Pitch invasions are a reflection of the nation’s mood - GulfToday

Pitch invasions are a reflection of the nation’s mood


Patrick Vieira and Billy Sharp. File

Tony Evans, The Independent

Football is a thermometer for the nation’s health. Britain is very feverish at the moment. The series of pitch invasions this week has put the spotlight on the game and added to the sense of lawlessness around the sport. Some will conflate the booing of the national anthem by Liverpool fans before the FA Cup final as part of the same syndrome. “I don’t know where we’re going to as a country, but it’s absolutely disgusting,” said Ben Garner, the Swindon Town manager after his players were “physically and verbally” abused in the wake of his team’s League Two playoff defeat by Port Vale. After the events of the past few days, Garner’s words feel like a stark warning.

Supporters have always encroached on the playing area in celebration at the end of the season. That, in itself, is not much of a problem. The amount of attention given to losing opponents by those spilling out of the stands this week has been unusual. The assault on Billy Sharp by a Nottingham Forest fan was the worst example. The attacker, who butted the Sheffield United striker after charging at the 36-year-old at speed, was jailed for 24 weeks on Thursday.

Patrick Vieira lashed out at an Everton supporter while being taunted after the Merseyside club avoided relegation. The aggressor invaded not only the pitch but the Crystal Palace manager’s personal space. Perhaps Vieira should not have kicked his antagonist but it would take the patience of a saint to maintain composure under such circumstances. The FA will probably have to sanction the Frenchman. If that happens it will feel like injustice but retaliation has to be punished, too.

Most pitch invasions are about celebration. This week’s swarming onto the playing area has been characterised by a vicious, unpleasant gloating aimed at the opposition. The boundaries of decency have been crossed. It is inevitable that there will be calls for the return of fences at stadiums. Eddie Howe, the Newcastle United manager who has justifiable fears for his team in the event that Burnley retain their Premier League status when the sides meet at Turf Moor on Sunday, got to the nub of the matter yesterday. The Newcastle United manager said: “I don’t mind the celebrational aspect — embracing the success that a team has had is part of football. I’ve got no issue with that.

“It’s the aggression towards the opposition, it’s swarms of people around one or two people. That doesn’t sit well with me at all.”

Howe is correct but he strayed into dangerous territory with his next statement. “We have to act very quickly because we want to avert potential tragedy.”

Overreacting to a bad week at the end of the season would be a mistake. Fences are not an option. We all know how that solution ended in 1989: they were a significant factor in the deaths of 97 people at Hillsborough.

Trouble at matches — and in other sports, too — has increased since the lockdowns. The UK football policing unit issued figures in January that showed arrests had risen 47 per cent in the previous six months compared to the same period a year earlier. This week, the government announced that anyone convicted of taking cocaine at games will be subject to a five-year banning order. This makes it look like hard-drug use is football’s problem rather than the game reflecting what is happening in the wider population.Draconian solutions are unlikely to work. The Football League has suggested capacities might be reduced as a punishment for offending clubs when pitch invasions occur. The FA said it is “reviewing our regulations to help stamp this behaviour out and to ensure the safety of everyone inside a stadium.”

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