Entertaining or Absurd?
Derby crowd trouble shows sport`s fine line between entertainment and absurdity
- Comment -
Another derby mach-up, another referee verbally abused and figuratively strung-up by the crowd. Desire outweighs rationality - caution flung out the window - as Ipswich Town host Colchester at Portman Road in a battle stretching all the way up the A12.
Hypocrite, I hear you cry, recalling this column`s words on Friday about a lack of passion prior to the face-off, which read: "Roll the sleeves up, apply war-mongering paint, and begin the spitting: this is supposed to be a catfight of the counties."
That now looks foolish in light of some crowd trouble on Saturday, because some supposed Colchester supporters lodged themselves at the back of the Greene King, and South, stands, thus turning the concept of my calls for some healthy competition into an offence against common decency. "F*** off Ipswich" chanted the bandits, who were thankfully - along with several other U`s 'fans` - ejected by stewards.
However, those in the stadium, who had just had the intelligence to berate the charlatans behind them (singing, 'Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio`) turned back to the action, and, at the sound of the next whistle, were threatening, en mass, to burn effigies of the referee, simply because the man in the middle had given an offside decision the wrong way.
It was, in that moment, as if the previous event had never even occurred. Explain away the contradiction of those two images with a democratic right to change opinions, if you must. This column, however, cannot fathom exactly why condemning a few idiots in the stands then gives 28,000 punters the right to verbally assassinate the ref.
Let`s not pretend, though, that the Col U fans who antagonised were the only guilty party in this mess. At least their behaviour inside the ground could be attributed to (but not excused by) inadequate ticket allocation, which forced them sit in the home area.
In the words of a Vital Colchester report yesterday: "A young family were abused by Ipswich supporters as they left the family enclosure. The family`s two young sons, attending their first ever away game, felt frightened and intimidated by Ipswich fans looking for trouble."
Note the emphasis here on 'looking for trouble.` There was no apparent motivation for the aggressive behaviour, especially not after the Tractor Boys had sealed a win; it is merely redolent of the times. Provoke first and ask questions later.
Still, that`s entertainment for you.
For, once the dust has settled on whatever debate is topical for the day, both watching and partaking in sport is just another way for us to spend leisure time; an admittedly annoying, but hard-hitting, reality.
Just what, though, makes sport so different; so important? What makes it an exception to the rest of society`s protocol, where it is not acceptable to vent our most basic feelings whenever we feel so inclined? Probably the safety in numbers principle, which seemingly absolves individuals of any responsibility for their own actions.
Ed Smith writes, in a book called 'Playing Hard ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball', that what makes sport so wonderful is that "it matters but carries so little serious baggage." Until, that is, it spills over into needless violence, xenophobia, or abuse and hooliganism. These events - however mild - cause the original spectacle to shrink into insignificance.
If you think about it, sport itself may never actually matter at all - particularly not with its obvious talent for self-renewal. Perhaps what people find most attractive about this kind of competition is that you can dabble in and out as you choose; you can take each event with whatever degree of seriousness you perceive it to demand.
But Saturday showed how some see fit to drag sport across the line of acceptability, which lead the astute editor of these pages to comment: "incidents like this would not happen in any other sport in the country." Right in terms of the ticket allocation farce, maybe, but wrong on the violence front.
Last weekend also saw Rugby rocked by an assault on a fan, slapped in the face half-a-dozen times by Toulouse`s Irish lock, Trevor Brennan.
The punter - and even the competitor - is at liberty to shine sport in the light, becoming master of whichever of its infinite facets they cause to burn the brightest. That is lost, however, as soon as they insist upon using that precious light in such blind displays of ignorance.