Crowd control

Overcrowding is not always a problem for A-League games.

Overcrowding is not always a problem for A-League games. A cheap-shot, we know, but…

Hysteria in reporting disturbances is common in many Australian media outlets. They draw upon the imagery and language of the bad old days of crowd violence in the UK.

Reality is often divorced from the tone of the reporting.

Recent media reports have suggested that there are plans to introduce an all-ticket, reserved seat policy for A-League games. What’s really happening?

Thin White Line spoke with Commander Rick Nugent of Victoria Police. He is in charge of Melbourne’s North West Metro Region and has responsibility for policing at sporting events at Docklands, the Rectangular Stadium and other major events venues.

The FFA’s end-of-season review will soon be held, including representatives from the A-League, A-League clubs, Victoria Police and stadium management. One of the issues being addressed is overcrowding.

“What we have seen at different times is an area that can seat, for example, 200 people, can end up having 500 people in that area,” said Commander Nugent. “This is largely because general admission can allow supporters to move anywhere around the stadium and sit wherever they want. If you have overcrowding in an area there is increased risk of harm if an emergency happens.”

Overcrowding is a sensitive issue for football supporters. It’s linked in many minds to disasters (and near-disasters) such as Hillsborough in UK football stadiums in decades past. The proposal for reserved seating in the A-League is far from finalised. Different options will be discussed as part of the review. Could tickets be issued for a bay, without specifying a seat?

“It’s not necessarily one ticket one seat, but it could be that if you buy a ticket to the stadium you’re buying for a particular area. It may be that people are free to sit in a particular area, or it may be that you have a reserved seat,” said Commander Nugent.

Reserved seating often leads to an increase in ticket prices – to the detriment of all supporters, including families. “[Pricing] is something that hasn’t been raised in our discussions as a blocker.  I’m happy to note that and to have some discussion around that.”

Concerns remain among supporters that A-League matches attract an unduly high level of police attention.

“We know we have more police at A-League games than NRL games, for example, just because of behaviour over the seasons and increased risk of inappropriate behaviour by some fans. If we had flares and these sorts of issues at NRL games we would increase the numbers of police at those games,” said Commander Nugent.

Over the past 12 months Victoria Police has observed an improvement in spectator behaviour compared to previous A-League seasons. “We’ve probably arrested, charged or processed more people this year, but we’ve made a significant effort to improve the conduct at games so that the code grows.”

Thin White Line understands that there will be no voice of supporters at the FFA end-of-season review.