Football is often dubbed the beautiful game and when played in the right spirit it can be. Football has a way of bringing people together but it can also bring out the nasty side in people too. Apparently, the most domestic abuse cases received happen on two days of the year, Christmas day and Cup final day.
Since the late eighties and the tragic Hillsborough disaster football has changed. It began with the investigation into Hillsborough and the Taylor report. Terraces were effectively eradicated, replaced with all-seater stadiums, especially in the top tiers of English football.
The problems weren’t just the grounds themselves though. There was a culture of football violence in the UK. With many clubs having their own gangs, or “firms” as they liked to call themselves. Obviously, outside the stadium, the issue was a police one but inside the ground, the responsibility mainly lies with the clubs and their security teams to protect the other fans and of course the players and officials.
In the top flight this security is relatively robust but as highlighted this weekend it isn’t impenetrable. Usually incidents these days are in the form of projectiles. Fans launching items on to the pitch in order to try and hit players/officials. These can range from coins to bottles. The sanctions for any fans caught doing this are severe and this tends to be a deterrent.
This weekend saw two incidents in the top tiers of English football. One of the invasions happened in the Arsenal versus Man Utd match when a fan made it on to the pitch and proceeded to push Man Utd defender Chris Smalling.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst assault this weekend as a man identified as 27-year-old Paul Mitchell invaded the pitch during the Villa versus Birmingham City match. Derby matches can be heated affairs but there’s no doubt that the fans behaviour was totally unacceptable. Perhaps he thought he was one of the Mitchell brothers as he charged on to the pitch and performed a cowardly punch to the back of the head of Jack Grealish.
Grealish ultimately had the last laugh as he scored the winning goal in the Derby taking Villa up to ninth in the league and leapfrogging their fierce Midlands rivals.
Is it always bad?
Not always, no. There was a famous pitch invader Karl Power who used cunning and guile in order to create some hilarious moments. Among his infamous stunts, he inserted himself into a team photo with the Manchester United squad. Hilariously, famed “hard nut” Roy Keane appears to be glaring at him from the other side of the group line up.
He and a friend also took the centre court stage at Wimbledon and he even came out to bat at Lords adorned in a full England kit. Nobody knew what was going on. However, he wasn’t trying to ruin the matches and he certainly didn’t attack anyone. There is a difference between a prank, a move that disrupts a match and a physical assault. One of those things is acceptable, the other two, not-so-much.
Clearly, it is incorrect that professional footballers should have to worry about being assaulted while playing. You have a right to feel safe at your place of work. What is more shocking is that this can happen so high up. You could almost excuse the lapse security if it was a non-league game but we are talking about the top two tiers of English football. Hopefully, this will shine a light on the problem and English football can clamp down on it so we can avoid a return to the dark days where these sort of things were commonplace.