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‘Criminal’ fans light up Docklands

28 Jun 2011

By Chan Khai Ling

The Australia-Serbia friendly soccer match at Docklands’ Etihad Stadium on June 7 was a rousing affair both on and off the pitch.

Some 15 flares were set off both inside and outside the stadium by members of the 28,000 strong crowd as the teams played to a hard-fought 0-0 draw.

One particular flare that landed near Socceroos goalkeeper Adam Federici halted the game for a few minutes before play resumed.

There was early indication of trouble brewing as boisterous fans started setting off flares and smashing bottles along busy Bourke St even before the match began.

As the night wore on, four people were served with penalty notices for igniting the flares, seven evicted from the stadium for poor behaviour, one arrested for drunkenness and another was placed in custody for re-entry after eviction.

Victorian police were unamused by the rowdy behaviour, with Inspector Mick Beattie calling the incidents “trashy culture” and saying the offenders had “no sense of social responsibility”.

“This sort of behaviour is criminal and endangers the safety of the supporters. It’s extremely good luck that no one was hurt,” Mr Beattie said.

Mr Beattie indicated the offenders were practised at evading arrest as they changed their clothes and had bandanas and balaclavas over their faces to avoid being identified.

Flares were not the only things that police had to contend with, as laser pointers and posters declaring support for an accused Serbian mass murderer also appeared during the match.

When asked how the offenders had managed to smuggle the flares and posters into the stadium, Mr Beattie said the flares could easily be concealed under clothing and nothing short of pat-down searching would make them easier to find.

“It’s a difficult call to make. The question is – is the Australian sporting public ready to accept physical contact in the searches?” Mr Beattie said.

He said Victoria Police was working closely with the Football Federation of Australia and various other interest groups on the subject of crowd management, but admitted it was a work in progress.

“We don’t have answers at this stage,” he said.

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