The “fan” who assaulted Chris Kirkland during Friday night’s Championship match against Sheffield Wednesday has been jailed for 16 weeks and banned from attending football matches for five years. Furthermore, Leeds United have promised to issue the “thug” with a lifetime ban which will come into effect after his 5 year ban has expired.
It’s a surprisingly swift conclusion to the drama, no doubt hastened by the media attention this incident has attracted, but have the courts been too lenient? Leeds United certainly think so.
I’m inclined to agree with them too. A 16 week sentence means he’ll be out in 6-8 weeks, following which he’ll have no problems whatsoever getting into football grounds. The ban is completely unenforceable, and I know this to be true because I know people that are banned from various football grounds and manage to get in without issue.
The trouble is, unless every football club starts ID’ing every single supporter as they pass through the turnstiles, how can a ban possibly be enforced? One face in a crowd of thousands is incredibly difficult to spot, as proven by the fact the individual in question managed to disappear into the crowd on Friday night.
“But he won’t be able to buy tickets” I’m sure the club will respond. Please. Does anyone really believe it’s that difficult to buy tickets for any game at all? Home tickets aren’t even a challenge, you simply have a friend buy them (his name will be printed on them both).
As for away tickets, there’s always a ticket going spare from someone who can’t make it, and contrary to Ken Bates’ claims that you need to be a member or ST holder to get access, you don’t – it’s incredibly rare anyone checks, it’d take them hours to match it all up. Even if you get a bit of a jobsworth steward, they’re not hard to blag. You’ve simply forgotten your card or left it in the carpark a couple of miles away, very few stewards are going to risk upsetting football fans by denying them entry – and who can blame them? We’ve all seen what the thugs are capable of.
The trouble is, while I agree wholeheartedly with the statement from Leeds United, I’m not sure what else anyone could do?
A longer prison term – certainly. But that’s beyond the control of football, that’s a matter for the legal system.
ID checks on every gate as people enter the stadium? Never going to happen, it’d cost a fortune.
Better stewarding is one I’ve heard a lot, but ask yourself this – would you run into a crowd of 5,000 drunken fans who you’d just witnessed patting the offending target on the back? I know I wouldn’t.
The only real option I see – and it won’t be popular, but that’s kind of the point – is banning Leeds United fans from away games. I’m not talking a permanent ban, just long enough to change attitudes and force people to have a rethink about how worthy of worship the idiot’s actions on Friday night were. Let’s say 3-4 games.
By the time that 3-4 games has passed you’re going to have a lot of irritated regulars no longer willing to tolerate the actions of these mindless chavs who have no interest in the football whatsoever and come along solely for the “tear up” or whatever term they label it these days.
Instead of pats on the back all round, the result will more likely be a repeat of the Ipswich Town game a few years back when the majority of our fans chanted “you’re the scum of Elland Road” to the idiots that stormed the pitch to attack opposition fans. I naively thought we’d reached a turning point that day, I was incredibly proud to witness that reaction.
What the Ipswich Town game taught us is that the problem fans really are a minority. The vast majority go for the game, for the highs and lows, simply to enjoy the day out with friends and family – as it should be.
Friday night was no exception, it was a minority of Leeds United fans that were the problem. Same with Sheffield Wednesday. The majority of supporters on both sides wanted to watch a game of football between Yorkshire’s giants, whilst those that committed most of the trouble paid little attention to the game at all. There was a group next to me who indulged in sickening chants throughout the course of the fixture, I don’t think they turned their head towards the pitch once, they were far too busy shouting at the opposition supporters and manager.
The only way this will ever stop is if the majority of supporters are unwillingly to tolerate it. The possibility of an away ban for those that actually care about the football would definitely do the trick. A petty fine and a slap on the wrist will do nothing – it deters no one, The FA have stuck to that course of action for years and it’s solved nothing.
All I know is that I’m sick of this nonsense and if I have to suffer missing a couple of games to change things, so be it. There’s no point blaming the FA, the stewards, the Police, the opposition fans, the minority or whoever else you’ve managed to apply blame to thus far, the supporters are the only people capable of changing things, and at present, people seem happy to dismiss such incidents as an inevitably, “part of football culture.”
Let’s see how many people are willing to dismiss it so casually when we’re all banned from attending games.
Incidentally, there’s an excellent piece on Friday night’s incident and football thuggery in general over on Owl’s Alive which is well worth a read.