The Western Sydney Wanderers will begin their A-League campaign in less than a fortnight with the club, its supporters and police on a major collision course.
The dramatic situation threatens to overshadow the opening round match against Brisbane Roar at Pirtek Stadium in Parramatta.
Since the end of last season, the Wanderers have attempted to mediate the relationship between NSW Police and the club’s active supporter group, the Red and Black Bloc (RBB).
It follows crowd behaviour issues in recent years that have often overshadowed the RBB’s passion for the Wanderers.
But it appears those talks have broken down, with the RBB saying it has been given a list of restrictions by police that it will not accept.
According to the RBB, some of those restrictions include banning pre-match marches, the removal of banners and flags, zero tolerance for swearing including in any chants, no standing on seats or in aisles and OSG police to continue to be used in the northern stand with a small presence of uniformed police.
Police will also ask anyone using the megaphone in the RBB to meet with them prior to each match and there that be no “jumping or side by side movement” allowed by members of the RBB.
On face value the restrictions seem over the top but police are clearly concerned that there could be incidents throughout the upcoming A-League season.
Fan behaviour at sporting matches is in the spotlight after a number of recent incidents at rugby league and AFL matches, which have been highly publicised.
However, Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas is not happy with the level of restrictions set to be placed on Wanderers fans.
“While the Club will never tolerate flares or any form of anti-social behaviour, the Club has opposed the severity of the proposals and what we believe is excessive and we feel compromises the enjoyable football experience,” he said.
“Notwithstanding this we at all times maintain that Pirtek Stadium is to be a safe and family friendly environment.
“The integral elements of active support will not be compromised and we will do everything within our means to ensure that the atmosphere of the Wanderers that we have come to know and love remains central to our purpose.”
Part of the problem for the RBB is that while they provide an enormous atmosphere at A-League matches, mixed messages are often sent via their official social media pages.
Earlier this month, they posted photos like the below – as a result it is no surprise that police are concerned about possible incidents at matches.
The RBB Facebook page also features pictures of both adults and children with their faces covered using balaclavas, as part of a campaign to sell merchandise.
However, it is likely that the RBB will garner strong support in the lead-up to the season given the level of restrictions they’ve been asked to follow. While opinions have been split through the sporting community in recent years, it appears support is shifting strongly to the RBB.
It also appears they have the support of Football Federation Australia (FFA)
“FFA supports Western Sydney Wanderers’ strenuous efforts to make sure the integral elements of active support will not be compromised,” the code’s governing body said in a statement.
“The unique atmosphere created by fans is what makes the Hyundai A-League special. FFA will work with all clubs to ensure the passion of fans can flourish within a safe and enjoyable environment.”
The Wanderers’ season-opening match against Brisbane will kick off at 8pm on Thursday, October 8.
– Troy Dodds