Both the Greater Manchester and Merseyside police will be spending the early part of this week investigating two incidents involving Premier League footballers from this weekend’s round of matches. The Greater Manchester constabulary are investigating the incident following Michael Owen’s winner for Manchester United in which a United fan entered the field of play and was subsequently struck by Craig Bellamy while being apprehended by stewards. The Police have issued the following statement:“At the end of the derby between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford, a member of the public ran on to the pitch, and was detained by police and security staff. During this time there was an altercation between the man and a player from Manchester City F.C. No formal complaint has been made by either party but police are continuing to make enquiries.”
This does not necessarily suggest that the police will be taking action against Bellamy but the FA will certainly review the incident and it is likely that some form of action will be taken against the Welshman. The Merseyside Police have another serious incident on their hands following Blackburn Rovers’ defeat at Goodison Park on Saturday. El Hadji Diouf is alleged to have used racist language towards one of the Everton ball boys when receiving the ball back in a venomous manner from the young man. Merseyside police have issued the following statement: “We are looking into an allegation that a 28-year-old man used racist language at the Everton match.” Diouf was in fact interviewed by the police following the match which suggests both the police and the FA will be looking into the matter which could lead to the Senegalese being in serious trouble.
Mark Hughes has been a busy man in the media following Sunday’s derby, giving his opinion on each and every incident. He has condemned the fan, named as 21-year-old Jake Joseph Clarke, and defended Bellamy. His reasoning for the defence of his striker is to draw parallels between Brian Clough clipping a fan round the ear and becoming a national hero – Bellamy certainly has a long way to go before becoming a national hero. Hughes is certainly correct in his feelings towards the fan, however. No fan should enter the field of play, let alone to confront a player and the fan in question should be banned from attending football matches, but to claim Bellamy is innocent of any wrongdoing is rather laughable. The situation was dealt with by the stewards when the Manchester City player made his way towards him and struck him intentionally in the face, whether this was a fist or an open hand is irrelevant.
There has been much less discussion following the Diouf incident. If found guilty there is no argument on the side of the Blackburn man, and with such a sensitive issue of race and the age of the ball boy involved it is wise for Sam Allardyce and Blackburn to stay silent on the issue until the police have concluded their investigation.
The English Premier League is one of the most watched leagues in world football and the Manchester derby was arguably the most anticipated game of the season so far. The incident involving Bellamy has already received worldwide attention and on a day when so much of what makes the English game so exciting was showcased it is again an unsavoury incident which tarnished Sunday afternoon.
The atmosphere inside Old Trafford was red hot with one of the aggravating factors being the return of Carlos Tevez. Much of Tevez’s and City’s behaviour since his acrimonious departure from Old Trafford has really riled the United fans. This meant a really hostile atmosphere inside Old Trafford with all the City players receiving some harsh treatment. Bellamy will have been doubly frustrated following his own magnificent performance and the draw he thought he earned his side being snatched away deep into injury-time. This is clearly why he reacted, while Diouf is an ex-Liverpool player back playing on Merseyside – on the blue half – and was served a chorus of boos each and every time he touched the ball with more personal insults coming when he took corners and throw ins. This aggressiveness and the manner and which the ball was thrown back at him caused him to react.
There is no place for some of the abuse received by professional footballers and the lofted status they have in our country’s psyche means we often forget that they are human and will react to abuse that they don’t deserve. On the other hand, professional footballers have been suffering abuse at the hands of opposition fans for decades – it is something which they should be able to deal with and should not react to. Professional footballers are still human like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us they have a responsibility as role models especially to the younger generation of football fans. Both of the incidents could have been avoided as it was the choice of both players to become involved which is the really disappointing factor. Football clubs do so much great work in the local, often under privileged communities, that it is a real shame when certain players act in this manner.
This writer is also of the opinion that the example set by Man City as a club has been poor following the Bellamy incident. Mark Hughes has gone down in many people’s estimation following his public backing of his striker. When Eric Cantona left the field of play at Selhurst Park in 1995 to ‘kung-fu kick’ a Crystal Palace fan, he was banned by Manchester United until the end of the season with the FA extending the ban to eight months. What Bellamy did constituted common assault under the law of England and Wales and this should not be ignored. The message that City are providing is that when provoked, to react in this way is okay. We may now see players as young as 10 or 11 reacting like this on the football field. The parents and clubs do so much to educate the young children starting out in the game but many simply want to emulate their hero’s – good or bad – and so actions like this can undo much of the hard work. The Diouf incident is very serious as the FA has worked so hard concerning the Kick Racism Out of Football campaign that it is extremely disappointing when it is brought into the sport by the people who partake in it. Blackburn has done well not to back their player before the full facts become public knowledge.
It is not the first time Diouf has been involved with fans, after his two spitting incidents and it is not the first time Bellamy has been involved in unsavoury incidents – it is sad to say that it is unlikely to the be the last time for either player. Fans do provoke and often their behaviour is poor, but the players should be able to rise above this. Tevez is a prime example of this. He suffered a lot during the derby but did not react, instead stating his disappointment – this is the correct way to act. The players should be able to stand firm – when they do, the right message is delivered and the behaviour of the fans becomes the focus. The FA and the clubs do so much to deliver the right message to the young football fan but too often the players let it slip, let their emotions get the better of them and cause more damage to the sport than they often realise.