March 9th might not seem like something of a seminal date to most English football fans, but come a week on Saturday, supporters, players and managers alike can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Bar any potential mishap over this weekend’s selection of Premier League fixtures, next month marks the four-month anniversary since the event that scorched the face of both English football and to a greater extent, Rio Ferdinand – quite literally.
Indeed, if we cast our minds back to beginning of last November, English football was facing something of watershed moment. Along with the blood that ran down Ferdinand’s left brow, thanks to a wound inflicted by a moronically thrown two-pence coin during the Manchester derby, drained with it supporters’ right to be trusted at a football game.
Or at least that’s what certain sections of the ever-reactive English media would have had you believe.
Following the Ferdinand incident, you would have thought we’d just entered a time-warp back to the terraces of late 70’s. The coin-throwing incident, proceeded by the act of another idiot who tried – and luckily failed – to apprehend the England defender in the heat of the moment, was treated as something of the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Something had to change.
Jamie Redknapp came out announcing the need for footballers to stop ‘antagonising the fans’ in the heat of the moment. PFA chief Gordon Taylor suggested that ‘you’ve got to give consideration’ to putting netting around sections of grounds to stop a repeat of such an offense happening. Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown proclaimed ‘it’s time we brought in netting to deal with this.’
But would you believe it, nearly four months on and guess what? No Premier League player has yet to suffer a fatal injury at the hands of a 20p coin. Furthermore, no one plying their trade in the top tier or the Football League has succumbed to an ‘idiot with a knife’ as Mr. Redknapp so eloquently described.
If there is one thing that we’ve all learned out of last November’s Ferdinand incident, it was that our ever-adoring sentationalised British press are treating English football with just as much hyperbolic nonsense as ever. And luckily for us, the governing bodies that run the game still seem to harness some form of backbone, however small that may be.
Let’s be under no illusions here; the issue of coin throwing and particularly pitch invaders within English football isn’t anything that should be treated with ridicule.
Since the turn of the year we’ve seen incidents involving both Coventry City’s Cyrus Christie and Wycombe Wanderers’ Jordan Archer involved in on-pitch confrontations with ‘supporters.’ Neither occasions spawned any particularly serious ramifications but in the case of Chris Kirkland and the shove to the face he took earlier on this season, we were all given a potent reminder as to the difficulties that still exist in policing our grounds.
But at what point here does measured perspective fly out of the window in place of paper-selling moral panic?
At any public event, be it a music festival, a football match or even an opera, there is only so much you can do to police large crowds of people. A coin isn’t quite a serrated blade and the fact is that 99 per cent of people are going to have them in their pockets, purses or wallets at any given moment.
Should football’s governing bodies find a way to devise some form of net fine enough to prevent an object less than 2mm thick passing through – without wrecking spectator experience, too – then what are they going to do if a player still gets hit by a coin? What happens if one finds its way from another part of the ground that hasn’t been netted? You can see the headlines already: “coin amnesty must be put in place now at all English grounds.”
Again, it’s not as if English football has been completely incident free since the Ferdinand incident, but the staff that work across grounds up and down the country do as sterling a job as we could possibly ask of them. There’s always room for improvement, but idiots running onto the pitch will always be a perennial risk that we must run, unless we want a return to steel fencing at grounds; a consequence that should not and will not happen in this country again.
The purpose of this article isn’t to prevent the collective think tank of the fans and the media to put forward ideas to cultivate improvement within the game. But the logic behind calling for netting at grounds, was both faulty and over reactive on just about every level. Given the capacity for influence that our media outlets wield, flying off the handle pressing the case for something as potentially damaging as netting after what was a relatively one-off incident, feels hugely irresponsible.
There’s a fine line between underplaying an incident and harnessing a refined perspective on the matter. English football has its heart in the right place, but it must be careful how it reacts to incidents such as the Rio Ferdinand one in future. Should continued, unmeasured calls for netting at grounds continue, then it won’t be long before Martin Keown’s views become the majority, rather than the minority.