Balkan politics in Australian football (soccer)

Football (Soccer) was essentially introduced into Australia in the late 19th century. It is generally acknowledged that in most Australian sports, Australians support the teams which were originally located in a specific geographical area, usually cities and suburbs. However, when it comes to football, ethnicity has been mainly influential among spectators who have inclined to be drawn largely from successive groups of migrants, not just in the period following World War II.
Rivalries between many ethnic clubs in Australia existed and some still remain. The one major rivalry that has existed since 1961 is between Serbian and Croatian supporters. Football NSW has had major difficulties in controlling and containing both sets of supporters when Bonnyrigg White Eagles (Serbians) and Sydney United (Croatians) clash.
In 2009, the most disturbing incident of all between the two clubs emerged. It was brewing as one of the biggest clashes of the year as 1st (Bonnyrigg) played 2nd (Sydney United). However, what followed that day was something no supporter wants to witness. Flares being let off, knifes, guns, and fists exposed, leaving two police officers injured and leading to five arrests.
The outcome of the “biggest riot in Football NSW history” was that in future clashes no fans would be able to attend any games between Bonnyrigg and Sydney United. The only people allowed in were 250 members and private box holders.
The issue condemning these supporters against each other was Balkan politics. The story of Balkan immigration to Australia is long and complicated but, in brief, Croatian and Serbian migration occurred in the early post-war years under refugee and displaced persons’ schemes. Both nations were fleeing Tito’s communist regime as it sought to nullify Croatian and Serbian nationalism in order to establish a federal social state.
It’s astonishing how one rivalry can be traced back to 1961 and continues for the same reasons.
Some reasons include; opposition to fascism, to the monarchy and those parochial loyalties that denied the spirit of Yugoslavian nationalism.
Where to now? Currently, games between Bonnyrigg and Sydney United are still being played, however, not without riot squads present. This fixture is now being played in mornings instead of late afternoon and night. To be able to attend you must become a member and restrictions apply as only 250 members are allowed in.
Being able to play the wonderful game of football is a privilege and should not be destroyed by Balkan views of most Croatian and Serbian supporters.
Football NSW has done an exceptional job in preventing any further violent confrontations between the two clubs.

By Tim fragogianis

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One comment on “Balkan politics in Australian football (soccer)

  1. samdavidspence says:

    Hi Tim

    Great read! Always good to see two of my great loves, football and history, combined in such a thought-provoking way. I must confess that I know very little about the ethnic tensions between NSWPL clubs, although the rivarly between Bonnyrigg and United seems awfully similar, in terms of the escalation of conflict, to that which exists between clubs like Celtic and Rangers, Sparta and Slavia Prague, and my boys West Ham and the hated Milwall (to name a few examples). On that note, I think it’s one of the great ironies of football that it is a game that can unite the world as one, but also a game that can be so devisive, and with often tragic consequences. If I recall correctly from a conversation I had with you in an ancient history tute last year, you’re a Liverpool supporter, right? I’d be interested to know if there’s been any particularly violent confrontations between the Red and Blue halves of Merseyside in the history of their rivalry.
    Cheers! Sam Spence.

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