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Dear Ben, we need to talk…

Me and some of my heroes.

Hi Ben,

You don’t know me, although I did try to introduce myself to you this afternoon. I was one of those waiting on hold until you eventually ran out of time to speak during your show this afternoon. It’s a pity, because I really thought I could have added some thoughtful and eloquent insights to your discussion. You see, I’m involved a bit in the media myself.

Me doing what I do best.

Me doing what I do best.

I write one of the most popular regular columns in the Sydney electronic media – not a “mere blog site” like From The Stands, but a ridgey-didge major media player. It’s called “The Happy Wanderer”. Despite being solely football-related and focussed just on the Western Sydney Wanderers, it has hit the Top Ten most-viewed sections of the whole of the Telegraph’s multimedia empire. It’s also the most popular on the entire NewsLocal network. I’m an award-winning photographer too.

Oh, and I’m the acting Public Information Officer for the Western Sydney Wanderers Supporters Group, Inc. (I mentioned this when I called in to say hello)

I’ve been to every Wanderers home game and several of their away games, and I’ve been in and around every single part of Wanderland at Parramatta on game days, as well as every home W-League and Youth League game. I don’t say this to big myself up, but to give you some insight that I know what I’m talking about.

I think we need to talk. Seriously. And I’m happy to either come in to your studio, or link up via telephone. Let me know, you’ve got my number. My time is your time.

But while I’m at it, I thought I’d put down in writing some of my thoughts, to share with you and anyone else who might be interested.

Your interview with the disembodied voice of the “North Gate” bloke was, to say the least, enlightening.

In all of my involvement with the club, the fans – including both the core and fringes of the RBB – and other supporters, it was the first I’d heard of this self-proclaimed group of “ultras”. I have to say my first reaction was that he’d been watching a little bit too much Green Street Hooligans and that this fantasy was starting to merge with an alternate reality.

His use of language, of certain words, left me puzzled. For example: It’s not very often an A-League game is played at the Adelaide Oval, as Hindmarsh Stadium is where Adelaide United play all their home games. There have only been four (4) games played at Adelaide Oval, the most recent in February 2011. For someone who claims to travel to a lot of A-League games, that’s a bit of a rookie error. If you watch the games each week, as millions have done this season, you’d also know the difference.

The curiously juvenile practice of stealing the opposition supporters’ flags, then taking photos of them upside down? I laughed. Supposedly “hard-crore ultras” have far better things to do with their time, and far more nefarious intentions, that smiting their opponents in such an idiotic way.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d suspect either he made the whole thing up, or he was a deliberate plant.

In the ensuing discussions, you also allowed a few misnomers, half-truths and outright fabrications to be aired which, sadly, I didn’t get an opportunity to repudiate. Let me give you some feedback – but in no particular order.

The RBB Silent Protest.

This was not in protest to the banning of Wanderers supporters. It was in response to the lack of any hearing or appeals processes for the allegations and subsequent bans.It also sought to highlight some of the underhanded and bordering-on-illegal tactics being used by the organisation that has been retained to ‘provide risk management’ for football and other events.

It wasn’t just the RBB involved either – almost the entire stadium joined in, as this has had an impact on more than just RBB & Active Supporters.

During the protest, nobody turned their back on the game. Everyone was watching, facing the pitch. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the TV footage. Wanderers supporters never, ever turn their back on the team or players.

If you’d had an actual Wanderers supporter to speak to, you’d know that.

Typical Wanderers supporters

Typical Wanderers supporters

The so-called “Newcastle Incident” & related allegations

There was never an incident in the carpark after the Jets v Wanderers game involving 50 or 60 Wanderers supporters surrounding and bashing a Newcastle fan in front of his child. There was a minor altercation between two people in the carpark. Nobody was bashed, nobody was arrested, nobody required medical attention.

If there had been, the professional photographer who witnessed the altercation would have plenty of photos – oh and the Police would have reported it too. All they did report was 3 arrests – not bad for a crowd of 22,500-odd – and far less than the usual number at my local ARL matches. A tenth of one percent making trouble is not indicative of “a problem with hooligans and rogue elements”. A little perspective please.

Wanderers Fans

Wanderers Fans

I marched in the RBB march. With my 70-year-old Dad and both of my teenage sons. We were surrounded by families, pensioners, little children, teenagers, middle-aged men and women of all colours. When we arrived at the stadium, our bags were checked and so were our tickets. Nobody was cheering about “getting in for free” We all had tickets – nearly 10,000 of us – because we didn’t want to miss out getting seats together. If you don’t have a ticket, you don’t front up to the gate and try to wriggle your way in.

During the game, I only saw one incident that involved the Police – a single Jets supporter who’d had a few too many was led away for a ride to the lockup’s drunk tank – and not for bunging on aggro at Wanderers fans. The Newcastle cops arrest more people at McDonalds on a typical Friday or Saturday night than they did at Hunter Stadium.

In fact, the rapport between the fans was amazing. Jets supporters thanked us for coming. They lined the exit and applauded us, thanking us for bringing our theatre of colour, movement and sound to their stadium, inviting us to come back next season. It was the same for the local residents as we were leaving. They loved the experience and said so on local radio and in local newspapers – as well as on social media.

It was a great family atmosphere. Have a look at my hundreds of photos.

Finally, your caller carrying on about Wanderers supporters, stuck in a traffic jam, getting out and dancing around with alcohol… Does he actually know that’s what they were drinking? The ones I saw with cans in their hands had beer – ginger beer.

The Sydney Derby

There was a small incident on Church Street before the Derby. A couple of Wanderers fans offered some advice to a Sydney FC fan. The Sydney FC fan returned the favour and added a bit of colourful language. A bit of shouting and puffing out of chests, and a plate and a cup got broken before cooler heads prevailed. Sounds a bit like Saturday night dinner at my Uncle’s place.

I know this because I was there. I saw it.

Coming to a street near you! Pic by @efcso

Coming to a street near you! Pic by @efcso

The broader question was, though, why did it happen? It happened because the Police refused to listen to the requests of the march organisers. For weeks the supporters’ groups have been requesting the Police to close Church Street for the march – especially given there were over 2,000 people marching – for 5 minutes or so to allow the march to walk down the street rather than on the footpath, as not to inconvenience diners or cause obstruction to local businesses. This included filling out and submitting the appropriate paperwork to hold an assembly and request a partial or complete street closure for the short duration of the march.

But no. The written requests were refused. The marchers were forced onto the footpath by the Police. Not only did that bring them into close proximity to a couple of opposition fans, but also created a crush of people through narrow spaces. Had this simple request been allowed, there wouldn’t have been any incidents at all.

As for the Channel 9 reporter – this was a deliberate act by Channel 9 News to create an incident. Channel 9’s news & camera crews had been advised that, given their previous bastardisation of football and Wanderers fans in particular, they would not be welcome at the hotel where the fans gather prior to the march. Nobody would want to speak to them and they would probably not get a pleasant reception.

All totally deserved too. Their portrayal of football, of football fans, has been grubby.

But they decided to go ahead and see what they could do by sticking a broomhandle into a hornet’s nest.

Contrast this with the other Channel 9 crew that was covering the march and the fans. What’s that? You didn’t know there was a second crew there? Of course not, because they were discrete, respectful, and stayed away from the assembly area as they’d been advised. They got great comments and good footage of happy fans – from both teams – enjoying the theatre that was playing out – and didn’t deliberately antagonise anyone.

Two thumbs up! Pic by @efcso

Two thumbs up! Pic by @efcso

If you missed the footage, it aired as part of a special on Wide World of Sports the following morning. Being the helpful chap I am, I saved the link – you can view it here. And yes, that’s me being interviewed on camera – a Wanderers Supporter to my very core.

The REAL side of football fans.

If you want to know what these people you demonise as “hooligans” are really all about – read two articles.

The first is about the Active Supporters of the Western Sydney Wanderers – the RBB – and what these supposedly drunken, anti-social hoodlums actually do.

Then there is another about what a typical Wanderers supporter does with a spare ticket to the biggest game of the regular season.

These, Ben, are real football fans. Maybe you should try talking to a few of us. Hell, come to a game. You can sit in the stands with my sons and I and maybe you’ll understand what it’s all about. You never know – you might even enjoy yourself.

You’ve got my number. Give me a call. Let’s talk, Ben. We need to talk.

P.S. All the photos on this page are mine.

A happy place

A happy place

About Eric Berry (12 Articles)
Eric Berry is a middle-aged, award-winning photographer, aspiring team manager, football writer and former fireman who regularly expresses his passion for The Beautiful Game. An evangelist for women's football and the Western Sydney Wanderers, popular in media circles everywhere and has the worst fashion sense (i.e. none) of all the From The Stands team.
  • andyflemo

    I like it. Glad you bought up the point of the Newcastle bashing. It was at that point I realized that guy had no idea and was just pissed off with someone.

  • srsen

    Another great article mate!! The only prob with it – who is Ben and what was the article in relation to? I missed something obviously.

    Keep up the great work!!

  • Cudareli

    Got tingles reading that. Top read.

  • Josh

    Loved every word of it…

    Only one thing, the RBB turn their backs on the game every match. 80th minute = Poznan. 😉

  • Callum

    Srsen,

    Ben is Ben Fordham, who hosted the call on 2GB this afternoon, with the so called a-league “fanatic”.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, Eric.

    In terms of the Channel 9 and Erin Molan accusations made by Danny Weidler on SMH, I’d like to add that I have over a dozen witnesses (both women and men) who state Molan said to a male fan, “you’re a dickhead mate, a dickhead” after he repeatedly told the entire news crew to leave. Why did he do it? Because no fans wanted to speak to Channel 9, and despite this, Molan kept pestering those in WSW colours for responses. Funny Weidler didn’t cover this in his piece. The situation never escalated, the cameramen never spoke or stepped in, indicating that nothing actually went on that would threaten any individual.

  • Alex

    Brilliant piece. Just wanting to clarify one thing.
    “Wanderers supporters never, ever turn their back on the team or players.”
    What about the Poznan?

  • Nick

    Well thought out reply. As a fellow Wanderer glad you took the time to articulate the truth.

  • Check your facts!

    “The curiously juvenile practice of stealing the opposition supporters’ flags, then taking photos of them upside down? I laughed. Supposedly “hard-crore ultras” have far better things to do with their time, and far more nefarious intentions, that smiting their opponents in such an idiotic way.”

    You might want to check this out Eric!
    It happens.
    Have alook at terrace culture Australia on Facebook to see for yourself.

    • I didn’t say it doesn’t happen.

      I did say it’s juvenile and that most have far better things to do with their time.

  • Kents

    To the guys talking about us turning our back on our team during the Poznan. I’m pretty sure what Eric is talking about is, turning our backs on our team in protest or in disgust. Yes he is right we will NEVER turn our backs on OUR team. I think you guys are smart enough to work it out.

  • I sing for Wanderers!

    Eric, well written reply. I am glad that someone is taking the time to tell 2GB about the garbage they spread on air. All I have ever heard from the people who listen to 2GB is how a bunch of red necks encouraging hate and disunity amongst different groups of people in Australia. If the announcers had Arabic names, they would have been already in Jail under laws the stops people inciting violence and hate!
    But that’s what you get listing to people who are waste of space!
    I have been to all home games and a number of away games… ! I was there in Newcastle with my wife and 2 kids (under 10) and all I saw was a drunken Jets supporter being stupid. We were fully kitted with the WSW gear and this guy didn’t even say boo to us… We were there almost 2 hours before the kick off and left the venue at approximately 10:40pm and didn’t see anything else…
    Eric keep up the great job!!

  • Newcastle Jets fan

    Isn’t ‘Ben’ the son of Andrew and Matthew Johns’ old manager?
    You know the Johns’, one admitted taking drugs during his career and the other admitted adultery.
    Of course old Fordo wouldn’t have known a thing bout that would he? No one in the media ever knew anything about those Johns boys’ after hours behavior.
    Just glad old Benny Boy has his NRL, Cricket etc where there are never any issues with spectators (or players).
    RBB and all WSW fans are welcome back in Newy anytime. Good luck in the finals.