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The head of the players' union has called for those responsible to be harshly dealt with, in the wake of an incident during the Manchester derby that saw Rio Ferdinand injured

The chairman of the PFA, Clarke Carlisle, believes harsh punishments should be handed to Manchester City fans found guilty of throwing coins in Sunday's Manchester derby.

Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin, which cut him above the eye, before a fan ran onto the pitch an attempted to confront the 34-year-old.

“Do we have to wait until an England captain is blinded by a coin to grasp the nettle and stamp down on supporters who behave in an unacceptable way?” Carlisle queried The Daily Mirror.

“You can’t pretend there is no problem when one of England’s best players [Wayne Rooney] goes to take a corner and you can see missiles flying through the air around him.

“Until Rio Ferdinand was hit by that object, it’s only by luck that players have not been injured before because the missiles were missing their targets.

“On one hand, you do not want to over-dramatise the problem and resort to scaremongering, but on the other hand you can’t sweep what happened at the Manchester derby under the carpet – because it was terrible.

“The truth about hooligan behaviour inside football grounds is not that it’s on the increase, nor that we are creeping back towards the bad old days, because the problem never went away in the first place.

“But the ­important thing is how we respond and deal with it.

“We don’t want football to reach the stage where ­something terrible happens before we address the issue, like tearing down the fences which penned in fans until 96 innocent people lost their lives at Hillsborough.

“Sadly, it has taken someone as high-profile as Rio to suffer for the issue to make the front pages. Now is the time to clamp down, now is the time to stamp it out.

“We need to lower our tolerance levels, we can’t afford to wait until there’s a tragedy."

With recent investigations into other examples of fan misbehaviour, such as racial abuse and anti-Semitic chanting, the PFA chairman called for the authorities to take missile-throwing just as seriously.

Carlisle also argued that the proposed introduction of mesh netting between fans and the field of play would not address the fundamental problem.

“As an industry, we have started picking out individuals who make racist gestures or shout abuse which goes beyond the pale,” continued the defender. “So let’s root out the idiots who throw missiles or go on the pitch to confront players.

“The next set of TV rights is said to be worth £5 billion to the Premier League.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask for part of that astronomical sum to be set aside to make sure players are safe in their working environment – on the pitch – and fans can take their children to games in a healthy atmosphere.

“When we talk about putting up mesh netting, screens and so on, we are catering for the hooligan element and that’s the wrong option.

“If you treat fans like animals, and put them behind cages, it encourages some of them to behave like animals. We need to nullify their behaviour by weeding them out and catering for the decent, overwhelming majority.”

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