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:
- I enjoy the RBB noise and movement but purchased 4 x Red memberships to secure a seat in a ‘calmer’ area of the stadium
- My family and friends are NOT criminals
- 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
- Police presence near our Bay is blatant overkill of resources
- Aggressive police activity is simply provocative
- 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)