Fan violence at Nottingham Forest: Symptom or a disease?
- Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp was headbutted by Forest supporter during post-match celebrations
- The EFL has taken a stern stance against the incident
- With fan violence on the rise, is this reflective of a larger problem
In a recent Championship semi-final playoff tie, Sheffield United forward Billy Sharp was assaulted by a Nottingham Forest fan during a post-match pitch invasion. Supporters of the Midlands club celebrated their first trip to Wembley since 1992 by rushing onto the pitch in droves. In the ensuing chaos, Sheffield captain Billy Sharp was headbutted by a Forest fan in his 30s. Midlands Police have since arrested the perpetrator, although his identity hasn't been revealed.
The incident has sparked a wave of righteous anger within the English football fraternity. In a statement released by The English Football League, the governing body was severe in its criticism of the incident. As quoted by the Guardian:
“We recognise that this lawlessness is being conducted by a small minority of individuals and that the majority of people attending matches are a credit to their club.
“However, it is not acceptable for supporters to enter the field of play at any time given the EFL’s objective is to ensure our matches remain a safe and welcoming one for all. Therefore, over the summer we will consider what further measures are now at our disposal, including the potential use of capacity reductions or other similar mitigations.”
All options are being considered, including asking offending clubs to play behind closed doors. “Supporters are reminded that it is against the law to enter the pitch at any time and could result in a club ban and criminal record. More importantly, it puts the safety of players, coaches, managers and match officials at risk. It is vital that those playing the game can do so safe in the knowledge that they will not be subjected to violent, threatening or antisocial behaviour,” added the EFL.
The EFL was joined by the Professional Footballers' Association and Nottingham Forest in condemning the incident. Sharp called the perpetrator a 'scumbag' in a Twitter post but reiterated that 'one mindless idiot' could not ruin a great night of football.
The incident at the City Ground is among a recent spate of football violence that has gripped European grounds. While sanctioning clubs may prevent fan violence across stadiums, one wonders how effective it will be in curbing football-related violence in totality. I am inclined to remember the late 1970s and 80s when fan violence peaked in Thatcherite Britain. In a decade marked by rising social and political unrest, astute observers have drawn parallels between violence at picket lines to the ones seen at football grounds. Football writer Jon Spurling, writing for 'When Saturday Comes' refers to a 1985 article in the 'The Socialist Worker', in drawing out the curiously intertwined histories of the miner's movement and English football at the time:
"In 1985, a Socialist Worker article drew parallels between the 1984 “Battle of Orgreave”, where around 10,000 pickets squared up to as many police, with the violence at Kenilworth Road during a Luton v Millwall FA Cup tie in 1985: “The images of violence and of raging anger (although those witless football fans have no cause at all) lead us to question whether the fabric of society is close to collapse in Thatcher’s Britain.”
Coming back to the present period, Britain (and Europe) is perhaps at a similar juncture. In many senses, maintaining the decorum at football grounds isn't a logistical exercise, nor is it a question of enforcing discipline. The answer to this malaise lies in a better reading of society's contradictions.