On flares

Some flares were ripped at Melbourne Victory vs Western Sydney Wanderers this evening. The flares most visible on the television coverage were those let off in the away section.

This has inspired the pro- and anti-flares brigades to take to Twitter for the usual tedious debate about the merits of flares in football.

The argument against flares is clear: flares can injure other people, flares can damage facilities, they interrupt the game, smoke from flares create visibility problems for other fans, and smoke from flares can be harmful to others (in particular asthma sufferers). Oh, and they’re designed to be used in different circumstances to a crowded football stadium.

The argument for flares is that they add to the visual spectacular of a football match.

The deeper issue is really about football supporter culture.

What is Australia’s football supporter culture? Does it include flares?

Let’s look abroad for a moment. In the MLS, Orlando City promotes the use of smoke bombs for its recognised supporter groups … but not for everyone. Oh well. When its supporters went on the road, other clubs and the local police weren’t so receptive of smoke bombs.

Copa90 has reported on the Norwegian club that has embraced flares. There’s an admission that the quality of football is terrible, and that without flares there would be no match-day spectacle.

Returning to Australia, the current situation is that flares are a trigger for anti-football coverage in some sections of the mainstream media. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not there’s a place for flares in Australian football fan culture.

There’s no homogenous Australian football fan culture. Looking just at the Melbourne Victory supporter groups, there are very different supporter cultures within the one stadium. The North Terrace, capo-led, with a set songbook, and a propensity for pyrotechnics. The South End, on the other hand, is focused more on spontaneity and beer. Then there are the huge numbers of families that populate the wings at Melbourne Victory home games.

Looking around the A-League and the various State-level competitions, there’s no fixed Australian fan culture. This makes it difficult to argue definitively that flares either are or aren’t a part of Australian fan culture.

Unfortunately for flare fans, the arguments against flares are, for the time being, stronger than the arguments in favour of flares. Safety trumps spectacle every time. The A-League could look at introducing safe alternatives (such as has been done in the MLS), but how long would it take, and how many focus groups would get involved? And in the end, would fans accept a compromise in the form of, say, smoke bombs?

Previously, we’ve suggested that the A-League should hold “designated flare matches”, staged on floating platforms in the ocean where supporters can let off flares to their hearts’ content.

An alternative would be to set up Docklands Stadium like the Colosseum: flood the playing surface, send out some boats, let them them battle each other, and then let off flares from the boats. Sure, there’d be no football match involved, but bloody hell, we could let off some serious flares!

Photo by Tom Griffiths.