x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Passion of players is not the problem

Blaming exuberant players is ridiculous. Fans need to learn better behaviour, and perhaps their team losing points might bring them around.

After being hit by a coin thrown from the crowd Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand was confronted on the pitch by a Manchester City fan. Paul Ellis/ AFP
After being hit by a coin thrown from the crowd Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand was confronted on the pitch by a Manchester City fan. Paul Ellis/ AFP

Did people really suggest this week that footballers should know better than to celebrate goals near rival fans?

They are the type of comments I heard after Manchester United's last-minute winner in the Manchester derby.

They were nonsense. Every footballer is entitled to celebrate a goal with his team; it is the best part of being a footballer.

It is not incitement, nor does it warrant fans throwing things at them or running on to the pitch and looking to attack them.

Maybe I shouldn't have, but I laughed as the fan ran on to the pitch to challenge Rio Ferdinand on Sunday.

Joe Hart, the City goalkeeper, did the right thing in restraining the idiot, but what would the fan have done had he got to Rio, who is twice the size of him, a fit athlete in his prime from a tough south London estate?

Rio would have been within his right to act in self-defence. The fan wouldn't have stood a chance.

Ferdinand did nothing wrong. He celebrated a goal in front of his own fans very passionately - as you would expect when your team wins a derby away from home against the champions in the last minute.

Did people expect him to pat his teammates on the back gently and jog back to the halfway line while waiting for the game to restart?

This was not Emanuel Abebayor running from the other end of the pitch up to Arsenal fans to celebrate while a Manchester City player, or even Gary Neville running to the Liverpool fans at Old Trafford. Now that's revving fans up.

Fans think it is fine to abuse footballers. It is not, but we live with it and just because it has always been that way does not make it right. Fans say that they pay your wages and that gives them the right to say what they want. Rubbish.

I was abused almost every week as a Manchester United player yet I never felt vulnerable. If a fan would have run on the pitch and tried to attack me, I would not have run away into the dressing room. I could have more than defended myself, not that I was ever inclined to jump into the stand like my teammate Eric Cantona.

The abuse, though wrong, went with the territory because we had the best team and people envied that. They thought it would unsettle us, when it had the opposite effect. The manager knew it was coming and would say: "You're not playing against the fans, it's 11 versus 11 out there."

Some of my teammates got far more abuse. David Beckham received horrendous insults, especially after France '98 when he was sent off against Argentina. Fans abused him and his family and it is to his credit that he came through it.

I did not let the hatred bother me. Instead, it inspired me and I used the abuse as a motivational tool. Victory was the best answer to your abusers.

Others did the same. You could never make it at the top level if you wilted under insults from the terraces. I actually enjoyed playing at Liverpool and Leeds United, the most hostile grounds for a United player, places where everyone despised you.

I missed playing at Leeds when they were relegated, but while verbal abuse is sadly expected, being hit by a coin or being challenged by a fan on the pitch is a different level. Ferdinand was hit by a coin near his eye. He could have lost that eye - as many have pointed out.

There is talk of putting nets behind goals so that objects can't be thrown. That would spoil it for the vast majority of fans who do not throw coins or bottles.

The guilty minority always apologise the next day and come out with some spiel that they do not know what came over them and that they have never been in trouble before.

They tell you their football team means the world to them and how they hope that they will not be banned from attending matches.

Too late. If you throw anything at a player you should be banned from going to games, at the very least. I wonder how fans would think if points were deducted from their team if they behaved badly. I suspect any problems would be nipped in the bud within weeks as the fans would be answerable to each other.

Some fans want it both ways, though. They claim the players are not passionate enough and they expect to hurl invective and for none to come back. When it does - and some players do celebrate in front of rival fans - they squeal and report it to the police.

Edge and passion are great in football, running on the pitch and throwing coins is not. Nor is moaning because you do not like it when your team concedes a last-minute winner.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of the European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE