As night follows day follows night, a Stadin Derby is followed by outraged stories about supporter aggression which is followed by supporters outraged by the outrage, claiming that what happened was a non-event and “why can’t you focus on the positives”. Neither party seems willing to accept that the issue is slightly more nuanced than that, and that, yes, in fact, there was a game on, or that hooliganism is a topic worth writing about. Both sides are wrong and both sides are right, and both sides have zeroed out and zoned in on each other in a tedious round of the blame game. Next week it’ll all be forgotten until next time around when it’ll be repeated, forgotten, repeated again, forgotten again, ad infinitum.
What happened was what always happens when two partisan groups come within striking distance: striking. This should come as a surprise to no-one, and if it does, against all odds, I suggest some light online teasing of members of an internet fandom, any internet fandom, to see how quickly verbal jousting turns vile. Both fan groups paraded onto the scene, and although the police where there to keep everyone in check, some natural spillage occurred which sparked what sounds like a minor event. Here it is described as “tens” of people, which could be anything from ten to ninety-nine (but in all likelihood probably closer to ten), here is a video that shows some animated pushing and shouting by HIFK fans against a wall of police officers, accompanied by pictures of police using batons and pepper spray on some nondescript stray fans. If you weren’t there, it’s difficult to get a decent picture of the seriousness of the event, and I wasn’t there so I can’t say, but it doesn’t look too bad. Certainly not as a bad as the headlines suggest (because, duh, headlines): “Rajut kuvat ja video”, “The fierce pictures and video”.
So whatever actually happened, the damage was either slightly or majorly embellished by click-hungry tabloids, enough for HIFK to publish a brief statement condemning “political statements, racism and violence” and distancing themselves from any supporters taking part in any of the aforementioned activities. Since there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for any violence, the statement was probably more due to the prominence of a banner sporting the symbol for the Brittish (alleged) neo-nazi group National Front during the parade, which turned out to be an unfortunate at best, and tasteless at worst, symbol for a group of supporters from Nice. Now, I understand the anger coming from football fans about the media reporting on the incident concerning the coming together with the police – it seems to have been pretty minor, and from what I’ve read online, both fan groups distance themselves from it – but the banner was cause for some legitimate concern, in my opinion.
The confusion emanating from the banner only served to stoke the fire that had been lit during the pre-match parade, and although the tweet below (retweeted by the official HIFK account) was offered as a de facto explanation, it really didn’t clear much up. As if stating that the banner belongs to a particular subgroup of people, of whom we know nothing, actually makes having a combination of the NF logo and the confederate flag a totally OK thing to have appearing at your supporters’ parade. I wonder what Rickson Mansiamina and Nnaemeka Anyamele might think of it.
And, look, I’m not saying that HIFK are fascists, or that HIFK supporters are fascists, or that any subgroup of HIFK supporters are fascists. I’m just saying that having that banner displayed on the frontline of your parade speaks poorly of your judgment, regardless of your political affiliation, regardless of what the banner is actually supposed to stand for. I don’t think either HIFK or their supporters are particularly proud of that particular banner being displayed so prominently, but neither did much to stop it happening. Whose responsibility is it to supervise these things? HIFK has become such a strong proponent of the movement for football culture in Finland that I have a hard time seeing them even attempting to control it, for the fear of looking like the kind of Palloliitto-like spoilsport organisation that their supporters show so much disdain towards. And while it’s super nice to see a football club where every level of the club, from directors to coaches to players to supporters, seem to be on the same level, there’s also a reason why clubs tend to distance themselves from their fans even slightly. Because, sometimes, for reasons that should be apparent, fan groups need a bit of supervision. Because if you post videos like the one below on your Twitter feed, an official communication channel I might add, your statement about not condoning violence starts to sound slightly hypocritical. The song goes “nussitaan sakilaisia perseeseen”, which translates to “we fuck HJK supporters in the ass”.
And again, I’m not saying that HIFK are officially suggesting that any HJK supporters (or anyone at all) should be involuntarily penetrated in any way, shape or form, but they’re quite clearly not distancing themselves from it. Nor do I think the chant in itself is anything other than a pretty basic rival-to-rival thing, I imagine HJK fans could be equally guilty of inciting violence against their object of hatred. The difference is that the below video was the only video of the parade on the HJK twitter account before the game.
Beige, bland, towing the company line. Behaving like an adult. I’m pretty sure whoever took the above video heard some more colourful language, but common sense prevailed. Whoever manages the HIFK account had the same thought process, because there was another video, which has apparently been deleted, showing the same song from within the crowd, but instead of censoring altogether, decided only to take a slight bit of distance. So suddenly we have a hodgepodge of (practically non existent) violence, (something apparently falsely identified as) fascism, (maybe) homophobic rape threats that could easily have been avoided, and I’m starting to think that the tabloids underreacted – they could’ve milked this baby for far more delicious clicks, but didn’t because they probably weren’t paying attention.
So, maybe, HIFK as an organisation are suffering from some growing pains, having catapulted through the divisions and metamorphosed into the thing in Finnish football right now, and that’s ok – but it shouldn’t be taken for granted that the damage done is this minimal. It’s a learning process, for sure, and rather than playing the “ooh, Finland isn’t ready for football culture”-card, steps should be taken to ensure that the whole organisation isn’t tainted by the poor taste of a few idiots.
There’s also the question about what football culture looks like. Is violent behaviour inherent in football culture? I would say that it is, to an extent. Football fan culture is as much about supporting your own team as it is about taunting and intimidating the opposing team, and their supporters. Football is flush with jingoistic imagery and wordplay. An away match experience in one of the big derbies of the world can be a terrifying and unpleasant, albeit addictive, experience. But does it need to be like this? Should fan groups take a stronger stance against expressions of aggression, or violence, or homophobia, or sexism? As far as I know, racism isn’t much of a problem in the stands anymore (I might be wrong, but I don’t recall hearing something racist being shouted at a football match in Finland for ages), so that’s something that’s been weeded out. Why couldn’t the same happen to all of the fan group vices? If we’re building a football fan culture in Finland from the ground up, why should the evils of yore make up the building blocks? Why not go the way of Hearts of Midlothian or St. Pauli, genuine football cultures built on a message of inclusion rather than exclusion, on love rather than hate? Why draw the line at violence, why accept aggressive behaviour at all? Why persist with disrespecting authority figures just for being authority figures? The image of young males jumping up and down in front of the police raging at the perceived slight of having to stop for a while, egging them on with shouts of anna tulla, come on, let’s have it, does nothing more than making it all seem even more childish than it already is.
So maybe it’s time for all of us to grow up a little bit. Maybe when the tabloids are writing hit pieces it’s not just because they have it in for you, and because they hate the sport as a whole. Maybe it’s because they are heavily invested in a type of journalism that requires flashy headlines to work, and maybe they even had some slight cause to write the piece, even if they didn’t get all the facts straight. Hell, maybe, when we look ourselves in the mirror, we can even find a hint of a reason for why it was our fault, or the fault of our peers. Maybe we should all look to better ourselves in the future. Maybe.