This coming weekend of football left a lot to live long in the memory of football fans. I wish the topic of this article concerned the football involved as this weekend saw upsets, a comeback, a managerial sacking, as well as the first domestic defeat of Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Sadly the headlines give way to much more abhorrent titles and content regarding certain on field action that doesn’t include the mere kicking of a football. During the Second City derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa, a pitch invader leapt from the stands, hurried onto the pitch and struck Villa midfielder Jack Grealish from behind.
I cannot remember ever seeing such a blatant act of cowardice and appalling behaviour on the football pitch by a complete scumbag. I will not use the word fan to describe this pathetic being as doing so would be nothing other than an insult to true football supporters that know the difference between club rivalry banter and flat out thuggish behaviour.
Unfortunately this incident and the idiot involved were not left in isolation. Midway through Arsenal’s victory over Manchester United, another moron invaded the pitch and proceeded to push United’s centre back Chris Smalling. Thankfully on this occasion the player involved had not been attacked from behind and could have potentially defended himself if he had felt under any real threat.
From pundits and fans alike, a lot of talk has been made in regards to the punishment, both of the individuals involved and their respective clubs. In the case of the thug that attacked Jack Grealish, he has already been sentenced to 14 weeks in prison and a 10 year footballing ban after pleading guilty to assault. The man involved with Chris Smalling has been charged and is due to appear in court on Tuesday 12th March.
Match of the Day pundit and Newcastle legend, Alan Shearer, along with many other ex-pro’s suggested the heaviest punishment for Birmingham City football club, a points deduction. Though I understand the reason behind this notion, in my opinion, deducting either club of points will not serve as an effective deterrent for any potential future pitch invaders.
Once an individual has decided to leave their seat and cross the white line onto the pitch, for whatever reason, they’ve already accepted the the likelihood of a lifetime stadium ban and any potential ramifications with the law as well. I do not see the possibility of points being deducted from their team holding any further weight with an individual that is prepared to potentially throw their own future away.
I do however feel that a fine for both clubs, along with having to play their remaining home league fixtures behind closed doors would be a fair punishment – obviously any tickets already purchased by fans would have to be reimbursed. Whether it’s the stewards or another crowd control department at the ground, it’s clear that those in charge of stopping these invaders reaching the pitch and players categorically failed.
As an extension to that, I would also suggest a complete overhaul to the current stewarding systems used throughout the football leagues in this country. All too often, I’ve seen stewards, or employees tasked with controlling the crowd watching the game instead of actually doing their job. After 15 years as a West Ham season ticket holder, I saw more idiots run the length of the pitch than I could count. This has to change.
Whether that means employing personnel with experience in the forces, security industry, or merely introducing a new training programme for stewards, the current method of crowd control at football is in dire need of an update.
Thankfully no lasting damage occurred to either player in regards to this weekends incidents. Should things continue as they are, how long will it be before yet another thug emerges onto the pitch, this time with a deadly weapon?
The one positive side of this story: the response of Jack Grealish. After being attacked by a thug, Grealish showed the maturity to put the incident aside, continue with the game and score the only goal of the match. A strike more powerful than any coward could hope to throw. Well done, Jack!