Radical nationalism and uniting the football pyramid
The following is a conversation in purely sporting terms. My allegiances are to football in this country and nothing else. I understand and respect the nuance of such a conversation being put forward. I am not attempting to target any set community with bias or bigotry.
Upon one of Australian football's most important days, the Australia Cup Final, fans had witnessed and experienced a controversial, mostly vile set of events at the outset of the night's action at Commbank Stadium on Saturday night.
Fascistic salutes akin to those embraced by ultra-nationalist movements were seen. Chants with links to far-right fringes were heard, alongside racially motivated chanting towards players.
Whether we like it or not, these actions have brought about an extremely dark side to Australia's otherwise inclusive game. It is not the fault of any set organisation's collective mindset but a minority. A minority that may yet still strongly exist in Australian football through systemic and delicate issues.
The club in question had an example to set. This example was how ethnically rooted clubs in this country can be represented on football's grandest stage and how they ultimately failed in proving a united front for Australian football.
With that in mind, it is vital to have the facts straight and discuss how disappointed the wider community are in light of these events: no generalisations and no targeted hate speech.
The passion of fans at the local level within the Australian game, primarily by ethnic minorities, is admired and always will be. But the introduction of a national cup competition and the controversial National Club Identity Policy proved that Australian football could not succeed with the ethnic populous being the face of the game.
Ultimately, the ruling was undone and proven to be of little use. Particularly regarding the radical sentiment adorned by migrant and nationalistic communities who have had links with radical politics arguably enshrined for years, if not decades, prior.
It is here that the wider football public must apply nuance and an open mind. I understand that nationalistic sentiment is at the forefront of the minds of a lot of Australia's football supporters. But by equal measure, their contribution to football in this country is why it was able to be so cherished and heralded in its professional era.
So the question has to be asked; do the ends justify the means? Should Australian football reach its highest of highs, can it delicately balance this growth whilst simultaneously addressing fan behaviour and radical sentiment?
In addressing this behaviour, I want to ask how the fans feel about the rise of their game. How much do the fans' behaviour and sentiment reign supreme? Is it overblown, and can the game move forward in a united fashion, knowing what the cost might be?
Sydney United 58 supporters during the 2020 NPL NSW season. (FTBL)
I have reached out to two supporters of famous ethnic clubs, South Melbourne Hellas and Sydney Croatia (now known as South Melbourne FC and Sydney United 58, respectively).
I want to discuss their views on taking clubs such as theirs to the upper echelons of the Australian game. Also, James Johnson's proposal of a National Second Division being organised with the ongoing, on-field success of the ethnically enfranchised clubs that encompass their wider pyramid.
Firstly I spoke with a South Melbourne member who participates in its active support. This group are known for proudly waving the Greek flag and showing its heritage as the cornerstone of the club's success.
Notably, however, this individual is not a Greek native, highlighting the levels of inclusivity that such clubs have taken in recent years.
I asked him if NPL clubs that maintain an ethnic persona have an issue with the radical sentiment and whether this aspect tarnishes the NSD discussion.
"So this depends on what we consider an 'ethnic club'; if we mean clubs with a heritage established by various migrant communities, not at all! Their roots belong to particular communities, and their future belongs to all who want to play a part in the football community," he said.
In regards to the game uniting, he made a significant point here. He concedes that should the sport and these clubs belong to the unified Australian football community, certain migrant stories may be lost.
"Let's not forget that every state in Australia has hundreds of clubs with roots of very particular migrant stories. These stories go forgotten because football belongs to all who wish to share in it," he added.
However, admitting the complexity of the conversation, he progressed further, discussing radical nationalism.
"If in referring to the ethnic clubs we mean those who are ethnically exclusive and live a deluded fantasy, their xenophobia will likely and justifiably struggle," he said.
I have also attained a statement from a fan of Sydney United 58, who will, likewise, remain anonymous.
"To me, it is clear that there is a fascist element to our supporters; there has been for years. In saying that, the overwhelming majority, about 95%, had no interest in this kind of thing," he said.
"Ultimately, this is all it takes to ruin a great night and a historic occasion for Australian football. If we want to be in a National Second Division, we need to do something about it."
With this condemnation, the systemic issues and broader conversation are apparent, as had become acknowledged by the authorities in the days following.
Football Australia released a statement on the actions. They declared that whilst they are thankful for the record numbers and a successful cup campaign, the overarching sentiment does not align with the values of the community. Moreover, the actions of a few should not vilify an entire legion of fans.
"We celebrate that football is embedded in the nation's social fabric, and it follows the diverse story of Australia," the statement read.
"Football is for all, where there is absolutely no place for anti-social behaviour in our game or the community at large. Football Australia will not let the actions of a few cast a shadow over our great game, which is loved by millions across Australia."
As a wider football community, we can only hope that a more open address is taken through the ongoing internal investigation. Hopefully, the conversation stays at the forefront of many minds within the game.
After all, as one community, we cannot unite without action. For a united game, we must do precisely that. Unite.