Safe pyro only a first step to winning back disenchanted A-League fans

A-League crowds are dwindling. Picture: Nathan John

By JOEL MURUGIAH

With A-League crowds at a six-year low, football’s governing body in Australia will look to re-engage active supporters in providing for safe pyrotechnic displays, but followers of the game say it may not be enough.

President of Adelaide United fan club Red Army Jason Cavey said fans had been tuning out of the game in recent times despite active supporters enjoying the atmosphere on match days.

“Crowds have definitely dropped off. It all seemed to peak in 2016 with [the A-League] doing well and getting good crowds,” he said.

“Nothing better than a big game at Hindmarsh. The anticipation, passion, noise. Standing behind the goals with the Red Army, wouldn’t do it any different.”

However, Mr Cavey said Football Federation Australia’s micromanagement of the game had led to supporters’ disengagement.

“I think the competition has grown stale. Playing multiple teams at home in the same season is growing tiresome. There is definitely an effort from FFA to sanitise the game day atmosphere and make it more family-friendly.”

Associate Professor Jorge Knijnik of Western Sydney University agreed that A-League fans had become disengaged from the game.

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Melbourne Victory fans celebrate a goal by letting off a flare in a packed ground in 2006.

“If you follow the games, you can see the atmosphere is not the same any more. People are turning away; they boycott and they walk away,” he said.

“It looks like the A-League is aware of it, the numbers at the stadiums and the numbers of TV audiences have been shrinking a lot.”

Fairfax reported this month that the FFA was looking to boost matchday atmosphere by supplying active supporter groups with legal pyrotechnics.

Assoc/Prof Knijnik said it was a good measure to revive active supporter culture in Australia.

“I think if they go through with this idea, it will be a great acknowledgement of the fans’ culture, it will be very welcoming,” he said.

However, Mr Cavey said the soccer clubs should be the decision-makers in active support.

“Adelaide United should have the final say on tifos, banners and so on. The FFA don’t need to be involved in that. It’s a complete waste of time and resources.”

Encouraging active supporter culture in the country is important as it attracts fans and creates a positive image for the Australian game around the world.

“You can go with your family and sit with the active supporters and you’ll be alright. No violence, no big fights,” Assoc/Prof Knijnik said.

“They want to not only be part of the show, they want to promote the show. That’s what the active supporters are doing. Labelling people as troublemakers and suppressing and banning them won’t help.”