Frank Isola: Rio Ferdinand fortunate to have avoided serious injury

It was 20 years ago when a tennis player was stabbed by a crazed fan, and that incident has led to heightened awareness for all athletes.
The madness began with a stroke of genius and a little bit of luck. Manchester United's prayers were answered on Sunday when Robin van Persie's free kick, ever-so-slightly redirected by the foot of Samir Nasir, settled inside the far post and just beyond the reach of Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

It was a stunning ending -- Van Persie's goal in the 93rd minute gave the away side a 3-2 lead -- to a derby that is as good as any in the world. It was classic football theatre as Man City overcame two Wayne Rooney goals and scored twice in the second half to get level. But Van Persie delivered the dagger and what followed can only be described as theatre of the absurd.

As United players celebrated, City's supporters stewed and then boiled over. Coins were thrown, one fool ran onto the pitch and blood was drawn. United defender Rio Ferdinand was struck near the left eye and had blood streaming down his face when the match ended.

As Ferdinand was being attended to, police clashed with a small group of City supporters. It was the type of scene that gives soccer a bad name, especially on the international level.

"I don't think you need that," Sir Alex Ferguson told the BBC afterward. "Two fantastic teams today, I think, and a fantastic game of football and it could do without that."

The apologies quickly followed. City condemned the incident and the Man City supporter who was intercepted by Hart before he could reach Ferdinand or the referee expressed remorse for his indefensible behavior.

“I am extremely ashamed of my action,” Matthew Stott, 21, said in a statement released by his attorneys. “I have let myself down, my family down, my fellow fans down and Manchester City Football Club. I intend to write personally to Mr. Ferdinand to express my extreme regret and apologies and also apologize to Manchester United and their fans. I would like to thank Joe Hart for his actions when I came on the pitch.”

Stott, a season ticket holder, faces a lifetime ban if found guilty of what the Brits call “pitch encroachment.” The FA needs to make an example out of him.

Fan conduct in and outside sporting venues in every country can be appalling. It had been nearly two years since two Los Angeles Dodgers fans beat a San Francisco Giants fan into a coma. When the attacks occur inside the grounds and threaten the safety of the players the penalties for the club and the perpetrators must be severe.

The fear is that we'll see another repeat of what happened to former tennis star Monica Seles, who was stabbed 20 years ago by a crazed fan during a changeover.

Seles survived the attack, which heightened the awareness of security for players. I remember being at a match at Giants Stadium when an AC Milan supporter leaped 15 feet onto the pitch and sprinted toward Paolo Maldini. The Italian legend at first took a few steps back before sensing that he wasn’t in danger. Maldini admonished the fan for trespassing as the man was being taken into custody


A few years later, a fan ran onto the court at Madison Square Garden to shake LeBron James' hand. The fan was standing next to the NBA's MVP before security rushed in to apprehend the intruder.

Ferdinand is fortunate that he avoided serious injury. He was nearly struck in the eye and the consequences could have been tragic. He should consider himself lucky. Luckier than Van Persie in fact.