Yesterday a man in a flat cap and an ill fitting shirt ran onto a football pitch and attempted to punch another man in the face. The puncher was a twenty-seven year old Birmingham City fan. The punchee was Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.
As is appropriate in any case of assault, the puncher was arrested and detained by police. The punchee continued to play and scored the only goal in what has become known as one of the most fiercely contested derbies in English football.
Most of the time football enables us to indulge our primal urges in a safe, sympathetic environment. The moment you squeeze through the turnstile (observing sagely how thin everyone must have been when the ground was built, then buying a pie) the responsibilities of adulthood fade, leaving behind a large toddler with full bowel control and a lot of opinions.
In a football crowd, rationale doesn’t apply. It doesn’t exist. The opposition ARE shit and deserve to be shouted at. Even if they’re really good. No, especially if they’re really good. Especially if they’re really good and have a daft haircut.
The match officials are always wrong. If one of your players is tackled, the aggressor should definitely receive a card. Usually yellow but if you’re going to bother getting them out it might as well be a red. If one of your players makes a tackle, there was absolutely nothing in it from that angle. He was play acting.
In light of this it, claiming that most of us are self-aware seems a little rash. But I promise it’s true. We use the experience of going to games as it should be used, in small bursts, we’re able to maintain a healthy balance and understand that despite what Bill Shankly said, at no time is football more important than life or death.
That’s why when our heroic pitch invader was marched off the pitch he lifted his arms to the applause of his fellow fans. While I’m certain some will have condoned his behaviour, I’m equally certain that most will have just been in the moment. It sounds like a shit excuse, but as humanity has proved over the last couple of years, we’re collectively a lot more emotionally led than we’d like to believe.
The football community will tie itself in knots about this for a few days. We’re hysterical and need a slap. Especially the former player who just implied that guns at football matches would be the way forward.
But this is where we need to concentrate. Remember that these occasions of people running onto the pitch are notable for their infrequency. There’s been a spate of them in Scottish football recently, almost certain informing this one, but hundreds of thousands of people attend matches every week in the UK and any one of them, at any moment, if sufficiently motivated, could get past stewards and onto the playing surface with little to no trouble.
They don’t. Just as most people in the UK abide by laws and a generally accepted code of behaviour. This isn’t a cancer in football or a reason to re-introducing fencing, god forbid. It’s an opportunity to discuss penalties that impact clubs and fans. That have a genuine impact on their chances of progressing in a competition.
Points deduction, lads.
I don’t like it either, but we’ve proven time and again that fines, custodial sentences, matches behind closed doors and lifetime bans don’t reduce the instances of racism, ref abuse and fans misbehaving in any number of ingenious ways. They just don’t. We don’t feel the burn from those punishments. They don’t snuff out those irresistible urges that reportedly grab normal citizens by the balls and refuse to let go until they’ve shouted abuse at a black man, made a noise like a gas chamber or punched Jack Grealish in the side of the neck. It’s a game of football.
I hate to end with a reflection on a point that already been made, but I’d rather bring in a mechanism like points deduction now and piss off people in the short term than do it after we’ve watched a player get stabbed live in Ultra HD. There’s nothing to stop that happening. There never has been.
But it will.