Ask most American’s what Britain is famous for and you’ll invariably get the same answers. Bad teeth, The Beatles, The Queen, Benny Hill and Are You Being Served and the muffin – which is a bizarre sexual practise we are all obliged by law to indulge in on the Isles. Honest.
Aside from those, a lot of people know us for our football hooligans. We invented hooligans in Britain. It’s a word first used at the end of the 19th century in Police reports to describe rowdy people, often rowdy Irish people. 70 years later it was almost exclusively used in the context of football. British football hooligans became world famous for their violence and sheer numbers. Most clubs had a ‘team’ of serious nutters who would turn up at games looking for a fight with the other clubs team of psychos. Growing up in the 70s I thought this was normal. Dodging flying bottles and managing not to get seven shades of shite knocked out of you was all part of everyday life if you went to a lot of football matches.
It all reached a peak in the 80s when mass fights between fans and the police and anyone else who got in the way broke out on the pitch, in the grounds, on the streets and in the pubs as ‘fans’ went on orgies of violence. It got very unpleasant even for kids like us who had grown up in an air of vague menace and violence. Many of us stopped going to football simply because our idea of a good time wasn’t being assaulted by a fat bastard called Smezza. They’re always called Smezza for some reason.
These days life at the football is very different. The chances of Smezza and his mates performing a lobotomy on you with their 18 hole Doc Martens are now fairly small. He has either been killed off, quite literally, or he’s been rehabilitated with the help of Prozac or Lithium.
So when we get incidents such as those on Monday night when a fan runs on the pitch with the intent of giving a slap to a player or anyone else who gets in his way, there is a sharp intake of breath at the shock of it all, quickly followed by a big cheer.
It is a plain fact that almost everyone likes to see a pitch invader and one with intent to beat up a player is especially welcome, possibly because so many fans feel like players are taking the piss out of us with their insane wages and half-arsed performances, as well as their outrageously good looking if vacuous air-headed girlfriends. I’m not afraid to say I love it, even though the majority of the media and the rest of the games’ authorities are obliged to wag a metaphorical finger and shake their heads gravely and say ‘isn’t it terrible.’
Secretly they know that we all love it. Its anti authoritarian and seems especially outrageous in these more tame, placid times when you can even get thrown out of a ground for fucking swearing and a player can get booked for ‘over-celebrating.’
However, that doesn’t mean, as some commentators have suggested, that if we celebrate the occasional pitch invasion, that we want to return to the dark days of the 80s or that it’s a slippery slope back to those lawless days. We don’t want to sit behind big fences, as they still do in some parts of Europe, like caged animals waiting to get out and savage someone. Almost all of us hated the violence we grew up with. However, there is something totally irresistible about a rebel fan so incensed by a player that he feels the need to run right across the pitch, evading stewards and police in order to plant one on the him in the full knowledge he’ll be banned for life and even end up in jail. Hell, it’s almost noble.
It’s such a rare thing to happen that it would be wrong not to enjoy it on the occasions it does happen. Last season QPR keeper Simon Royce was attacked by a fan and it was one of the funniest things you’ll ever see. Royce, a massive man, was holding the wildly thrashing fan at bay with one hand the way you’d hold off a small child who is having a tantrum.
Neither that incident, nor the one on Monday indicated a return to the inglorious days of the hooligan and we should be free to enjoy these isolated incidents for what they are rather than suffer the moral opprobrium of a media which is all too keen to show the incident a 100 times in slow motion on order to properly show the true ‘horror.’
John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.
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