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