It is not a common sight. You attend a football match generally to enjoy the entertainment on display, surrounded by hundreds or thousands – depending on the size of your club’s following – of like-minded individuals all gathering together to support and cheer on your team of choice. There are the usual matchday rituals, of course – and the walk to the stadium among a sea of shirts displaying your team’s colours always gets the hairs on the back of the neck to rise a little. When the game kicks off, it can sometimes be a lottery – sometimes your team will put the guests to the sword, other times you wonder how the players wearing the same shirt as you get paid to do so while you have to pay to watch them. Yet this – this is not a common sight.
Not once, but twice this past weekend we have seen fans run on to the field of play and lay their hands on one of the players. In both cases, it was a member of the home support running on and making contact with a visiting player. Both fans have since been arrested, and their respective clubs have pledged to ban them – one explicitly for life, the other’s sanction was a little more vague but still implied a lengthy absence. The problem is, how can anyone legislate for such an occurrence on the pitch?
If you are a betting man, then your money could wind up going down the plug based on the interference of one single individual who had no right to be where he was, laying his hands on who he did. Seriously – search for any betting websites (particularly using the search term 2019 bonus code if you want to try and grab better odds or other benefits) and you will find markets for scoreline, winners, goalscorers, even corners – but not what the chances are of a fan getting past stadium security and assaulting one of the players.
The first of these two instances, of course, occurred during the Second City Derby as Birmingham played host to Aston Villa. Jack Grealish was the Villa player unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a shot to the back of the head from a fan who ran on to the pitch – and a vocal section of the home support actually cheered and clapped the individual as he was frogmarched from the pitch. Grealish did carry on, however – and ultimately scored the only goal of the game to give the Villans the points.
Later in that same day, an Arsenal supporter entered the field of play and shoved Man Utd defender Chris Smalling shortly after the former Fulham star conceded a penalty which ultimately gave Arsenal their second goal in the 2-0 win – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first domestic defeat as United manager. As previously mentioned, both fans were arrested and have been said to be banned. But the fact remains – there should really be no place for this kind of thing in football. It is actually ludicrous having to even say it – footballers are human beings, doing a job just like the rest of us. To be assaulted presumably for no other reason than the colour of shirt they are wearing is reprehensible. Thankfully, neither player was hurt in their respective incidents, but that is hardly the point.
The role of the supporters is to do just that – support. Actively support your own team, rather than attempting to do so by proxy in trying to hurt a member of the opposite side. Turn up, sing your heart out, buy the merchandise (of course) and even have a say in the running of the club at times, but fans should never take it upon themselves to directly influence what is going on during the match. They can try and gear up their own players and, within reason, certainly try and put off opposing players (while being careful not to sink too low on this front, naturally). But to try to have a physical hand in the match is not in the remit, and nor should it ever be. Just support your team, by all means be frustrated if things aren’t going right, and let the players do the thing. Overall, just enjoy the game – how can it be more complicated than that?