowd. I turned to Mr Barton, the NSW Eleven umpire, and asked if I could not claim the match according to the laws of cricket. His answer was, ‘I shall give it you in two minutes’ time if the batsmen do not return’.”  (source: An extract from Lord Harris’ letter to the Daily Telegraph, 11/2/1879)

This account of a cricket riot from Australia’s colonial past may be considered immaterial in the current context of so-called soccer grubs lighting flares etc, however it is a commonly held myth that ‘true’ Australian sports never have or never will see hooliganism like that seen in football:

A Fear Of Football (@FearOfFootball) - Twitter 2015-11-30 11-42-04

Of course it escapes the attention of this nasty, ignorant football hater that there have been no ‘slaughter of fans’ at any Australian soccer match. Yes, there has not been ‘slaughter of fans’ at the AFL as per the tragic events of Heysel, however as recently as this year we saw this disgusting example of fan violence at an AFL match:

And if the defenders of the indigenous code of football want to drag up incidents from Soccer’s shameful past of decades ago, how about this?

Report on Australian Rules Football riot, Sunday Times, 14/7/29

Report on Australian Rules Football riot, Sunday Times, 14/7/29

Or this?

The Argus, 23/4/1946

The Argus, 23/4/1946

Ian Syson has collected a sizable selection of articles and reports that demonstrate Australian Rules football is certainly not a clean skin when it comes to hooliganism and violence within its fans, and I would recommend that you read it here. Both Ian and I would agree that crowd violence is a relatively small and unremarkable phenomenon in that code, however we would also agree (unlike the virulent soccer haters) that there is a similar fraction of fan violence at football games in Australia. The key to the discussion is not necessarily when the incidents happened, or where, or even how. It’s more how the media portray them and how they are comprehended by a segment of society that is culturally conditioned against soccer from the get go.

Even the sport supposedly played (if you believe its proponents) in heaven, Rugby Union, has a very recent disturbing history of hooliganism in Australia:

FNQ Rugby investigates rugby brawl between Penrhyn Sharks and Tablelands
MICHAEL WARREN THE CAIRNS POST AUGUST 17, 2015 6:10AM 3

FNQ Rugby is investigating the circumstances that led to an ugly on-field incident which saw Cairns police called to break up a wild brawl in a reserve grade match at Vico Park.

The Cairns Post has learned between 50-100 people, including players from both Penrhyn Sharks and Tablelands Rugby Union Club, each of their benches and sections of the crowd were involved in the vicious melee that lasted around 20 minutes.

“I can confirm Cairns police received a call at around 3.40pm on Saturday afternoon about a disturbance coming from a Mooroobool sporting field,” a Queensland Police spokesman said.

“Four Cairns police units attended the scene on Irene St but the situation had already calmed upon their arrival. Police remained on-site for a short while for observational purposes. No one was charged and no arrests were made.”

It’s understood the alleged incident that sparked the matter occurred in the 65th minute when a Penrhyn player took exception to being heckled by an opposition player after dropping the ball in the process of scoring a try. Some minor push and shove soon ensued between the pair before quickly breaking out into a fully blown brawl.

The match was called off with Penrhyn leading 12-7.

A Penrhyn player was taken to hospital where he was treated for concussion and loose teeth. He was released Saturday night but presented again yesterday morning with blurred vision.

The premier grade game between Port Douglas and Penrhyn was consequently abandoned without a ball being kicked.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with what I saw,” Sharks coach Daniel Dixon said.

“It is very disappointing, you never want to see what happened on Saturday happen anywhere, let alone on a rugby field.”

A Tablelands rugby club spokesman offered “no comment” until the incident is fully investigated.

FNQ Rugby boss Rob Brennan said the matter was regrettable.

“It’s not a great look for the game in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Again, it needs to be said that this may be an isolated incident and not entirely reflective of the general behaviours or safety issues when attending a rugby match in Australia. However when contrasted to the virulent panic and hatred that was manifested through the recent focus on so-called ‘soccer hooliganism’, it seems rather disingenuous to not treat this incident from August 2015 with the same moralising, the same harsh reaction as readily and frequently thrown in the face of football fans in this country.

Rugby League had the remarkable achievement of seeing not one but two sizable riots involving thuggish fan behaviour in September 2015, with approximately 200 people involved in a north Queensland brawl on 13/9/15, and an ‘ugly brawl involving dozens of teenagers and spectators in Brisbane‘ earlier that month. Early n the 2015 NRL season there was the unedifying sight of Canterbury fans engaging in behaviour that Rebecca Wilson would probably describe as ‘soccer thuggery’ at the Grand Final rematch between the Bulldogs and South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Strangely enough we have not seen the Daily Telegraph or the Sunday telegraph run a two page spread and front page story detailing ‘the faces from Rugby League’s shame file’. Perhaps with that specific organ of the News Limited tabloid press having a vested interest in reporting on a sport that it has reportedly paid $1 billion for pay TV rights access, such coverage of rugby league hooliganism is going to be seen as damaging Rupert’s investment. Or maybe the NRL and the NSW Police have failed to find and ban those responsible for such loutish behaviour.

Or perhaps the NRL doesn’t have a couple of enemies of its sport sitting on the board of the SCG.

In conclusion, let’s be under no illusions here. There has been and always will be a tiny minority of anti-social and at times illegal behaviour occurring at football games in Australia. Based on the dubious reportage of Rebecca Wilson, the 198 bans handed out by the FFA would represent only 0.001287% of all the 15,383,395 people who have attended an A-League game since the competition’s inception. Hardly the kind of risk percentage that would require the use of Strike Force Raptor, incite Alan Jones to link football fans with Daesh-associated terrorism in Paris. However that kind of hysterical hyperbole is justifiable in their own minds as these spruikers of anti-soccer hatred find it easy to sell the myth that other sports have no problems whatsoever. In turn many who follow cricket, Australian Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union are blind to their own sports’ history of thuggery, violence and public disorder believe this fiction. The collusion between the haters and the ignorant creates the unreasonable hatred every soccer fan in this country has at some time or another had to face.

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