FVS EDITORIAL: The North Terrace

A-League, The Fans

On the 24th of October, a mere three rounds into the 2016/17 A-League season, the North Terrace Collective (NTC); the leadership group representing the wider active support group known as the North Terrace (NT) disbanded and walked away indefinitely from organised, active Melbourne Victory support. It brought to an end a long, painful saga of back and forth between the club and the NTC.

The NTC described the decision to walk away as a result of ‘unworkable circumstances’. The club responded by saying it was ‘disappointed’ with the decision. To an outsider looking in, the whole issue must seem incredibly bizarre. This is after all, a football club. It should be a fairly simple exercise to be a fan or supporter of a football club. Of course it has never been that simple over the past decade with Melbourne Victory and A-League active support. Active support has flirted and tickled around the panty-lines of Australian sensibilities now for quite some time. So the pertinent question now is, how did we reach this impasse?

Let’s be clear from the get-go, the conditions currently imposed on fans wanting to support Melbourne Victory actively in the North Terrace are untenable. The reasons are explored adequately enough by the NTC in their own statements; we don’t need to repeat them here. Other than to say a once-mighty, vibrant arena – indeed the template for all other forms of active support in the country – is no more. Let’s also not underestimate the difficulties many would have had in coming to a decision like this. Many have invested years into this project of active support and we shouldn’t underestimate how much this means to them.

There has been no shortage of opinions about the current state of affairs floating around cyberspace. Questions around how it could have ended up like this and what does the future hold for a vital section of Melbourne Victory’s active support. The opinions out there range all the way from steadfast support of the NTC’s decision, to messages of good riddance to their leadership.

Here at For Vuck’s Sake, we have opinions too. And generally speaking ours fall somewhere in the middle of all this. Regardless of what some in the NT leadership might think of outsiders providing commentary, the fact of the matter is:

Within the space of one year the NT went from being applauded by the whole stadium for walking out after the Rebecca Wilson article to being booed by the entire stadium, just over two weeks ago. We all had the NT’s back, not all that long ago. We dedicated a podcast episode to the cause as well. However, a spate of events has changed public opinion on the NTC and its capacity to be effective leaders of the NT. Not you personally lads, OK. Don’t take this personally. The now-defunct leadership has essentially allowed this situation to become untenable. Untenable because a) the conditions are now so intolerable, but also untenable because b) those at the helm realise that certain ‘elements’ are basically doing whatever the fuck they want, period.

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There are as always, two sides to any story.

The NTC are always prepared to provide the ‘oppression narrative’, but ignore the big white elephant holding an ignited marine signal in the room when doing so. Here’s how the rest of us dissect all the relevant scenarios as they’ve unfolded over the journey. Remember, we have skin in both games here – we’re active supporters, members of the club and also close friends with many of the people involved. We’d like to think our stance on all this is about as balanced and objective as it gets:

  • We ALL hate the over-policing at games. But we also cannot stand the ‘heroes’ on Bourke St or at South Melbourne. Incidents like these result in more cops showing up to our games. The excess cops and security and the way well-behaved people are treated is utterly ridiculous, on that matter we all stand together. However, there is a causal link that many are unprepared to even acknowledge let alone accept. Every small incident adds to the catalogue cumulatively and contributes to the malaise. Often we are told that incidents ‘outside’ the stadium don’t count. Sorry lads, they do.
  • We ALL hate the restrictions placed on active support. But we also hate the mud that we all get dragged through because of selfish individuals. Fights, banner stealing, street cred, attacking pubs, flares. When assessing this entire situation we cannot pretend this sort of conduct does not contribute to the way in which we are all get treated at games. Even old men had to empty their pockets in Adelaide and be patted down two weeks ago.
  • We ALL hate the concept of collective punishment. But then when an individual does get fingered and ejected, we are astonished that you think this is “treachery”. If you want the restrictions and the over-zealous policing to diminish, then you have to stamp out the individual perpetrator. It’s that simple. But instead, the NTC walked out in protest. Partly because others in the NT fingered the flare igniter and the entire stadium erupted in boos directed at the individual.

That particular moment at Etihad Stadium during the October 15 derby was pivotal. It was a turning point. Either the NTC would come to the realisation about the presence of an elephant in their room, or they would continue to ignore its existence. We know the latter happened and this reflects poorly on leadership. Leaders by definition lead by example to ensure those that are being led benefit from their actions. The inaction in these instances creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of chaos. Yes, I understand this kind of ‘dobbing’ is breaking a bit of a hooligan code. Well, that’s fine – but then you cannot complain about collective punishment.

Unfortunately from where everyone else sits, the perception (at the very least) is that there has been an unwillingness to tackle the excessive and malignant forms of ultra-culture within the NT is the reason things have reached this juncture. Deep down, the sensible lads in the leadership know this to be the case. We’ve heard comments to the effect of “things are out of control” from more than just a couple well known leaders. We’ve also heard that there are some lads that would like to share their views on the topic to wider audiences, but refrain due to a fear that exists about being labelled a “snitch”. That’s not healthy.

No one seems to want to talk about this. It’s taboo. We will. There is a problem, it has to be named and it’s a primary reason why all this has unfurled in the manner that it has.

Until there is some ownership of the fact that a small element has let it descend into chaos, then things will not change. These aren’t just random people; they are people that are well known and often part of the same groups that sit down with the club. This is why the club wants to wipe the slate clean. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone. They are fully aware of who is who in the zoo.

An additional statement was released just yesterday from the NTC. And on this occasion, the message seemed a tad blurred. After quick edits, we were assured that the message was indeed from the North Terrace Leadership.

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Just who is actually running the show here?

This additional statement seemed almost pointless. It was littered with confusing themes, particularly around the idea of Melbourne Victory being a franchise.

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That aspect of the statement cheapens the dialogue significantly. It creates an us/them divide where the NTC are the pure, real fans and the rest of us are just ‘franchise customers’. This isn’t helpful at all.

To befuddle us even more the NTC have essentially made ‘Native Title’ claims on the phrase “North Terrace” and other items. As part of an extraordinary laundry list of demands, sorry, “requests” they’ve included NT clothing, merchandise and even certain chants as part of their departing salvo on the rest of the Melbourne Victory community.

It’s at this point where we’ve reached the departure lounge of reality. The reality is, there are many rank and file people that have been involved with the North Terrace since 2005, who have just as much of a claim on the name as anyone else. Not everyone involved with the North Terrace is part of a crew, active on social media or involved in meetings. These people are larger in number than many would like to think.

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The bottom line here though, is that there are no winners in this story. Everyone loses. Even if the club does get its stated wish of ‘new leadership’ in the North Terrace (and they will, eventually) they have still burnt bridges with many people who feel that they’ve been betrayed way too many times. It will be a long time (if ever at all) until we see a North Terrace of the kind we have become accustomed to. The kind that gets used for marketing and promotional materials. The kind that creates the unique atmosphere that draws in so many people to Melbourne Victory games.

The reset button has been pressed.

What comes next is anyone’s guess.