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Clint Dempsey's opener in Fulham's 2-1 Premier League win over Norwich sparked contrasting emotions from the rival supporters sitting together in the Putney End at Craven Cottage. The behaviour of both sets of fans underlined all that is good about our national game.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Mohamed Al Fayed’s late bid for the Olympic scarf-waving event at Craven Cottage was not the most impressive sight from last weekend.
That was Fulham and Norwich supporters housed in the same Putney End stand of the ground. When I say ‘housed’ I mean sitting side-by-side in some cases. No segregation. No mesh fences or rows of stewards.
I know one example of a Fulham supporter who purchased a ticket for their Norwich-based friend and both enjoyed the shared experience of willing their respective teams to Premier League victory.
Now, I’m prepared to be put in my place here, but I certainly do not recall a similar situation for any of Norwich’s other away trips so far this season.
Said Fulham supporter claims the Cottagers are the only club in the Premier League with such a unique approach to crowd control; which, if true, makes that scenario all the more uplifting.
Because in a game that too often highlights the tribalism, the intense rivalries that exist, the sight of pockets of rival supporters celebrating all three goals as they went in at that end of the ground is worth a moment’s reflection.
No post-match reports have surfaced of any bad blood between the respective fans; nor any incidences of confrontation or aggravation.
It is a sad indictment one feels obliged to record that fact.
Norwich’s travelling support has an excellent reputation. They descend on all corners of the land in huge numbers, in vibrant colours, in good voice. They back Paul Lambert’s team to the hilt for 90 minutes and you know that win, lose or draw they will return again a fortnight’s hence.
Far too often supporting your team gets distorted into a loathing for a rival. Some seem to crave the hatred and the bile as oxygen to reaffirm the love for their own club.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a utopian vision when Ipswich fans and Norwich fans can sit side-by-side. Or Manchester United fans can wander into the Kop and the Red hordes park themselves in the Stretford End for the return fixture. That conjures up memories for those old enough of the early origins of football hooliganism in this country - when ‘taking an end’ was all part of the violent sub-culture. Some rivalries are just too engrained, too raw, too deep to expect peace to break out while decades of enmity are contested on the pitch.
It’s just nice to be reminded every so often that football fans can congregate in close proximity and peaceful harmony. Particularly after a weekend when QPR officials are compelled to launch an appeal for help from home supporters to shop the thug who threw a coin at assistant referee Stuart Burt in Rangers’ notable Premier League win over Arsenal.
The Hoops’ have pledged to identify the offender and ban them for life. So they should. What possesses an individual to launch an unprovoked attack on an official; one who was facing the opposite way at the time? It is cowardly behaviour that has no place in society, let alone football. Likewise the pernicious incidents of homophobic and racist chanting that continue to cast an ugly shadow over our national sport.
What happened at Craven Cottage is, in small part at least, an antidote to the darker side of the beautiful game.
Fulham should be applauded for their innovative approach. Some of the home fans will tell you the harmony that existed with Norwich’s visit on Saturday is not the case when London rivals like Chelsea or Tottenham head to that part of west London. They’ll also argue allowing the visiting contingent to swell over and above the actual allocated away section in the Putney End dilutes the home club’s advantage; particularly when it is directly behind one goal.
I recall many a trip to Aston Villa as a Coventry fan in my youth when we would watch from the stand opposite the Holte End. Now, as the Canaries’ support can testify from their trip in November, the away fans have been pushed to a corner of the Doug Ellis Stand that runs alongside one touchline. The theory being Villa can now attack towards goals filled with their own fans in both halves.
Nevertheless, Mr Al Fayed and his football club should be lauded. So too should those Norwich and Fulham fans who watched Saturday’s game side-by-side.
They form part of the honest, decent majority whose voices will always be heard louder than the mindless idiots who hurl coins like they hurl bile; who take to social media to abuse a player for the colour of his skin or for a life-threatening collapse on a football pitch.
Supporters have an obligation to the game as much as they do to their own football club.