Crossing the line

The recent controversy surrounding ground control at AFL matches in Melbourne had me reflecting on experiences in the standing room terrace at Kardinia Park and, in particular, on an incident earlier this season when Geelong played GWS.


It involved a boy, about 10 or 11 years old, who had taken up a position at the fence – as children have done at the footy for well over 100 years. He wanted a better view of proceedings and standing back among the adults would, at best, only allow him passages of play glimpsed between shifting bigger bodies.


He had the last available stretch of fence next to an aisle. The latter is part of the standing terrace, but was demarked in recent years by yellow paint, a border which security staff have become increasingly strict about policing. The measurements were applied by rote, however, and in this case the fence extended beyond the paint.


It was, as they say, a perfect day for football, and the boy had plenty to cheer about on the field, but nearing quarter-time a security attendant approached wanting him to move because his left foot occupied territory on the aisle side of the yellow line.


The attendant was insistent, so the boy acquiesced disappointedly, without voicing objection, and moved back to stand near his grandfather, who was equally nonplussed.


The attendant then proceeded to instruct a bemused female patron to collect the empty plastic beer cups that had slipped under the fence in front of her, something security staff wouldn’t traditionally concern themselves with – not that security at Aussie Rules matches is traditional.


By the third quarter, sufficient time had passed for us to suggest it was safe for the boy to return to his spot at the fence. Hopefully, the attendant, if he was new to the job, realised by now he’d been overzealous.


The boy, though, wasn’t entirely comfortable, repeatedly glancing behind for approaching security staff, or raising his left leg or resting it on his right calf so it was no longer offending the yellow line demarcations. It was hard not to see an amusing side.


Thoughts of a reprieve evaporated when the security attendant returned unreformed and asked the boy to relocate again.


In an attempt to resolve the matter, I advised the attendant, in an aside more Hawke than Gandhi, “Don’t worry about it, mate.” (Had I been wearing a Geelong scarf, I would’ve offered it up as a conciliatory gesture.)


The attendant eventually allowed the boy to stay put but pointed with an angst-ridden grimace to the recalcitrant leg straddling the wrong side of the yellow line before departing up the terrace.


It was an odd exchange, but what did I know about his background, his experiences, or what he might deem acceptable behaviour?


The attendant was of African origin, which I mention because security staff ethnicity later became part of the ground control issue. His background could also be one of the reasons fans didn’t complain about his officiousness: a protest might be misconstrued, he’s possibly unfamiliar with protocol, etc. Then again, maybe we’re also just more compliant citizens now.


This was a minor encounter with officialdom but it distracted me from the match. (The Cats also became distracted and lost their way. Was there a vibe in the air? Though, GWS had our measure for a good part of the contest that the final score didn’t reflect. I digress.).


However, it was more than crowd control and the complexities and contradictions of race relations that had me contemplating. Also getting a guernsey among internal deliberations were neo-liberalism, and the counter-terrorism changing our behaviour when authorities assured us they wouldn’t allow that to happen. But succumb to fear we have.


The large number of security staff overseeing sporting events now reflects that. Security is a growth industry and, presumably, a very profitable one. At an AFL match, especially in standing room at Kardinia Park, there can sometimes be so many security personnel they block your line of sight. Nor was the incident with the young boy the only example of security being unnecessarily officious as previously intimated. Police were called regarding a boisterous, but harmless, Bulldogs fan a few rounds later, for example, not to mention on-going yellow-aisle control.


It’s common for labour firms to hire people on temporary visas, so it wouldn’t be inaccurate to suggest that is often the case here. By consequence, it’s also possible these employees don’t understand the ways of Aussie Rules crowds. However, they’re simply taking advantage of a job (and visa) opportunity. Blame lies in their training, or the lack of it.


Perhaps those recalcitrant visy vests should read ‘Cultural Awareness Officer’, and staff and fans could teach each other about mutual backgrounds and the behaviours expected.





The week following the Marvel Stadium and MCG controversies, Jeff Kennett’s rash comments, and around 400 hundred security staff being sacked in Victoria due to licensing fraud, I returned to Kardinia Park.


Geelong was playing Adelaide. It soon became obvious there were fewer security attendants in the standing terrace (though, I don’t know if that was due to job dismissals or club conclusions of crowd-control overkill – hopefully the latter). They were also far more relaxed. Fans spilled over onto yellow-painted aisles without being told to move. Security staff and supporters were seen engaging in friendly discussion.


Despite reports about badly behaved AFL crowds, I suspect boredom is the most confronting obstacle security staff typically face.


Kennett’s shoot-from-the-hip comments were, in my view, ignorant and clumsy, rather than racist. In some ways he was stating what would be obvious to anyone attending sporting events in recent years. I’m referring to the make-up of security personnel and their numbers, rather than crowd-control techniques or unfamiliarity with sporting culture.


I first noticed it in a significant way at the Melbourne Cup when Makybe Diva won her third. A long row of security staff, seemingly superfluous to requirements, lined an elevated bank above the grassy area along the main straight. I wondered what they thought about our drunken behaviour as much as anything.


I realise you can’t draw absolute conclusions, but the perception is that many of these workers are probably here on a visa of some sort or another, as is their right because our government has made those opportunities available.


And as has too frequently been reported, exploitation and wage suppression are associated consequences of these employment arrangements: neo-liberalism at work in the workplace?


(Neo-liberalism, or economic rationalism, or whatever nude emperor’s name you want to apply, is another of my pet peeves. So much so, there’s an article about some of my experiences as a casual worker you’re welcome to read here.)


But, so removed from the real world are many of our pollies, present and retired, they only discover the outcomes of their ideology when inadvertently confronted by them.


Kennett’s comments also caused unnecessary harm because, in my opinion, while we should have honest and open conversations about cultural misunderstandings, he gave ammunition to those who prefer to silence discussion.


Though, perhaps, sometimes, it’s also good to have a spat to clear the air, and if the more relaxed policing witnessed at Kardinia Park against the Crows is anything to go by, that might have been the result.


Crossing lines can lead to conflict, confrontation, cooperation or conciliation. Hopefully, I haven’t crossed any wrong lines here.



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About Paul Spinks

I have had writing published and performed in various mediums, though not always with the luxury of a deadline. Below are links to some pieces published beyond this great site.


  1. Michael Viljoen says

    ” we should have honest and open conversations about cultural misunderstandings, ”

    I agree, Paul. However our society doesn’t really specialise in this skill. Our authorities are more, ‘Shout first. and ask questions later.’ Look how quickly they threw Folau into the abyss. That’s our world currently.

  2. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks for your comment, Michael.

    I guess my concern ultimately implies that if we silence debate we risk sending people into more extreme positions.

    I don’t have a religious stance to take, but when it comes to Folau we seem to have gone over the top. I’m guessing there’s a lot of offense been taken on behalf of a lot of people that aren’t that offended, and perhaps countering with witty retort is the best response. After all, the number of people that Folau says are apparently going to Hell makes it the place to be?

    As for society allowing open conversation: I’d like to think nothing is set in stone.

  3. Michael Viljoen says

    Very true, Paul. I remember when Paul Keating was in Parliament, he didn’t hold back with his words. Keating, as well as other politicians, were not afraid to offend people. Keating said that, at least here in Australia, we fight with words, and not more than that. I like that attitude. Let’s get things out in the open, and say what needs to be said.

    If the words Folau said were ‘religious’ or weren’t ‘religious’, or whatever, who cares? It was just words. If you don’t like what he said, respond back in words. The Folau incident falls directly under the theme of your post, as you speak of ‘cultural misunderstandings’.

    Rugby Australia couldn’t think that far ahead. They thought it was more noble to act tough, take decisive action, and snuff out his career. It’s the same attitude of AFL or Marvel stadium wanting to ‘manage’ our thoughts and behaviour. I think the day is coming when RA will have to pay up for what they did.

  4. Roger Lowrey says

    Terrific piece Paul. I could have almost written the same myself except you have already done it so much more eloquently; hence, I shall simply second the resolution, as it were. Great work mate. Go Cats! RDL

  5. Paul Spinks says

    Yes, Michael: my general view about public discourse is that we should play the argument, not the man. I guess RA is just following the trends/standards of the day, but will be interesting to see how it pans out.

    Roger: thanks for your very kind words. Could be a dour affair at the Cattery tonight, but hopefully someone can fire up a wintry night.

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