Australian soccer fans are a resilient lot.
Over the decades we’ve copped: administrators who gave us political infighting, financial crises and false dawns; media acolytes of other codes exaggerating crowd trouble while turning a blind eye when it happens in other sports (fake news is a new phenomenon you say?); and being treated with suspicion at matches thanks to security/police who seem to be sucked in by the myth of the soccer supporter, not the reality. I’ve said it before: we’re normal sports fans.
But despite everything we’re still around and we’ll remain. We’ve seen and experienced it all.
Or so I thought.
On Saturday night several Adelaide United fans experienced something new on social media: being trolled by … a stadium.
And not just any stadium, the one their team plays its home matches in.
I normally use its traditional name, Hindmarsh Stadium, but its Facebook and (dormant) Twitter account both use the name Coopers Stadium.
The build up to the social media circus began a few days earlier when Coopers Stadium – which is run by Adelaide Venue Management Corporation – announced “special stadium access and ticketing arrangements” for Saturday’s game against Melbourne Victory.
The normal arrangements are simple and haven’t changed for years. The western stand – the largest – is for season ticket holders with reserved seats (though it is possible to buy tickets for individual matches in that stand).
The less expensive season ticket, or individual match ticket, is general admission. GA fans can choose a spot anywhere in the northern, eastern or southern stands. There are two exceptions: a small part of the northern stand dedicated to the Red Army, United’s active supporters; and the section for the away team’s fans which is at the eastern end of the southern stand.
So United supporters that prefer to sit a long way from the visiting club’s area can easily do so.
The arrangement for the Melbourne Victory match, bizarrely, brought reserved seating to the southern stand and forbade GA ticket holders from entering it – they were only allowed access to the northern and eastern stands.
There was no explanation for this change from Coopers Stadium on its Facebook post; however, an email to season ticket holders sent by Adelaide United (which wasn’t responsible for the decision) noted that the club “must take guidance from the stadium on matters of security”.
Ah, security. That’s why Coopers Stadium decided who could enter the southern stand… and the circumstances in which they entered.
Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory matches at Hindmarsh are usually either sold out or close to full capacity. Why would simply shifting GA ticket holders out of the southern stand and replacing them with fans who bought a reserved seat affect security?
A question similar to that one was asked in a comment on the aforementioned Facebook post. Coopers Stadium’s answer was: “…there is a very simple one scentence [sic] explanation, but to detail in a public forum would not be sensible…”
On match day we found out a lot more about how “sensible” the stadium’s social media presence can be. In replying to a fan who was critical of the empty seats in the southern stand, Coopers Stadium posted a photo of the northern stand and commented: “Here’s the half empty northern stand. Only true believers have turned up.”
But Coopers wasn’t done yet. Another fan posted a photo of the underpopulated southern stand and sarcastically commented: “Great decision.”
This time the reply included the result of a quickly organised opinion poll of the missing supporters: “See the northern stand … AUFC fans have not turned up – simple as that and not unexpected given win-loss.”
Within two hours the Coopers Stadium comments about who had and hadn’t turned up were deleted. (As this was, to use its social media guru’s words, not unexpected, I’d already taken screenshots of them.)
You might be thinking that pointing all this out is a little harsh; that even though the operators of Coopers Stadium are responsible for their staff, those Facebook posts don’t necessarily reflect the attitude of the rest of the organisation.
But they are symptomatic of the underlying problem which I alluded to earlier: too many people involved in stadium management and security don’t understand soccer fans.
And they don’t understand us because they don’t talk to us.
If they did, they’d find that most supporters: are quite rational; realise that a few idiots turn up (and know how to avoid them); and could offer informed perspectives on providing effective security at games.
The Red Army, for example, is well organised and has office bearers. Getting in touch with them isn’t difficult.
A conversation with them or other fan groups about what they’ve experienced when they’ve travelled to interstate matches, and what works and doesn’t work, would give stadium operators a few insights.
Which might then ensure that farcical arrangements such as Saturday night’s and the relatively low attendance (and social media meltdown) that went with them can be avoided.
Coopers Stadium’s management has only one club playing regularly at their venue to profit from.
They need to get this right.
Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.
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