The events of Saturday evening in the Midlands offered a salutary reminder that while football hooligans may have been tamed, they have not completely gone away. But let’s not get things out of perspective; the worst of the dark age is just a nasty memory …
In a perfect world, Sunderland supporters could turn up their noses at the West Bromwich Albion sub-pond life that chucked chair seats at home supporters at Villa Park on Saturday.
Our noses could stay turned up at the thought of Villa’s own hard-of-thinking morons who twice invaded the pitch, “taunting and pushing” WBA players according to the Birmingham Mail report (Memo to Mail hacks: the Premier team in your city is Aston Villa, not Vila).
We stood on the same moral high ground when Newcastle oafs trashed the city centre because their team had finished second, not top, or ran riot, putting the lives of Tyneside police horses in some jeopardy, to express disappointment at the outcome of a Tyne-Wear derby.
When it comes to players, we could thank our lucky stars none of ours would dream of collapsing in a heap clutching his face after being, at most, pushed lightly in the chest or doing the pushing while pretending to be hit (as Watford’s Fernando Forestieri did against Wolves to secure Bakary Sako’s dismissal). Or dive shamelessly to win a penalty and maybe get a fellow-professional sent off as a bonus. As for both diving and committing a minor assault on the ref, that’s just for other clubs’ players, especially ones called Di Maria.
Sadly, we know the reality is that Sunderland has had its own share of idiots or worse, fans who think it is perfectly OK to act like imbeciles, and occasional instances of players willing to cheat to gain advantage (though I do not think SAFC footballers have special notoriety in this respect, embarrassing as Rodwell’s dive was at Hull).
Certainly in the case of the supporters, only a tiny minority bring the club into disrepute; behaviour is often boisterous but generally exemplary. I was delighted to put the Tory MP Robert Halfon in his place a year ago when he tried to blacken the good name of the thousands in red and and white who converged on Covent Garden on the eve of the Capital One Cup final. The figure of five arrests all weekend (four at or around Wembley, all of one on the night in question), a number so small Halfon should have been rejoicing), told its own story.
We have probably all seen examples of bad behaviour from fellow-fans, from racist comments to fighting (occasionally among one another). But we experience many, many more matchdays when the collective support has simply given us a mighty sense of pride.
The point is that most Villans and Baggies are also decent supporters, good-humoured and honest rather like our own.
Let’s always try to remember that for every lout who charges on to the pitch, or runs the risk of causing serious injury by chucking objects, 20 or 30 or 50 more are shaking their heads in disgust or dismay. And you need only follow Salut! Sunderland’s “Who are You?” series to see that an overwhelming majority of supporters of all clubs want cheats to be confronted.
The worst excesses of supporters’ behaviour are behind us. Every club has always had its little contingent of yobs. The proportions probably don’t alter greatly – I’d say five to 10 per cent, much higher among England’s travelling support and at certain clubs (as in “you all hate us and 99 per cent of us don’t care”).
What hooliganism is left needs to be stamped out. But we should be grateful for the progress that has been made. Maybe both Villa and WBA should be fined over Saturday’s ugly scenes, but no more than that.
And I must admit I rather liked the introduction to this report at one Villa fan site :
With the uproar over the pitch invasion taking up most of the narrative, it has been easy to forget that Aston Villa won an absolutely fantastic match of football on Saturday. What’s more is that the win came against all odds in a match that saw them start with an absolutely dire first half. Let’s actually take a look at the match, why don’t we? You have my word that from here on out there will be no mention of invasions of any sort.
Let us hope, then, for a fantastic match of football on Saturday ending with an emphatic Sunderland win – stranger things have happened – and not a soul on the pitch who shouldn’t be there.
* Guess the SAFC vs AVFC score – Villa entries welcome – and win a mug … https://safc.blog/2015/03/sunderland-vs-aston-villa-guess-the-score-the-crunchiest-of-crunch-matches/