Issue Where the blame lies as City supporters are warned about flying footballs and Arsenal fans throw objects at their former player

As told by Jason Mckeown

Ahead of kick off on Saturday, Bradford City and Burton Albion supporters were warned, via the PA system, of the possibility of footballs flying into the crowd while the players warmed up. As a supporter who has attended matches for many years, such a message sounded ridiculous.

A number of years ago I remember a stray football smashing someone’s cup of coffee out of their hands a few yards behind me in the old standing Kop, with the contents spraying all over the poor individual. Gary Walsh came over to apologise, and the supporter simply shrugged his shoulders and wiped himself down. Being struck by a football at full force is not a pleasant experience, but this person did not call the first injury claims phone number he could recite from a daytime TV advert, he did not rush over to a steward to complain about the wayward shooting of Robert Steiner, he didn’t even try to claim back the cost of the coffee. As the warning of the dangers of flying footballs was broadcast around Valley Parade on Saturday, my worry was that in a few years we’ll be watching our football from behind some form of plastic screen.

Like with so many other aspects of the growing Health and Safety culture in the UK, a look at the reasons behind why a person attending a football match would need to be warned footballs will be used prompts the real despair. In the matchday programme there was notice about another seemingly ludicrous Health and Safety measure introduced at Valley Parade, that under 2s are to be banned. Apparently this is “following incidents of small children being hurt at other grounds and legal action being taken against those clubs.”. Just as Lenny the City Gent is no longer allowed to throw sweets, seemingly behind every new Health & Safety rule was a victim with a questionable but probably legal case for compensation.

But as long as there’s a claim where there’s blame, such regulations will continue to be forced upon us. In the grander scheme of things forcing Lenny to cover up his belly and stating the blindingly obvious over the public address system is minor, when you hear of people suing charities for small injuries they may have picked up attending one of their events – increasing such organisations costs and even forcing them to cancel fundraising efforts. Personal responsibility appears to be someone else’s responsibility, no matter how badly you behave.

Over at Eastlands on Saturday, there was an incident not too dissimilar when Man City striker Emmanuel Adebayor choose to sprint the full length of the pitch to celebrate a goal against his former club, Arsenal, in front of his former fans. This caused many away supporters to react angrily, throwing all manner of objects in the direction of the Ivory Coast striker and barging over fellow supporters to get to the front of the visitors section to vent their fury. There are reports that a steward was knocked unconscious for a few seconds as a result, while nearby photographers had to be moved on as their chairs were flung onto the pitch. Some witnesses claim Arsenal fans had been singing some tasteless and offensive things about Adebayor’s family, only two weeks earlier Man United fans had been criticised for similar chants at Arsene Wenger.

Let’s be clear, Adebayor’s actions were highly stupid and the huge media fury directed towards the striker is justified; but do his actions excuse supporters from crossing the line past understandable vocal outrage to the sort of behaviour which, normally, would be considered criminal? In this instance, where’s there’s blame, there’s apparently an excuse to act like a mindless idiot.

This occasion bared similarities with Luton keeper Conrad Logan racing over to dance in front of City supporters after his side had struck what looked to be a late winner in the Kenilworth Road League Two clash last January. Logan received a bucket load of verbal abuse, but despite the despair everyone was feeling at apparently having lost the game, I don’t recall a single object been thrown or of any attempts to get onto the pitch to confront the dim-witted keeper. Certainly nothing on the scale the referee Trevor Kettle was to be subjected to from Luton fans as he walked off the field a few minutes later, having awarded a City a highly contentious penalty in stoppage time which denied them the victory.

On Saturday a seemingly routine moment of a Burton corner was performed while well-known City supporter ‘Charlie’ marched towards the set piece taker to complain at him. Had he done anything stronger than shout abuse, he would deservedly have been kicked out the ground. There is a limit to supporting your football team which most decent people, Charlie included, simply won’t go beyond. Those Arsenal supporters who threw objects or pushed fellow fans out of the way after Adebayor’s actions went past it. The consequences are that the rest of us supporters may one day face new restrictions which are as ludicrous as issued warnings over flying footballs. Plastic screens are used in other countries, after all.

But as the media expresses its outrage, one has to point the finger of blame back at it too. While Arsenal fans have strong reasons for hating their former striker, the modern day over-hyped Premier League, which sees rivalries magnified and hatred encouraged, plays its part in fanning such flames. In the days before the Arsenal v Man City match, the media were stoking up the fact Adebayor was facing his old club and continued to paint him in such a way as to encourage even more hatred from those who used to support him. If the return fixture wasn’t scheduled to be live on Sky, you can comfortably bet it will be now, hyped up non-stop beforehand so the spectacle of 60,000+ people screaming abuse at their former hero can be considered ‘entertainment’.

Just like the Manchester United supporter who arranged to have an offensive message about the number of Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough on the back of his shirt, such hatred in football is unnecessary, unhealthy and counter-productive. Instead of worrying about footballs hitting spectators, the games authorities should look at diffusing this growing problem, even if it involves taking on the media paymasters who they have become enslaved to.

Meanwhile we football supporters need to remember that this game has its limits and start taking responsibility for our own behaviour.