By Tony Attwood
Of course most of the time – indeed we might say almost all of the time – most football fans in England don’t spare a moment to think about how the rest of the world sees us. We are told by our own media that the Premier League is the best in the world, and that the rest of the world is in awe of our football, even if we don’t produce footballers who make England a trophy-winning side. So why should we look elsewhere?
But sometimes it is worth having a look at what others in Europe say, not just about football around the world (where their perspective is fundamentally different from that of the English media) but what they say about English football itself.
For anyone who did look at the European media after Sunday’s games might have been a bit taken aback. For while our media were focussing on the triumph of Manchester City and the ceaseless repeating of the fact that they have won the Premier League four times in five seasons, a lot of Europe got a very different story.
Aston Villa goalkeeper assaulted as he leaves Etihad Stadium
That was the headline run by AFP – the news agency that employs 2,400 staff, across over 150 countries. And when AFP speaks, much of the civilised world notices.
Their prime story was that “Robin Olsen was escorted by a steward when he left the Citizens’ ground on Sunday. This did not stop several people from attacking him and trying to hit him….
“Manchester City apologized to Aston Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen, who was pushed and apparently hit by several of its fans who invaded the field on Sunday at the end of the victory (3-2) that crowned the Citizens champions of England.”
Their picture of the game carries the commentary, “Shocking footage has emerged of Aston Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen being assaulted numerous times whilst leaving the Etihad pitch.”
The story then continues about the injuries the keeper may have sustained, and has a statement from Manchester City to the effect that, “The club has immediately launched an investigation and, once he is identified, the individual will be permanently banned from the stadium.”
No mention however of investigating how their security system was so lax that it allowed the event to happen in the first place!
Besides, such a punishment seems rather meek and mild as the article continues under the headline “Precedents” by saying,
“This incident comes after a series of others in the past week.
“On Thursday, Crystal Palace’s French coach Patrick Vieira kicked and tripped an Everton fan who had insulted him … after the Toffees won 3-2, also after being 2-0 down, to keep them in the top flight.
“Two days earlier, a Nottingham Forest fan headbutted Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp on the pitch after his team had eliminated the Blades in the Premier League play-off semi-final. The individual was quickly identified and was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison.”
Now I am not saying that this story of violence at the Manchester City stadium was inaccurate or over the top, nor am I saying that it is not covered in the English media. But the feeling I get is that there is a growing impression in Europe that football is declining into anarchy in England while no one in England seems to be talking much about how the situation can be brought under control.
I have, of course, been so criticial of the scenes at the Euro final at Wembley and the lack of any response at all from the media concerning the fact that this event was organised by and controlled by the FA in their own stadium, that you will be quite possibly be bored stupid as I mention it again.
But the reality is that while the English media focussed totally on the “mindless hooligans” who caused the problem, in Europe there was a growing feeling that something in relation to English football is not right when problems like this happen all over the place, time and again.
Fifa won’t be inclined to make any comment because the FA is kowtowing to Fifa by not raising the issue that Fifa is still allowing Russian officials and administrators to attend Fifa meetings, while most other sports have stopped this happening.
So with Fifa and the FA neatly bound up together, and the English media not wanting to call the FA to account over this sort of violence, exactly as it failed to hold the FA to account over the multiple cases of child sex abuse in football, the English media focusses on its old favourites such as “mindless hooligans” while not in any way asking the most simple question of all: why do clubs that have access to untold billions of pounds, actually spend that money making their grounds safe?
The answer, I guess, is because the media feels that because the fans shouldn’t have invaded the pitch, Manchester City have no guilt.
Which is rather like saying, if a motorist drives along a motorway at 90mph (where the speed limit is 70mph) and causes the deaths of 20 people in an accident, it is not the fault of the Highways Agency.
But it is partially the fault of the Highways Agency if they are doing nothing much to get people to obey the speed limit. But we have speed cameras installed to the level that the motorways of England have more surveillance than any other location in Western Europe. It doesn’t stop everyone speeding and doesn’t stop every accident, but it does help reduce the level of the problem.
In football though, the media’s approach seems to be that these are “mindless hooligans” and that once having given them that name they can quickly move back to congratulating Manchester City on winning the league while never once considering why they don’t have more effective crowd control.
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