The sour end to a gripping Manchester derby was just the latest in a long line of incidents threatening to besmirch the game, leading to further calls for action from authoritiesCOMMENT
By Jay Jaffa
We have had yobs running onto the pitch and confronting footballers, fans making racist gestures from the stands and supporters Tweeting vitriol at footballers – only one of those three infractions is a recent trend, yet the manner in which they are all reported gives the false impression that this is a new phenomenon.
The reality is far different and it must be arrested before it consumes the game.
Football has reached an impasse that threatens to irreparably damage the progress football has made both on and off the pitch as the fans, the Football Association and media outlets all contrive in their separate ways to worsen the problem.
Should the players be blamed? No. We ask that in the modern game – perhaps exacerbated more so because of the money in the game and the financial disparity between player and fan – that they show emotion. Over the last 10 years or so, the game became saturated; a watered down version of the blood and mud of years gone by.
And now, on the back of ugly scenes during the Manchester derby – scenes that overshadowed one of the great Premier League matches – we have Jamie Redknapp, a pundit who broadcasts to millions, laying the blame with the footballers.
In his warped assessment of the coin-throwing incident that drew blood from Rio Ferdinand (and could very easily have taken out an eye), Redknapp concluded that footballers were asking for it if they were overcome with emotion and strayed too close to the away fans.
Not only is this is this a bizarre line of argument, but it masks the deeper societal problems that are seeping back into football stadiums.
It seems that this season has drawn more terrace incidents than at any other time. From a game that had proudly risen from the lamentable state that saw English clubs banned from European competition in 1985 for six seasons, we are watching it lurch back towards the dark ages.
For the most part, that is precisely it, we are sitting and watching the corrosive and Neanderthal actions of fans challenge the game's authorities. Something has to be done, and most will inevitably turn to a disappointingly impassive FA.
The biggest problem, some will argue, is the level of exposure and coverage the Premier League receives. To some extent, they may be right. The domestic game is growing exponentially and with the innovation of various media outlets and the birth of social media tools, everyone is judge, jury and executioner.
Twitter has become the media platform of choice for anyone involved in football but in this generation of fast news, fast reaction and a forum as wide-spreading, all-encompassing and engaging for the fan and player, policing must be improved.
The problem is that the FA have not kept up with the pace of social media. It took until this summer for the Premier League to distribute social media guidelines, following Emmanuel Frimpong's ill-advised 'Yid' Tweet to an abusive Tottenham fan, while the FA only introduced rules for national team players in October.
These are the actions of reactive, rather than proactive, leaders in the English game and it is detrimental to every element that makes up a matchday experience.
The police arrested 13 people in the aftermath of the Manchester derby – a small figure, you might think. The police investigated a report that Sebastien Bassong was racially abused by a Swansea fan. Police arrested a Sunderland supporter for racially abusing Romelu Lukaku. Authorities arrested two West Ham fans, whilst the club handed a lifetime ban to a supporter found guilty of making anti-Semitic gestures.
In all of the above incidents, the FA stood back and left the police and the football clubs to hand out punishments. Fine – it is not their jurisdiction to make arrests or tell clubs which fans they should bar from attending matches, but it is their job and indeed their mission statement to regulate the game.
An awful amount of good work has been achieved through their Respect campaign but it is becoming clearer that simply fining clubs or players is not enough of a deterrent. However, if it has indeed provided the less agitated fan with the wherewith all and access to report these terrace incidents, then once more, the FA have served a purpose.
My step-father is a policeman and spoke recently of his surprise following an incident in the stands at West Ham back in 2004.
An especially idiotic supporter felt it was 'banter' to make a racket throughout a minute's silence for the victims of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Knowing the problems the police can have when escorting supporters from a stadium, he expressed his surprise as the neighbouring fans assisted in removing the miscreant.
Of course, this may well have been a one-off - perhaps he was a particularly rowdy and distasteful man and the other supporters were just happy to get rid of him. More likely though, is the change in mentality in stadiums as clubs empower the more noble-minded fans into making a complaint. This is what the FA should try to achieve nationwide - not a culture of 'grasses', but one not afraid to pull someone up for any of the risible offences seen this season.
They should also be thankful that Joe Hart had the presence of mind to grab hold of the moron who ran onto the pitch, surely with the intention of assaulting Ferdinand.
That prevented an incredibly high-profile incident – the likes of which had not been seen since, well, seven weeks ago when Chris Kirkland was pushed in the face by a Leeds fan now serving a 16-week sentence in prison.
The lesson that you hope they will take is that they must begin policing football as they once did. Only then can players play without concern for their well being, and we can watch on and focus on the football.
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