Fans’ rage is close to going bit too far
How long before we see a player seriously injured, or perhaps even worse, by a disgruntled football fan?
While that may, on the face of it, seem like the type of statement you would expect to see in one of this newspaper’s more alarmist national counterparts, bear with me as I explain.
Because this week I have decided to make the most of what was another blank Premier League weekend to consider what I feel is a growing gulf between the man in the stands and the man on the pitch – and one which could eventually have harmful consequences.
It is clear to anyone who has been following the game for many years that a recent improvement is that, by and large, you rarely feel in danger travelling to matches.
While there are still pockets of disorder, fan on fan football hooliganism has fallen considerably since the troublesome 1970s and 80s.
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But is some of the vitriol that was once aimed at fellow supporters now being directed instead at the players, sometimes even those on people’s own team? In some respects I think it is.
Take the last weekend of games in which two such examples dominated the headlines. During the Everton versus Liverpool match all manner of things were being thrown at away team players by fans whose faces appeared on our screens contorted by rage.
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Meanwhile, during the Tottenham v Arsenal match the away fans repeated chants saying that Emmanuel Adebayor should not have survived the horrific gun attack on the Togo team bus in January 2010, which ended the life of the driver and seriously injured several team-mates.
Granted, emotions were doubly high due to both games being derby matches and the fact Adebayor jumped ship from Arsenal to their bitter rivals. But does that excuse this type of behaviour?
It would be easy to argue these were special cases due to the the rivalry, but from what I see at grounds up and down the land that is not the case.
Last year we saw problems reach scarily dangerous levels in Scotland when a fan ran on to the pitch to attack Celtic manager Neil Lennon. What would have happened had that person decided to arm himself with a knife and sneak it into the ground?
And, I’m sorry to say that to a lesser extent I’ve seen some of the same attitude from fans at Carrow Road, especially during our worst seasons on the pitch.
I particularly remember a fan who constantly berated former right-back Jon Otsemobor, calling him a “waste of skin”. The racist implication of what he was saying was obvious to all.
I must put all of this into some perspective. We are, fortunately, talking about a very small minority of people.
However, the recent London riots showed the impact that a minority of wrong-minded people can have on the majority of right-minded ones.
So why is this the case and what can be done about it? I think you can look at the London riots to answer part of that question.
Part spurred by envy and disenfranchisement, people raided shops and houses.
Is it the case that, in much the same way, these football fans feel envious and alienated towards footballers and the abuse is their way of letting that out?
The footballer has it all at a time when the rest of the country feels, at times, like it is on its knees. These feelings are probably exacerbated when the team that person spends their cash following can’t even win.
In general an increasing percentage of supporters appear to be disconnected to those in the professional game. The lack of interest in England’s crucial international match last week provides some evidence of this.
For most this doesn’t translate into abuse or aggression, but for some it does, and they are the ones you see week in, week out carrying out the acts that I have described.
The solution lies part in punishment and part in redemption.
As Joey Barton, who himself has been the target of many an opposition fan’s anger, explained, this problem is likely to persist unless the culprits are punished.
He said in an interview last week: “It is a strange society we live in where a lot of things are not allowed to be said in normal atmospheres, but in football grounds it’s like anything goes. Until there’s an accountability probably it will continue for a long time.”
Be tough and don’t tolerate it – that’s the first step. In fact we saw that sort of solution meted out at Carrow Road with the tough stance taken against the “Season Ticket Two”, who ran on to the pitch to direct their anger at former manager Bryan Gunn, and the supporter who posted racist comments on Twitter.
And the second step – redeeming the image of the game in the eyes of those who have lost faith – that’s a whole column in itself and something those running things need to turn their attention to as soon as possible.
• FAB FOUR
1. Looking ahead to Saturday I can’t help but think there’s one man whose limited opportunities this season could be about to end – Simeon Jackson. A hat-trick last week for Canada shows the prowess which defined the end of last season has not deserted him. Paul Lambert may decide to start with the same eleven as the previous three games, but at some point Jackson deserves to be given more of a chance at this level.
2. While our rugby national team may have learnt a lot from their football counterparts (how to perform miserably at the World Cup, for instance), there’s a lot about the game of egg-chasing which could translate to football. Video replays for goalline decisions (but not to decide fouls, penalties or offsides), a 10-yard rule for dissent and perhaps even a sinbin for two yellow cards, rather than a red, which would then be dished out for three. But my favourite would be a microphone on the referee. It would shine a light on what the players utter to officials, and, in time, bring a massive reduction to all the dissent that goes on.
3. I’m sure Lambert will be repeatedly reminding his players that, despite the excellent start, there’s a lot of work to be done between now and the end of the season. And if he wants evidence to back up his case he need do no more than dig out the league table after seven games last season. Blackpool were ninth, exactly the same position we now find ourselves in – and we all know what happened next. In the end their attack-minded ploys were found out, they lost momentum and confidence and the players signed in January did not have enough quality to stay up. It’s a subject I’ll probably come back to, but it’s clear that despite the quality we possess, Lambert will still need to call on all his wisdom and talent to stop the same thing from happening to us.
4. Let’s be honest, it’s been a real joy to watch Norwich away games on television on a Saturday afternoon and a massive boost for our struggling pubs. But whatever the conclusion of last week’s court case it is likely to be a luxury that won’t last long. While on the subject, special praise must go to the landlord of the Ribs of Beef, whose response to the fact that it was so hot in the pub for the Manchester United match that the TV projector on his ceiling kept crashing was to spend most of the game holding a rather large fan to it. That’s commitment.