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By Tony Attwood
There is an article on the Telegraph website today about pitch invasions, which has the headline, “If clubs cannot control their fans, their stadiums should be closed.” And I suspect anyone who has ever been pushed, punched, kicked or found themselves on the edge of such activity, even if it doesn’t impact on them, may well agree.
But then this piece by Chief Sports Writer of the Telegraph continues, “Even amid the cocaine-addled hellscape of last summer’s European Championship final, the mayhem stopped short of spilling onto the pitch.”
And the implication is clear – fans breaking into a ground without tickets, and behaving in a violent, aggressive and indeed racist way is not ok, but you know, well, it happens. But fans getting onto the pitch after the match? That is jolly well a step too far!
Of course, this is arrant nonsense – violence and aggression in association with football matches is violence and aggression whether it occurs on the pitch, in the stand, outside the ground, on the way to the coaches or at the railway station or airport.
Later the article says, “Most supporters know by now that pitch invasions are condemned by the authorities and that they carry the risk of stadium bans or worse, but a whipped-up Forest crowd, in blind delirium about booking a first Wembley appearance for 30 years, simply poured on to the field regardless.”
And why is that so much worse than the chaotic scenes that happened at Wembley both outside the ground and within which the media mentioned and then forgot? Is it simply because they were on the pitch?
There are in fact several things going on here and it is worth spelling them out since the Telegraph article is typical in the way it gets rid of unwelcome issues and conflates others.
To start, all violence is to be condemned totally, and those who perpetrate it, should be punished; I think most of us agree.
But the authorities who run football grounds and make arrangements for football matches also have a responsibility to make these arrangements in a way that recognises that there are violent idiots out there, and reduce the likelihood of them turning violent. Events need to be set up so that the chances of violence inside or outside the grounds, on the pitch or in the stands are minimised.
If there is going to be a condemnation of those who run on the pitch, and that is fair enough, then what about the condemnation of those who organise and arrange events which allow such things to happen? That means undertaking proper and detailed risk assessments beforehand and upping the level of security for matches that the properly undertaken risk assessments identify.
But the real reason that the media utterly refuses to return to the issue of the Wembley fiasco for the Euro final is that the arrangements were made by the FA. And the FA is responsible for handing out free tickets to the media. Attack the FA and the media risks being barred from all England games, and with a world cup in the offing, the media doesn’t want that. That is the key point. It’s all about them.
Indeed as we have often noted here, no one in the media ever suggests that the FA has done much wrong at all. For this very same reason, they don’t want their press passes removed.
This is not to say that one can excuse bad fan behaviour on poor arrangements – we all have a moral duty to behave reasonably toward each other. But there are times when arrangements are so badly set up that those responsible for the arrangements must also be held to account.
I go back in my thinking to the start of this season when Arsenal managed to arrange matters so that a bunch of clearly untrained very young crowd managers set up a bag check at the top of the long flight of concrete stairs that rises over the main club shop. This caused queuing on the stairs – something that is completely illegal in UK safety law.
Worse, no apology (at least no apology that I ever saw, and I wrote to the club demanding one, as well as publishing articles on this site) was ever offered for putting the fans in danger in this way.
This is the heart of the problem. As the Wembley and Arsenal examples show, no one with experience and understanding particularly cares about fan safety, but when something goes wrong, it is the “mindless few” who get blamed. Quite simply we, the law-abiding fans, deserve much much better.
I don’t condone any violence, nor anyone who runs on the pitch or damages the club property. But I do think that if the clubs, and above all the FA who run Wembley, just spent a little time thinking about the supporters on whom they depend, rather than just making excuses, we might get somewhere.
But they don’t and won’t. And worse, they seem to have got the media in their pockets so the media run out loads of tosh like this Telegraph story that blames the fans (who do indeed need to be blamed if engaged in illegal activity) but never think: are the ground owners doing all they can?
It is a bit like car theft. The thief is of course to blame. But the driver who leaves his car in the street with the key in the ignition must carry some of the responsibility too if his car goes missing, and if an inexperienced driver then crashes it and kills a child. Responsibility is the key – and the ground owners and organisers’ refusal to accept they can ever be wrong, backed up as it is by the arse-licking media, is prolonging the problems we face.
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