Fans’ advocate slams Wanderers over RBB clampdown

Western Sydney Wanderers have been accused of a “knee jerk reaction” in announcing the closure of their active support area for a single match in response to two flares being ignited during Sunday’s derby defeat against Sydney FC.

Wanderers Red and Black Bloc

Wanderers Red and Black Bloc Source: Getty Images

The clampdown on the club’s most passionate fans, the Red and Black Block (RBB), is indicative of an A-League wide attack on vociferous supporters groups, according to Pablo Bateson, interim chairman of the FIFA and FFA recognised fans group Football Supporters Australia.

Bateson, also a foundation Wanderers member, views the closure for Sunday’s visit of Perth Glory to Spotless Stadium as the latest “ad-hoc” punishment dished out arbitrarily to fans, predicting it will distance the competition’s more raucous supporters further from a league already suffering a huge dip in attendances and TV ratings.

With Wanderers also handed a show cause notice by FFA over Sunday’s incidents, Bateson declared: “Football needs a consistent and strategic approach right across the A-League and FFA have to facilitate this alongside fans groups, police and stadium security.

“We have to move on from this sort of ad-hoc reactionary stuff ... it’s just bulls***.

“We need a coherent strategy and framework for the policing of football that engages the key stakeholders. We need to work towards what’s been successful in Europe.”

Bateson stressed he was not seeking to undermine the gravity of flares being let off in grounds - a running sore with the Wanderers.

But he insisted that the many were being punished for the deeds of the few, and that a concerted campaign to sanitise football and strip it of its colour was eroding existing fan bases.

“We know there are some problems associated with a very small number,” he said. “Flares will never be accepted by the authorities here, Fans need to move on.

“The RBB’s greatest strengths are the banners, the songs, the colour, the intensity. They don’t need flares.

“Self regulation is what’s needed here. This punishment, though, isn’t a long-term solution. It’s just a band-aid, knee jerk reaction. We need an intelligent, sophisticated approach.

“It will in some ways only inflame things and turn even more people off.

“Who knows what pressure was applied by FFA (on the club), the police or whatever. I’m not privy to any of that.

“The point is the sanitisation of football has been going on for a while now, and it’s taking away from the atmosphere that provides a differentiation between football and other sports.”

Bateson and representatives from other fans groups met with FFA and FIFA as part of the recent visit of the world governing body to try and resolve the governance crisis gripping the code.

The fans - footballs largest stakeholder - are seeking a vote in an expanded Congress.

Atop Bateson’s agenda is addressing what supporters see as a tendency from police and stadium security, particularly in NSW and Victoria, to adopt an unnecessarily heavy-handed and provocative approach in their interactions with active fan groups.

“It’s almost an unwritten agenda to behave in a confrontational and intimidatory way towards supporters, even having riot police there (at games),” he said.

“That’s not the way forward because football has a unique culture, which needs to be taken into account.

“The policing of football is the great unresolved issue.

“Sadly FFA have not helped in bringing the stakeholders together in the form of fans, stadium security and police to get consistency across the A-League.

“Some of the application of stadium rules is archaic ... what people can and can’t do is quite pathetic and heavy-handed.”

Bateson is calling for the formation of an advisory council in collaboration with FFA to tackle the “clumsy and crude” policing of the game.

“I think that is essential ... we need to work more proactively and fans groups need to be an integral part of that,” he stressed.

Bateson said supporters should be viewed by FFA as an “equal partner”, rather than simply “a metric for marketing and selling products”.

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4 min read
Published 27 February 2018 at 5:18pm
By Dave Lewis