Nine people have been charged by Manchester police after late match unrest yesterday at the Etihad Stadium. Although the person who threw the coin that struck Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has yet to be identified, others have been charged with racially aggravated public order offenses, pitch encroachment, breaching banning orders, or drunk and disorderly conduct.
And perhaps the best part, their names and ages have been printed in the national papers. At least the people of Manchester know which idiots caused yesterday’s chaos.
As soccer matches go, the chaos was rather mild. That didn’t make it any more palatable. After Robin van Persie’s stoppage top restart was deflected into Joe Hart’s net, Manchester City’s home crowd caused a small delay in the match. People invading the playing field drew the attention of security and Hart, who physically confronted one frightened fan as he approached Ferdinand. As Ferdinand celebrated, a coin from the crowd his him above the left eye, requiring his trainer’s attention as blood streamed down the defender’s face.
The spectacle has drawn critique from higher ups in the English game. Professional Footballer’s Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, as told to BBC Radio 5 Live:
“I think you’ve got to give consideration to possibly, as has been suggested, some netting in vulnerable areas, be it behind the goals and round the corner flags.”
Football Association chairmen David Bernstein:
“It is deplorable to see those incidents and to see Rio Ferdinand with blood on his face is absolutely terrible.
“I think it’s disturbing that we’re seeing a recurrence of these types of incidents. We’ve had racial abuse issues, the odd pitch incursion, things being thrown at players – it’s very unacceptable and has to be dealt with severely.”
The indignation’s predictable, and the words are nice, but the issue goes deeper than nets. It’s easy to point to other sports leagues and cultures and say “they don’t have these problems,” but that doesn’t make it any less constructive. Why is this a problem in one environment and not in others?
The sad fact is that this type of behavior has been permitted to be part of the game in too many places. Perfunctory words from executives when the dark cloud rises does little to change the culture. Nor does noting things have improved over the last couple of decades. Just because things were worse before doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be better now.
There needs to be a more concerted, persistent, and aggressive push to make clear what is acceptable behavior at soccer grounds. The effort needs to be proactive, not reactive. Until that happens, it’s hard to see the English game as anything more than mildly concerned about problems like Sunday’s.