x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Players should not be punished for standing up to idiot pitch invaders

After an English league footballer is booked for tripping up a pitch invader, Will Batchelor argues the moral case for coming down hard on the attention-seekers.

A pitch invader is led away by police during a match between West Ham United and Millwall.
A pitch invader is led away by police during a match between West Ham United and Millwall.

The football family was divided this week over the yellow card meted out to a Coventry City player for attempting to trip up an idiotic pitch invader.

Cyrus Christie clipped the heel of a tattooed thug as he ran amok at the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday night, during a heavy home defeat in a Johnstone's Paint Trophy match against Crewe (like I told you last month - Coventry are the biggest club in England).

Many people, including Coventry manager Mark Robins, thought it was a ludicrous overreaction from the referee.

Others pointed out that the laws of the game clearly state that players should not kick spectators, no matter how much they deserve it.

Personally, I thought Christie was lucky not to see a straight red for a professional foul - the kid was clearly through on goal and there was clear contact. Credit to the lad for not going to ground. He has clearly not watched enough Premier League action in recent years.

I joke. But this issue of players taking on pitch-invaders is a complex one, full of conflicting emotions.

Logically, it makes no sense to encourage your highly-trained, finely-tuned and expensively-remunerated playing staff to act as part-time bouncers. That is like buying a racehorse to plough a sodden field.

The moral case for intervention, however, is far stronger.

Firstly, you cannot ask 11 young men to form a team unit then expect them to stand idly by while a marauding assailant potentially threatens their safety.

The Coventry incident occurred just 24 hours after a Gillingham fan launched a cowardly attack on Jordan Archer, the Wycombe Wanderers goalkeeper.

Even “friendly” marauders, like the Barca fan who invaded the pitch to hug Lionel Messi during Wednesday’s Sweden-Argentina match, should surely be neutralised as soon as possible.

What would Messi’s fellow professionals have said if that fan had done some harm to arguably the world’s greatest footballer? Sorry, we were waiting for a middle-aged steward to waddle over?

Which brings me to the second point. While we should respect stewards for doing a difficult and often thankless job, usually more for love of the game than financial reward, it should be noted that many of them are not exactly prime physical specimens.

This is why most pitch invasions create a tragi-farce in which a single pitch-invader - usually young, pumped up on adrenalin and unencumbered by a coat or, in most cases, shirt - can lead four, six or even eight lumbering stewards in a merry dance around the pitch for several minutes, turning them this way and that like a matador teasing an entire herd of hi-viz. bulls.

Meanwhile, 22 of the nation's fittest men stand around, hands on hips, watching. What kind of an example does that set to the young and impressionable fans we hear so much talk of?

It hardly seems fair to punish footballers, who are so often maligned as spoilt brats living in a privileged bubble, for trying to end this embarrassing mismatch.

Perhaps this is why, when players do intervene in such incidents, the crowd love them for it, no matter which side they support.

In the Cyrus Christie incident, the delight of the Coventry supporters at the hobbling of their own idiot fan is audible.

Likewise, for perhaps the best example in this genre, albeit in rugby union not football, I would urge you to watch the YouTube footage of Bath centre Olly Barkley tackling a pitch invader during a match against Sale Sharks last year. He then pinned the cretin down until two stewards, gratitude writ large on their faces, arrived.

Again, the delight of the supporters is audible, perhaps because they are proud to see a player take a moral stand on behalf of the lowly stewards.

Or, just possibly, because it is funny to see a swift and brutal demonstration of the difference in physical attributes between the athletes who have earned the right to take to the field, and the attention-seeking cretins who have not.

sports@thenational.ae

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