A fresh protest by fans in Australia's A-League football (soccer) competition against restrictions on their rights took place at Parramatta Stadium on March 2 in a match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Newcastle Jets.
The Red and Black Bloc (RBB), the “active support” group for the Wanderers sat still in their seats for the entire match in a 90-minute long “silent protest”.
The RBB has been widely praise for the atmosphere it brings to games. Veteran football commentator Les Murray tweeted from the game that the usually vibrant stadium was “eerily quiet”.
Murray gave a sense of the issues provoking the protest, tweeting: “The police and security presence here is vast overkill.”
When someone replied to Murray that it seemed “wogs” were not welcome (a reference to the multicultural makeup of Wanderers fans) due to “White men in suits scared of noise”, Murray responded: “The Wanderers were created for the fans and the people of Western Sydney. Not the FFA or the police.”
It was the latest protest in recent years against severe over-policing and restrictions on rights that football fans are subjected to by the Football Federation Australia.
The FFA, seemingly terrified of any bad publicity by the often-racist coverage of football by sections of the media, goes so far as to hire private security firm Hatamoto to spy on fans — at games and, according to the RBB, away from games too.
The FFA had already announced special restrictions on members of active support for the Wanderers and Melbourne Victory — citing use of flares by some people in the active support areas.
The fact that fans at other clubs have, before and after these restrictions, set off flares with no FFA action suggests there is more to the FFA's collective punishment than concerns over flare use.
Unfortunately, club management at Victory and the Wanderers have been only too happy to join in the FFA's campaign.
The RBB protest was provoked by a series of incidents that came to a head when the club sent all members an email slamming the RBB over flares lit in the RBB area during a February 26 Asian Champions League match at Parramatta.
The email announced a series of restrictions on the RBB, including banning various banners as well other "concessionary items", such as drums and trumpets, used as part of active support.
In a March 3 statement, the RBB strongly objected to what it said were false and misleading claims in the email, and to the collective punishments imposed.
The RBB had intended to only hold a 20 minute-long silent protest at the match, as it did in a similar protest last year. But before the match, RBB members faced with a new series of provocations by management.
These included security confiscating a large banner that read “Stand united, never divided” and extreme security measures imposed by dozens of riot police — done, a police officer said, at the “request of club and stadium officials”.
The statement said: “Random RBB members were unjustly targeted, evicted and subsequently served 12 month bans for trivial reasons such as swearing. Some members taken out for questioning had their mobile phones confiscated, and gone through by officers.”
In response, the RBB extended its protest for the entire 90 minutes.
The RBB's statement included a long list of grievances, including serious allegations of police brutality that the club had failed to act against, as well unfair bans and harassment of RBB members.
The colour and noise generated by the RBB has been a big factor in the Wanderers, who only formed in 2012, becoming a major success story — a fact recognised internationally.
The RBB statement said: “The club and A League use the RBB as a marketing tool to promote their brand to members and sponsors alike, in advertising and promotional material, but concurrently attempt to stifle the organic growth of the RBB and active support in general.”
The RBB statement pointed to the many hours of work put in by RBB members, noting: “This is all done for no financial gain, but for the passion and pride the RBB has for the team. Unlike the club, the team and supporters are our interest, not the bottom line.”
The Melbourne Victory North Terrace active support group has been holding season-long protests against similar attacks. It released its own statement in solidarity with the RBB, saying: “We may be rivals, but we are also people and fans first and foremost.
“The systematic oppression of Australian football fans must be fought. The FFA, Hatamoto, and respective police forces are all at fault.
“Stop unjust bans. Stop criminalising fans. Stop whoring us out for marketing purposes.