As we awoke yesterday to more news of the Boston bombings, we were served a stark reminder that human lives can be snatched away in the blink of an eye, even at a sporting event – something particularly poignant for many at this time of year. The tragic events that unfolded stateside put things in perspective, especially in a week when English football was doing some soul searching of its own following the events that marred last weekends football matches in the Premier League and FA Cup.
Following a week in which many entertained the thought of observing a minute of silence to commemorate the late Margaret Thatcher, it was perversely apt that some yobs across the country decided to take a stroll down memory lane, reminding us all of football’s darkest days in the late 70s and mid-80s.
While the unsavoury scenes at Wembley and in Newcastle roused feelings of shame and disdain that we thought had long been buried, it’s important to stress that they were a world away from the consistent violence that swept through football grounds across the country 20-30 years ago.
“The scenes within the ground at Wembley and in the streets of Newcastle that have featured so prominently in the media this weekend are shameful,” explained the FSF chief executive, Kevin Miles. “Genuine football fans abhor that kind of violence and it has no place in the game. We do, however, need to keep it in proportion.
“The situation around football is dramatically improved, both in terms of behaviour and policing. I see no reason to change tack from a policing approach that has brought about such improvements over the last 15 years. Arrest figures as reported by the Home Office every year have shown a consistent downward trend and it is a tiny proportion of those attending matches at any level of the game.”
Having said that, the incidents we (and a global audience) witnessed on TV and YouTube (once you have sat through an advert), particularly those scenes in North West London, were undoubtedly some of the worst scenes of hooliganism we have seen in this country since the glitzy world of the Premier League rebranded English football in 1993. Police with Batons raised ,exchanging blows with rowdy fans, seemed a distant memory.
Those dismissing the incidents as “handbags” and “only a minority” are missing the point, it is complacency that is exactly the sort of approach that guarantees the conditions in which these utter cretins thrive.
Likewise, disbelief doesn’t cut it either.
The FA’s decision to stage a semi-final on a Saturday evening, at prime time, thus allowing pubs to maximise their revenues – let’s not forget who the main FA Cup sponsor is – while attracting the highest TV audience possible (global audience from the US to Asia), confirms that fans, and their safety, continue to play second fiddle to profits and revenues.
Anybody who’s ever attended a football game, particularly if in a neutral venue or away ground, knows perfectly well that a late kick-off only enhances the opportunity to down as much alcohol as possible, leaving people susceptible to its effect. Whilst the sensationalist headlines barking about widespread use of cocaine among fans wouldn’t have surprised many either – that’s if you don’t live in a football fan bubble.
That is not to say, of course, that the majority of match goers wouldn’t enjoy their day out if stripped of alcohol and A-class drugs, but this culture is more widespread that many would be happy to admit.
Ignoring such issues would be as detrimental as the sweeping generalisation that led to fans being treated like animals during the Thatcher era. English football has come a long way over the last 20 years, but further improvements are needed to ensure that a minority – as small as it might be – won’t jeopardise the experience for the majority of fans.
Because, as we’ve been tragically reminded over the last 24 hours, it’s still possible to die for simply wanting to cheer a friend or a family member on at a sporting event and no fan should have to fear for their safety.
What is your view on the events that happened over last weekend? Is Football violence back or did it never go away? Or have the media blown this out of proportion? We want your views. Make sure you follow Football Rascal on Twitter and Facebook for a daily dose of football goodness and not the same old s**t.