Oct 28, 2010

A Tougher Stance is Needed...

By Stephen Adams

Violence and racism still blight football at the top level, it's time the governing bodies thought differently and acted decisively to eradicate the problem.

Incidents between rival fans have bought the spectre of football violence back under the spotlight in recent weeks. The attacks on Liverpool fans by the 'Ultras' of Napoli included three stabbings and a separate attack on a group eating in a pizzeria. Local police even admitted that groups of Napoli fans had set out on premeditated 'hunts' for Liverpool fans, armed with baseball bats, iron bars and home-made blunt instruments with screws sticking out of them. Welcome to the Europa League.

Football violence, although still occurring, has thankfully fallen in recent years. The creation of all-seater stadia and the overall gentrification of the Premier League in the Sky Sports era has mellowed some of the more hard-core elements. Indeed, this gentrification has come mainly through ticket price hikes that some argue have priced the common man out of watching modern football, but this is a correlation that has to be considered.

Violence, and the same stands for racism, are elements of football that the governing bodies don't seem to take that seriously. Sure, there are the occasional statements about 'taking a harder line' on offenders, but the proof is in the punitive pudding, with FIFA and UEFA both having a lot to do in addressing these issues.

In 2004, several of England's black players were the target of monkey chanting from the crowd during a Friendly against Spain at the Bernabeu. This is about as high-profile you can get for an international friendly, and certain elements of the crowd considered this to be acceptable behaviour. FIFA's take on the matter? As it wasn't featured in the referee's report, they couldn't risk punishment harsh enough to be challenged in court, so they fined the Spanish authorities £44,750.

£44,750?!! You'd be very hard pressed to find a player from either side prepared to accept that as a weekly wage. Given the profile of the incident it was a derisory amount, and it sent out a clear message that this wasn't a big deal. The Spanish players should have been ashamed of this treatment towards a fellow professional, and more should have spoken out at the time, but this was not surprising for a team run by Luis Aragones.

England fans are no saints either, in fact some of them are scum. I was once fortunate enough to witness an idiot in an England shirt run up to a Swiss fan on the steps of Wembley before Capello's first match in charge, and scream every fan's favourite 'England til I die' right into his face. I would have been more ashamed of my countryman if it hadn't have been so absurd, due to a) he was trying to provoke a well-behaved man from a country known for it's neutrality, and b) the Swiss fan was clinging onto a novelty cow bell. Here, if ever, was a clear illustration of a fan looking to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere, and one looking to get up anyone's nose.

This slapstick moment aside, there are more sinister sides to England fans, most notably demonstrated in the racist chanting during the Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey at the Stadium of Light. There wasn't much enlightenment taking place on that occasion, although the English FA were still only given a rap on the knuckles and asked to find £67,125 - Capello's annual spend on cufflinks I'm lead to believe.

Racism is still taking place and until it is dealt with more seriously, there is no reason for clubs to worry about engaging with their supporters on the issue. When supporters of FC Rabotnicki racially abused Liverpool players earlier this season they were fined £10,000. What message does that send out?

Viv Anderson, the first black player to represent England in 1978, has joined calls for tougher sanctions on clubs who are dragged into this mire by their fans. He argues for fines of at least £1,000,000 per incident, and it's hard to argue against his logic. Clubs would have to take a stronger line in terms of dealing with fans who break the rules.

In terms of violence, the reputation of English football fans does sometimes precede them, and they're seen as fair game by some foreign hooligan elements. English and opposition teams need to engage with their fans and avoid situations whereby clashes become inevitable. Galatasaray took the alternative approach to this in the UEFA Cup semi-final of 2000. After the death of two Leeds United fans in the city centre the night before the game, Galatasaray refused to wear black armbands and their fans jeered the announcements of condolence whilst aiming throat-slitting gestures at the Leeds end of the ground. This was blatant irresponsibility by the club, and such a poisonous atmosphere shouldn't be allowed in the modern game.

The governing bodies are too afraid to tackle this problem with any real clout, too afraid to make a real example out of someone. Fans guilty of racism or violence should be given life-long bans from attending matches, clubs should be fined amounts big enough to prompt them into dealing with things, and some clubs should be made to play matches behind closed doors - perhaps the most visual way of demonstrating that this isn't acceptable.

FIFA are inept in many ways. Blatter is only interested in self-promotion and securing another term in office, his World Cup delegates are rife with corruption, and it takes an eternity to make any decisions, such as technology within the game. There needs to be more pro-active management of the game at the top-level, and someone with the guts to tackle the serious issues in an effective way.

1 comment:

Motor Mouth UK said...

I agree with the article.
For more on the controversies affecting football today - Sad Soccer