Simon Hill connects with the bootlaces and…

Well done Simon Hill.

Today’s editorial on the Fox Sports website was a brilliantly ballsy piece of work. Given that you make your living through the same parent organisation that threw a bucket of vitriolic bile last Sunday, via a ‘jurassic journo’ called Wilson, your actions should not be underestimated. Not surprisingly, it has continued during the week with media organisations seeing a news item generating so much heat. Sadly, the flames weren’t tempered but fanned further on radio and in some other editorials on TV since Sunday.

Those of us who have had a life long love of football have seen these attacks many times before and we have probably been worn down by the negativity over the years. I confess that I certainly have. The fact that my sons and their friends are repeating the very same frustrations that we did so many years ago has been depressing. Sure our sport has taken huge strides in Australia, however too many of the old prejudices remain to this day. My initial reaction was to ignore it all. This too shall pass and our sport will continue to grow and prosper nonetheless. After all, readers and listeners who would agree with Wilson and Jones wouldn’t be in the football orbit anyway. These troglodytes preach to the converted and look to maintain relevance in their shrinking world by incubating outrage. It’s a con, it’s malicious and motivated by a mindset set in 1950-ville where everyone knew their place – fullstop.

Simon, your editorial today absolutely nailed it – thank you.

PS: I’m anticipating that your article will not survive the News Limited stable censors so I repeat it here below.
The link (while it lasts) is:

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By SIMON HILL (25 November, 2015)

THERE are always two sides to every story, or so the saying goes. Yet the article in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph regarding the so-called epidemic of football violence, only tells you one.

So, let’s redress the balance shall we?

Let’s start with the inherent contradiction that I consider runs throughout Rebecca Wilson’s piece – that is, the suggestion that FFA are somehow bystanders – accomplices even – in the alleged trouble, because they refuse to accept there is even a problem.

If that is true, then why has the governing body issued banning orders to the 198 people listed? Isn’t that taking action? What else is FFA supposed to do? It already has a security presence in every town where the A-League is played. Maintaining law and order in public places is the job of the police, as it is at any sporting event, or public gathering.

FFA has taken the strongest measures within its remit to punish any perpetrators of trouble, and should be applauded for doing so – not hung out to dry. FFA has also recently dispatched a senior executive to Germany, to learn how the authorities approach crowd control in the Bundesliga (they do it pretty well incidentally), so they can hardly be accused of sitting on their hands on this issue.

Have the Australian Police followed their lead? Because at the moment, their tactics, according to Wilson’s article, aren’t working, and it always takes two to tango.

All we seem to hear from Commissioners are their outdated opinions on a sport they clearly have little understanding, or experience of. Witness this crass line from NSW Chief, Andrew Scipione, in Wilson’s article.

“The last thing we want to get to in Australia is putting rival fans in cages like the UK model.”

Now, I don’t know what century Mr Scipione lives in, but it can’t be the 21st, because “cages” vanished from English football grounds post-Hillsborough, as far back as 1989.

Mind you, we shouldn’t be surprised he thinks this way – this is the sort of football narrative Australia is repeatedly sold, via media lickspittles whose primary agendas are other codes of football.

Some journalists here still truly believe 96 people died that day in Sheffield because of “hooliganism”- not police negligence. They should try reading the harrowing reports of the current inquest in England – they might just learn something.

Let’s move on to address the comments made by Assistant Commissioner, Kyle Stewart – who has only been in his post a matter of weeks. Stewart claims that there is a “bloody-mindedness within some of the clubs (and FFA) that does not accept responsibility for the culture.”

All of which is news to the Western Sydney Wanderers (who make up the bulk of the “trouble-makers” according to the article) – because, sources at the Wanderers say Stewart has yet to speak to them at all.

Clearly, minds have already been made up at Police HQ that all Wanderers fans are potential thugs. The police presence at Wanderers games – in my experience – confirms this. It is quite unlike any other.

Riot squads, mobile detention centres, horses, dogs, police officers built like Robocop on steroids, some replete with tattoos on bulging biceps that remind you of nightclub bouncers, rather than your old-fashioned bobby on the beat.

It’s an extraordinary fortnightly show of force, which turn areas of the stadium into nervous stand-off zones, where one twitch, you feel, could lead to a can of mace being thrust in your direction.

Yet even if – as we are led to believe – there are 90-odd Wanderers fans hell bent on causing mayhem, that is still a tiny fraction of the 14,500 average crowd that watch the club on a regular basis. Talk about using a sledgehammer to smash a nut. On most occasions in Parramatta, the only person “giving it some violence” is Robbie Slater, when he’s sat next to me in commentary.

However, it’s Mr Stewart’s next quote that is perhaps the most revealing of all. “Behave like a civilized human and not some grubby pack animal, and you’ll find yourself buying many, many more season passes”

This sentence barely makes for cohesive reading, yet cut through the grade two English, and Stewart is, essentially, offering his opinions on the sport itself. In proper grammar it would read “this is why football has so few fans.”

Which, again, I’m sure is news to the Wanderers, who have 17,000 plus members, around 4,000 bigger than Parramatta Eels (their co-tenant) average crowd for 2015. Still, I fail to see why a columnist goes to a policeman for comment on the progress of a sport.

Similarly, what business does the Police Association of New South Wales have in re-tweeting this via its online account, from someone calling themselves “Ice Maiden”

“Axing football al2gether would B the go. Dreadful 4 creating head injury dementia.”

We’re really getting to the nub of the issue here, and Wilson is right in one aspect of her piece at least. There is a cultural problem. It lies in the way football is perceived, reported upon and judged by those who exist only on the periphery of it – and most of it is based on age-old prejudice, and pure ignorance.

Why else would Alan Jones (patron of the Australian Police Rugby Union team incidentally) no less, ask this of Wilson on his radio show, when she was invited to discuss her article?

“Is this like terrorism in Paris? The leaders have no guts?”

It is barely comprehensible that Jones would equate alleged issues involving football fans with the horrible slaughter in the French capital. It’s tawdry, squalid broadcasting, yet where football is concerned it seems, no comparison is off limits.

This disgraceful slur is one of many from those who appear to live in an Australia stuck in some 1950’s time warp. Where anyone with a surname longer than three syllables is somehow “suspect” – particularly if they like “soccer.”

The disease is particularly prevalent among those involved in sports in competition for fans (and corporate dollars) with football. One is Malcolm Conn, one-time cricket writer, now in the employ of Cricket NSW. Conn furiously re-tweets any negative story regarding football, in order to paint his own sport in a better light. There are many others desperately trying to recreate the “glory” days of Sheila’s, Wogs & Poofters.

Quite why his employers allow Conn to continue with his daily diatribe is a mystery – though maybe a clue can be found in the attendance figures for Test series’ outside the Ashes, not to mention the Sheffield Shield, where the players regularly outnumber the crowd.

It is also indicative of a landscape in which code wars have been allowed to flourish among the media cognoscenti, who – by and large – still originate from, and hanker after, Australia’s Anglo past, rather than its modern multicultural reality.

Hence the traditional sports are ferociously defended by such groups as properly “Australian”, while football is treated with the same sort of shrieking hysteria normally reserved for boat people.

Grubby pack animals indeed.

Still, times they are a changing, and maybe sooner than they think.
Ms Wilson’s column may well have outed some who indulge in violent behaviour, and for them, I have no sympathy. Behave badly, and you deserve all you get.

But by naming and revealing the identities of ALL those purportedly on the banned list, she has not only invited opprobrium, but opened up a potential can of worms.

There are already allegations that some of the names are incorrect, while some are reportedly underage. Others are not necessarily guilty of criminal acts. It’s also believed some of the photographs published were taken from social media sites, and used without permission. On top of that, none of those listed had any course of redress for their bans via an appeal.

If that’s the case, then we would appear to have conviction by media without proper judicial process. That would be a very serious matter indeed, and litigation may well follow from some of those involved.

Senator David Leyonhjelm meantime, has already called for an investigation by the NSW Police Integrity Commission, to find out whether they are the source of the leak. If proven, it’s a serious breach of ethics on their behalf too.

FFA absolutely refute allegations they leaked the confidential list – so unless it’s the police, that only leaves the stadiums and A-League clubs with access to such information.

Some are claiming the source is the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust. The SCG trustee list, incidentally, contains not a single person connected to football – that despite Sydney FC being Allianz Stadium’s biggest tenant.

There is undoubtedly much more to come on this story, but in the meantime, and in the absence of public comment from FFA (which in my view, sells the majority of fans short), what response should there be from football?

In my opinion, the best response is to turn up in even bigger numbers to games this weekend. Be loud, and be proud of the world’s favourite game.

But we must also demand to see the names – and faces – of all those banned in the other football codes and cricket, so the public can make a fair comparison. Even if there are – as Wilson claims – only a handful, then so what? Let’s see exactly who they are, and what they get up to. #ShameonYOURgame anyone?

I’ll close with the best quote of this entire saga, which came from veteran broadcaster and football fan, George Donikian. It’s simple, but pithy.

“Words have consequences.”

Indeed they do George, and as we wait for the defamation cases, we can take solace in the fact that this current football-phobic generation, which controls so many spheres of public influence, will eventually retire, and be replaced by a more enlightened one.

It can’t come too soon.


Dear Western Sydney Wanderers FC,

As you can see from the date of my previous blog, I really don’t do this very often. It takes a fairly noteworthy event, such as, oh I don’t know; the pending launch of a new football entity to embrace and feel a genuine connection to make me write more than a Twitter post. Anyway, in case I’m being a bit vague, I’m referring to my family and friends’ favourite sporting club; the Western Sydney Wanderers.

I was there from Day One when you formally embraced public opinion with community meetings and the Western Sydney Wanderers embryo was germinated with our DNA. You listened when the colours of red and black were first mooted. You listened when Parramatta Stadium was presented as the preferred home ground. You listened when the term ‘West’ had to be included in the club name. Thank you – you listened.

Despite modest expectations on the field, we were excited at seeing OUR team from Western Sydney take part in the Hyundai A-League. Our kids now felt like there was a genuine link in our part of Sydney to the top of the football tree in Australia. We walked on the ‘hallowed turf’ of Parramatta Stadium along with Dicko and other foundation members before the inaugural match. We bought memberships to provide our financial support. We purchased shirts (by the many thousands) to display our support. We energetically and proudly embraced our more boisterous fans in the Red and Black Block to lend our vocal support. We travelled to away games to provide our moral support. In essence, we were all in. There was no ambiguity about being a Wanderers fan and the feeling was that we were all in it together. The fans, the players, the coaches and the club, we were one.
Like any large group of humans (schools, governments, police force, armies etc…) we too have had issues with some members refusing to stay within the confines of the law. In our case it was incidents of smoke flares and some anti-social behaviour from a tiny minority. Those that have done the wrong thing deserve their punishment and life goes on. This blog won’t go into the perceived imbalance in reporting incidents, lack of appeal procedures or the misrepresentation of facts. It is quite pointless reheating those arguments. However, what this blog does want to get into is the decaying ambience of ‘Wanderland’.

Having experienced a fantastic opening season with the Wanderers ‘family’, I enticed 12 extra people to become members this season. I also upgraded my membership to the highest level and sit amongst many other families in Bay 44. It has mainly been a  fantastic season with our grandstand of mixed demographics (from middle aged couples, young families with toddler children and singles) happily engaging with the RBB chants and even joining in on the Poznan. It offers us all a couple of hours of fun and a bit of escapism watching OUR team.

The necessity of police at major events is an accepted part of the package of watching live sport. When something goes wrong in public places, it is these fantastic men and women that we look to protect us; which they often do without any thanks. Therefore, I know that I’m only referring to the minority of police who deem it appropriate to be aggressive when interacting with Wanderers fans.

The confrontational attitude of one particular policeman at the Round 24 match (Sunday 23 March, 2014) at Pirtek Stadium was jaw dropping. He approached a group of about 20 of us in Bay 44; consisting of the very young to middle age people and threatened to evict anyone who swore. The fact was that there was no swearing at all (particularly with young children in the vicinity) and so the police officer was challenged as such. When asked by a growing section of the grandstand about ‘who swore’ a clearly agitated policeman told one member to shut up and returned to his position stating that ‘he’s watching us’.

I know the above statement sounds petty and even trivial. However, having experienced this harassment first hand, it left an extremely bitter taste and destroyed the enjoyment of what should have been a pretty gratifying 3-0 home win. Speaking with many other members, I know that this kind of incident is happening across all parts of Pirtek Stadium, including the RBB section, so we have a serious problem.

The old expression stating that “if you treat people like animals they will act as such” immediately sprung to mind. As soon as this confrontation ended, the mood in the grandstand changed from a festive one, to one of protest. The happiness of the event was immediately sucked out of the day and in truth, I felt like going home to watch the second half.

These are my facts and views:

  1. I enjoy the RBB noise and movement but purchased 4 x Red memberships to secure a seat in a ‘calmer’ area of the stadium
  2. My family and friends are NOT criminals
  3. There has NEVER been an incident at Wanderers games anywhere near our Bay despite all away teams having their players’ family and friends, and even away fans sitting directly in front
  4. Police presence near our Bay is blatant overkill of resources
  5. Aggressive police activity is simply provocative
  6. I will NOT be treated like a criminal

This is a serious problem that has the very real potential to destroy what was once the greatest spectator experience in Australian sport.

Dear Western Sydney Wanderers FC,
It is time to listen again.

(Photo – Gregg Porteous)


I find myself thinking about what makes things successful a lot these days.

At a very basic level, the old fashioned advice of ‘fish where there are fish’ always rings true. In other words, you wouldn’t set up a boat shop at Thredbo and expect business to flourish would you? The same logic would compel you to set up a boat shop in a relatively affluent area, preferably near the water and in a location that your potential customer base would know you’re in business. Right?

Well it is this same logic that has had me bemused for 7 years or so. With about 20% of the registered players that play football in this country all doing so in what we call Greater Western Sydney, it would seem a no-brainer to have had a club based out here from day one. We didn’t have one and yet many of us embraced Frank Lowy’s words on the eve of the Hyundai A-League and supported the new national competition. Many of us attended Sydney FC matches (an 80 – 100km round trip for some) in HAL 1 to watch a World Cup winning player Pierre Littbarski coach a team featuring the charismatic Dwight Yorke and mercurial ‘local boy’ Steve Corica win the inaugural championship. Despite a tumultuous off season, we returned in HAL 2 to watch the team defend the championship only to be disillusioned by a negative and dour experience. Ultimately, the lack of community spirit and not feeling like you actually belonged killed the initial enthusiasm.

Despite Sydney FC’s efforts, many WestSydnians just didn’t feel part of the club. After all, it was a bloody long way to travel to support our ‘local’ club. This is something non-Sydney based fans can’t quite grasp and see a new West Sydney club as Sydney’s second team. It obviously is by definition, but in many ways, it’s just like a brand new territory. In fact, it is almost as far and takes a heck of a lot longer to get to the outer edges of GWS (Penrith or Campbelltown) from Alliance Stadium than it does to get to Gosford from the same location.

This is just one of the many reasons why this new entity in football’s heartland (no apologies for using this terminology at all – it’s true) will not cannibalise Sydney FC support. In fact, all ingredients are in place to ensure it will be nourished and as a consequence of a natural tribal rivalry (East/North vs West/South) make both clubs stronger.

However, we must also take heed of words of reason. David Zdrilic is right when he says that the maxim ‘build it and they will come’ does not apply to West Sydney. If anyone thinks that simply plonking a team out here without genuine community collaboration will work is kidding themselves. To avoid this becoming the most embarrassing failure in Australian sporting history, the FFA must ensure a thorough understanding of WestSydnians. Unfortunately, there is no template to ensure success out here; especially in football. There are thousands of disenfranchised former NSL fans who will be hardest to convert. Many will stay away never to forgive the execution of their club from the top tier. I know a lot of these people. Some are close friends and in reality, I don’t think will ever truly embrace the new Western Sydney Hyundai A-League entity. Then there are people like me and my family who will support a Western Sydney football club because we feel a sense of belonging and pride. And then there will be those non-committed fans who watch NRL and possibly AFL on television, attend the occasional big match and only have a passing interest in the EPL because they hear work mates talking about how Liverpool lost again (it hurts me to even write that) or that brilliant little bloke called Leo Messi.

These fans are barometers. The ones that will help us understand if the club is boring or unwelcoming, or even fresh and exciting. There are so many more of them than us so we should not alienate them. Also remember that it is very likely that their kids are one of the 90,000 that play football out here, so I see no point in insulting them by calling the NRL ‘thugby’ or AFL ‘aerial ping pong’ etc… They should be considered potential customers and it is time our sport gets that massive chip off our shoulders and tries to get them to sample and ultimately embrace our game beyond Qantas Socceroos matches.

There is a concern that we won’t get a chance to ‘crave’ for the team’s debut as per the three year journey the AFL gave the GWS Giants (although in fairness – they had zero base to start from so needed every minute). It is only 6 months or so before the new season kicks off so the anticipation and satisfaction of learning new things about the club will and must happen very quickly.

–          Club name, Colours, Playing strip, Logo

–          Home Ground or Grounds

–          Membership packages, Players, Coaches etc…

This must all happen over the next 6 months so there will be no ‘eager anticipation’. It will all be unveiled with a blur as if we’re hitting the fast forward button to get to the car chase scene in a movie.

Obviously, Western Sydney is football’s most lucrative (potential) market in the country but it will take real understanding, hard efforts, delicate diplomacy and a pinch of pizzazz on the park to extract the gold. I am convinced that the football fans of Western Sydney need their team playing the way we all want football played – beautifully and successfully. This team cannot be a head down – ass up, run all day and bang it in the mixer when you get to that white line style of play. To expect WestSydnians to embrace anything other than beautiful football would be suicidal.

We’re in the entertainment industry. I don’t believe we are actually competing with NRL and AFL. They are winter sports and the Hyundai A-League is predominantly a summer competition so I believe that their fans can absolutely also be our fans. Why not? I like to watch a bit of NRL and AFL as well. I even took my youngest kid to watch GWS Giants kick off their story at ANZ Stadium a couple of weeks ago. I do however believe that we’re in combat for the entertainment dollar against Cinemas, Social Clubs, Pubs, V8 Supercars, Restaurants, Picnics, Beach, Backyard BBQs and even TV. There are many choices to spend the entertainment dollar so it is important to build that emotional connection ASAP in order to make football in West Sydney one of the top choices for the public.

This is a very exciting announcement for people who love football in Western Sydney. Kids have already started talking about it. As players are signed, perform, attend junior clinics, perform again, sign autographs and eventually become heroes to young players, that is when the foundations of a club take root and young fans are embraced emotionally. Unlike the AFL and NRL, our future heroes don’t have the benefit of feasting on Free To Air TV. Accordingly, ours take longer to grow so we have to understand the importance of this and be in it for the long haul.

For almost a decade, we’ve watched the Qantas Socceroos take on the world with more than a generous representation from our part of the world. Schwarzer, Okon, Cahill, Culina, Kewell, Emerton, Popovic, Kalac and many more all from Western Sydney. We’d point at the players in the Hyundai A-League plying their trade across the league all from Western Sydney; Thwaite, Brosque, Antonis, Carle and many more. We’d tweet away with pride at where they started from and bleat with a hint of injustice that they’re ‘our boys’. We’ve watched them play as kids at our local parks, grow up and take on the best and flourish. These players, in a strange way were representing us. Well the bleating and whining and carry on is now over. NOW THE WEST HAS ONE… our very own club in the top flight of football in the country – Hyundai A-League

Football is coming home.

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