Well, it didn’t take long, did it? Over the weekend we welcomed the return of competitive football after a summer spent floating from a meaningless friendly to an absurd transfer rumour then, less than 48 hours later, the season’s first ugly scenes unfolded on our TV screens.
Preston’s late winner against Blackpool on Monday night in the first round of the Capital One Cup was understandably met with sheer jubilation by the home fans, some of who, rather less understandably, then decided to invade the pitch at the final whistle.
The far from salubrious pictures offered a timely reminder that, in football, idiocy is a fire far from being extinguished.
As Preston fans – a term that must be used very loosely – stormed onto the pitch at the final whistle, a steward was struck by a horse as it cantered across the pitch as Police tried to disperse the crowd, mercifully escaping with nothing more serious than a shoulder injury.
Not for the first time in recent years, things could have be much, much worse. For all the improvements English football has undergone since its darkest days, scenes such as the one we witnessed on Monday night can only leave viewers with a bitter taste in their mouths, wondering if things will ever, completely, change.
Obviously, modern football is a far more secure environment that two or so decades ago, and yet it remains dangerously prone to fall victim to a hundred of deranged fans, seeking a couple of minutes on TV, a release valve for their simmering anger and God knows what else.
Monday’s events showed high profile games played in neutral venues over the weekend aren’t the only ones to tick all the boxes in terms of potential crowd unrest, for if it can happen during the first round of the League Cup on a Monday night, then it can happen anywhere.
Admittedly, Preston and Blackpool share a old rivalry, but the unsavoury scenes that unfolded at Deepdale have little to do with geography or history, for they’re borne out of sheer idiocy.
“I wondered if we have enough stewards,” said Blackpool manager Paul Ince after the match.
“You see enough situations where fans run on a pitch and I can understand fans’ excitement, but there have been enough frightening things that have happened to players that we need to stamp down on it.
“There were three or four hundred Preston fans, so who knows what could have happened? Has it got to take something else to happen before we listen? That’s not just Preston but it’s the whole football community in general. We need to knuckle down on this.”
While Ince clearly has a point, the number of stewards can hardly be blamed for the events, for stewards, like police officers, aren’t deployed to prevent lunatics from fighting or storming onto the pitch, they’re simply a deterrent.
Just like any sensible person knows that traveling without a valid ticket is illegal and therefore has to be avoided, rather than simply being avoided for fear of being fined, the overwhelming majority of football fans behave in a civilised way because they know that’s the right thing to, rather than because they don’t want to incur the stewards’ wrath.
Unfortunately, despite coming leaps and bounds in recent years, football still has a long way to go before it eradicates this sort of behaviour of completely from its stadiums and pitches.
Until the culture suffers a complete and radical revamping, many fans would only see stewards as police as a train conductor from which to escape.