On fire ... Western Sydney Wanderers fans during the Sydney derby. Photo: Anthony Johnson
There is an equation often used by Australian soccer fans to illustrate the victimisation they feel: 11 arrests during a one-dayer at the SCG equals a quiet night out; 11 arrests at an A-League game equals a bloody riot.
The raw numbers might not reveal the nature of the offences, the discomfort caused to fellow spectators or the capacity to incite wider violence. Yet, after another weekend when the alleged misbehaviour of soccer fans attracted the often selective media spotlight, you must have some sympathy for the Football Federation Australia. And for the vast majority of fans who attend the A-League in peace and - until crowds grow - sometimes too much quiet.
So strong has the FFA been on crowd violence compared with other nations, some clubs and fans believe their hardline statements and policies might even feed, and perpetrate, media myths. Regardless, no one could say the FFA has buried its head and ignored the potential pitfalls of a sport with a chequered history, and a potentially incendiary cultural mix.
Yet, despite the FFA's vigilance, the introduction of the Western Sydney Wanderers has been used to raise the spectre of crowd violence.
The Wanderers' ethnic support base, and soccer's history of spectator violence - albeit mostly in far-off leagues - is the two-plus-two that, for some observers, adds up to five. The factors that fuel the belief mayhem is inevitable. Even when the facts don't match the perception.
Still, regardless, of the seriousness of the problem, or the motivation of those publicising it, surely a simple lesson should have been learnt: When you are being hunted, do not paint a target on your back. Not with profane and, in the case of Wellington's Paul Ifill at Hindmarsh Stadium, allegedly racist abuse. Nor juvenile stunts.
A flare is meant to attract attention. When thrown at, or near, an A-League game, it attracts the unwanted attention of those thinking - perhaps hoping - that the robust, raucous nature of soccer fans will result in violence. That it will create the riotous scenes the most xenophobic observers reflexively observe, ''We don't want here''. Whether the flares at the Sydney derby were lit by misguided enthusiasts, or troublemakers, they merely harden the attitude of those with an ingrained disdain for the behaviour of soccer crowds.
After a flare landed dangerously close to a ball girl on Saturday night, surely it was time for introspection. Not for fans to take to social media forums claiming victimisation. Not every criticism of soccer fans is a calculated attempt to undermine the game, or the work of journalists doing the bidding of rival codes.
It does not help when respected former Socceroos captain Paul Wade suggests, on Sky News, that legalised flares could be a welcome addition to the A-League's game day experience. Wade was, in every way, blowing smoke. The only flares seen at A-League games should be worn by those hoping lumber jackets will make (another) comeback.
The suggestion that flares should be legalised is based on the hoary assertion, ''They do it in other countries''. Forgotten is that, in some of those other countries, fans of rival clubs face compulsory - not merely voluntary - segregation, and are marched in and out of stadiums, sometimes by heavily-armed police and with snarling Alsatians snapping at their heels.
Fans beguiled by the faux-machismo of a retrograde brand of malevolent soccer tribalism, or excited by the thought of inhaling the acrid scent of flare smoke while watching the game through watery eyes, should reconsider their alliance with the A-League. Perhaps a career inside a UFC cage, instead of in the comfortable confines of The Cove, would be more their thing.
The A-League has mostly got the balance right, despite the provocative headlines. The chants, the rivalries and the enthusiasm are welcome. The self-aggrandising boorishness is not.
The most threatening incident I've seen at an A-League venue this year was a couple of Victory supporters throwing plastic cups at rival Heart fans. A few fists were waved. But, had the combatants come face to face outside the ground, I doubt they would have exchanged anything other than Facebook accounts.
Which is not to say, having drawn attention to themselves, a handful of misguided Wanderers fans do not deserve the scrutiny they have received. Intimidating and provocative behaviour is not welcome at Australian grounds. Not for A-League games. Not for anything else.