Alarm bells ringing for AFL on crowd violence

Police keep an eye on things at the MCG. Photo: Getty
Police keep an eye on things at the MCG. Photo: Getty

ONE of the most obvious magics about Australian rules football, for a young Scottish kid in Australia, was the lack of crowd trouble.

I was confused on my first trip to Subiaco Oval to watch the Eagles, wondering where the ‘ends’ were and why I was sitting just a couple of metres away from a group of ardent, and ultimately downbeat, Richmond supporters.

The beautiful thing about footy is there are no ends, and no need to segregate supporters.

Even during the most intense heat of a Western Derby, you’ll find a die-hard Docker in the heart of the Eagles members (and vice versa), having blagged a ticket from a friend or the resale, screaming his or her heart out with no fear of assault.

Contrast this with the sectarianism that runs rife in Glasgow and other European cities during a big derby.

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Rangers fans during the Scottish Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, Scotland. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

In Scotland, police like Old Firm games to kick off at 12.30pm, to limit the amount of time supporters can spend at surrounding watering holes.

Around Australia, you’ll find games starting post 7pm on a Friday and Saturday night, plus a twilight game on a Sunday.

In Scotland this is not an option, lest police find themselves cleaning up a scene that resembles and episode of Game of Thrones.

But there are signs that footy is changing.

Increasingly we read reports of violence at games, meaning the AFL may need to look at scheduling and limiting the sale of alcohol at venues.

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In September 2015, troubling vision emerged of a supporter hitting a woman at Subiaco.

So far this season there have been several reports of violence before and after matches, including a young disabled man being struck at a game between Hawthorn and Melbourne.

In an open letter to the AFL’s integrity unit, Melbourne mother Lee Quinlan said she would never attend another match after taking her family to the Mother’s Day game between North Melbourne and Geelong.

“Before quarter-time in this match, our seven-year-old son was in tears and asking to leave as he felt scared by the behaviour surrounding him,” she wrote.

“Not a security guard or policeman in sight.”

Are people more angry now? Is there too much access to alcohol within stadia?

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Should games be limited to 2pm on a Saturday, like they used to be, and to hell with what the TV stations want?

The times they are-a changing, it seems.

And it would be a shame if the AFL was to lose one of the most wonderful things it has going for it.