What started as a typical media attack on football fans swiftly escalated into conflict between supporters and the Football Federation Australia.
The names and photos of 198 A-League fans who had been banned from attending matches were published in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper. This is not the first time that mainstream Australian media has attacked football followers, but this was the first time that the privacy of fans was breached.
Supporters can be banned from attending A-League matches on the scantiest evidence and without any right to appeal. Some of those whose names were published were under 18 at the time of the supposed offences.
The FFA’s response was appalling. First it did nothing. Then it released a limp one paragraph media statement. It didn’t stick up for the fans.
The article and the FFA’s pathetic response provided a rallying point for fans, who renewed calls for an appropriate appeals process for banned individuals.
The FFA uses a firm called Hatamoto to gather evidence against football goers. Some of that evidence is gleaned by undercover operatives. Any fan who is banned is forbidden access to the evidence gathered by these undercover agents, supposedly to protect the identity and safety of these personnel.
Sound bizarre? It is.
So it was that the weekend following the publication of the Sunday Telegraph article, active supporter groups – including Melbourne Victory’s North Terrace and Western Sydney Wanderers’ Red and Black Bloc – staged walk-outs at the 30 minute mark of their matches.
Media pressure intensified on the FFA to introduce a fair appeals process for fans. The FFA refused to budge.
After a week of PR failures, the FFA announced that it would implement such a process…in February 2016. This should have marked the end of the controversy. Far from it. The FFA made a dog’s breakfast of its attempts to reconcile with supporters who organised a boycott of the following weekend’s round of A-League matches.
The boycott punched a massive hole in match-day attendances. Television cameras panned across empty stands.
Following the boycott, a meeting was organised between supporter groups and senior FFA officials. The meeting’s location and proceedings were secret, with social media speculating at length over everything from the nature of discussions to what sort of biscuits were served.
Supporter groups were satisfied enough with the outcome of the talks to lift the boycotts. A transparent appeals process, along with a commitment to review any current bans, are steps in the right direction by the FFA.
The FFA has at least learned one lesson – how to respond to ridiculous anti-football articles published in the Sunday Telegraph.