This week saw yet another example of the darkest part of football obsession, as a 17 year old Gillingham ‘fan’ (the term has to be applied in the loosest way possible), ran onto the field and charged into Wycombe goalkeeper Harry Archer as he prepared to take a goal kick in stoppage time.
To have one incident of spectator-on-player violence in a season has been almost unheard of in the modern sporting era – yet this season we have had two. Coming almost nine years after Eric Cantona’s infamous kung-fu attack on a Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, this was an unpleasant reminder of how badly football can affect some people.
The 17-year-old from Rochester has been charged with common assault and Section 4 of the Football Offences Act, and was released on bail, and is due to appear in court next month. But the damage has been done.
Following on from Leeds’ ‘fan’ (same criteria as above) Aaron Crawley’s assault on Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland last October, there was widespread outrage that such a ridiculous incident, fuelled by alcohol and vague ideas of local rivalry, could be allowed to happen. The extremely visible prevalence of matchday stewards, especially in the top two divisions, is now an everyday part of the modern game, with policing costs a major part of many clubs’ financial outlay.
But despite all the advances, it still seems the problem remains. I’m not here to call for police in the ground, or a ban on alcohol in stadiums. Recent fan surveys and research have shown that the average modern supporter loves the game, and is a precious commodity in a sport rapidly become too expensive for many. We keep hearing how “football would be nothing without the fans”, but it seems that the fans still need some reminding of this.
This is not an admonishment to football fans as a group – the vast, vast majority love their team and would never dream of doing anything to endanger themselves or bring such unwanted attention to the entity they adore. But it is this mindless, braindead minority that lets us all down. And it is pertinent to note that this latest incident comes as the debate for re-introducing standing sections at grounds is being raised again. This seems to be another ridiculous reminder of how football refuses to modernise and embrace the contemporary, technological world – preferring instead to stay wallowing in nostalgia.
Standing sections will doubtlessly raise the issues of “misbehaviour”, as the police have dubbed this latest incident. Do FA bosses really think that reintroducing these throwbacks to the 1970’s will help improve people’s enjoyment and indulgence at a game? I for one severely doubt it. What needs to be done instead is more work on effective stewarding and pre-match arrangements – if someone has drunk ten pints before getting to the games, as Aaron Crawley had done, then there’s no way he should have got into the stadium. It’s just common sense – and the FA need to realise this before they make any rash decisions that will affect all fans.