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: http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/simon-hill-on-weekend-reports-detailing-crowd-problems-in-a-league/story-e6frf423-1227621998463

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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.

MEME

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