A strong crowd of 4893 was in attendance on Monday night for Macarthur vs Wellington at Campbelltown. Photo Credit: Poletti/The Inner Sanctum

A weekend that should have been a great display of enticing match-ups and two of the biggest derbies the league produces has instead been overshadowed by a much bigger issue plaguing the league and its fans.

Whilst the exciting lineup of games in the A-League Men’s competition should have been the focal point of this past weekend, the headlines are instead littered with recounts of multiple examples of over-policing and hyper-vigilance from security that has put fans on edge all around the country.

It began with a relatively tame banner shown by The Bullpen, Macarthur FC’s active supporter group, showing the line ‘passion is not a crime’ at their game against Melbourne City on Friday night.

This came in response to facing heat after the fence collapsed in the celebration of a goal in their AFC Cup Zonal Final against the Central Coast Mariners. After unfurling the banner, it was promptly taken away by security and the fans were unable to get their intended message across.

Similar issues with a banner were seen the Sydney Derby on Saturday night, where fans and especially Western Sydney Wanderers fans were met with an amount of armour-cladded police that would not have looked out of place at a politically-charged anti-war rally, however there was merely a football match taking place.

After displaying their TIFO ahead of the highly anticipated derby with Sydney FC, members of the RBB upon attempting to re-enter their active section of allocated seats were denied by the thick blockade of police. Footage was taken of the scuffle that ensued, however it is unclear how the incident began initially.

A walkout was initiated by the RBB in protest of these altercations, which saw the RBB’s active bay sit empty from the 10th minute onward in one of their biggest games of the season.

A similar walkout was led by Brisbane Roar’s active supporter group The Den in the 25th minute of their match against Melbourne Victory on Sunday night after facing a heavy police presence as they made their way to the game in their standard pre-game march.

These reports of heavy-handed tactics from police and security have stoked the fire for football fans, bringing back feelings that have been pushed down deep in order to crack on and support the teams they love, but if allowed to resurface, could mean another wave of walkouts and boycotts as we have seen in the past.

The league as a whole, not the administrators or fans necessarily but the entire ecosystem, seems to have an innate ability to shoot itself in the foot just as things are looking up.

Eyes on the league were rising, the quality of the football has arguably never been better, yet growth simply seems impossible and it is as though the A-League Men’s competition cannot string one season together without stumbling and losing momentum at a record-level pace each time.

One of the biggest sources of fuel being poured onto the proverbial fire that is the delicate footballing atmosphere in this country is contained in a jerrycan, and it is being held by the mainstream media.

They hold the power of attention of the public as the first point of contact for many people regarding breaking news in the sports landscape and beyond, and can shape the early opinions of their readers and viewers with more ease than they realise.

There have been multiple examples in the past of the outlets instantly jumping onto stories of ‘sokkah hooliganism’ for easy clicks, and we have witnessed this again with the latest round of incidents from this past weekend.

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The relationship between football and the media is fickle and deeply political; one that involves a myriad of factors ranging from broadcast licensing deals with opposing sports, to the agendas of those within the organisations.

It seems as though football headlines only surface in the mainstream media when there is an opportunity for easy points scoring and feeding engagement bait to a viewer base who are primed and all-too-quick to jump on the side of an anti-footballing agenda.

The only time football is covered by the big outlets in a positive sense is when a narrative becomes too big to ignore, as we witnessed with the Matildas and the Women’s World Cup that took place last year in Australia.

There is a constant battle between the media and football that seems unrelenting, with a few individuals in privileged positions doing a lot of the heavy-lifting but also dealing with the burden of being the mouthpiece for fans.

Commentator and broadcaster Simon Hill is the best example of this, constantly having to defend the sport in the spotlight, but the onus should not be on the handful of journalists and broadcasters that truly have the game’s best interest at heart to be the arbiters and protectors of our maligned sport.

The solution is obviously easier spoken about than actualised, but the current relationship and culture of football in the Australian landscape needs to change as it does not have a viable existence trying to survive as an ‘us-against-them’ conflict that is seemingly endless.

The media plays a part in the aftermath of incidents in the A-League, however it is the policing and security presence at games that has stirred up tension and created a hostile environment for many fans who simply want to watch their team week-in week-out and wish for a more family-friendly experience.

Active support groups and fans who are engrossed in the culture and identity of their teams are the backbone of any sporting league anywhere around the world, and the decisions made by administrators are constantly at odds with this ethos.

Scott Hudson, the CEO of the Western Sydney Wanderers, put out a passionate statement backing the fan base, calling for the bans of six fans to be overturned. He also confirmed that the banner which seemed to be the cause of much of the turmoil that unfolded was indeed authorised prior to the match, which is contrary to what was reported

This is a positive sign as it is one of the first cases of a clear and full backing of the fans by an representative inside the game, however it is in stark contrast to the feeble statement put out by Nick Garcia, the A-Leagues commissioner, which asked fans to toe the line and accept the events that transpired over the weekend without much support beyond that.

There was an opportunity for the APL to come out strong and reinforce the relationship with fans, but unfortunately there has not been a track record of this. Looking back at the events of 2015 especially as a pivotal moment in the Australian footballing ecosystem.

Fans deserve better than to be treated with hostility for following their teams, and the APL could do well in realising that the league is built on these communities of people who attend so passionately every week. As Simon Hill has had to vocalise on too many occasions, “Football without fans is nothing.”

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