Does the Liverpool situation call for more accountability?

It seems that every weekend there are more and more occasions of fans informing police that this or that player has made some abusive gesture or comment. That they shouted a naughty word at them as they walked down the tunnel, or that they were shown how straight said players middle finger was as they went to take a throw in and, funnily enough, all of this was completely unprovoked. The fan is never to blame.

As Reds fans we’ve had more recent experience of this than most, with Luis Suarez being charged last week by the FA for showing Fulham fans his middle finger. Obviously, in this case, the fans made a complaint to either the police or a steward or anybody near enough to hear their incredulity, as one of the multi-millionaires they ‘pay good money’ to watch decided to assault them most viciously… with a hand gesture. Poor petals.

It seems that we’re faced with similar stories more often these days of fans making formal complaints to the police, contacting the club or the FA and describing how their days were ruined when [insert name of awful, hateful footballer here] told them to ‘f**k off’ or some variation. These accusations generally go hand-in-hand with claims of innocence on the fan’s part; they didn’t say a word, they were silent all game and everyone around them will vouch for this.

Only, about 100% of the time, they’re completely lying on that count. Just to go back to the Suarez example last week, the striker had endured almost 2 hours of verbal abuse from the crowd, mainly focusing on how much of a cheat he was and how much of a love affair he had with the green grass of the Craven Cottage pitch and he reacted. Now, I’m not saying that that absolves Suarez of all guilt but come on, if you’re going to make one person accountable, you have to make all associated parties accountable. If I think that somebody I work with is a lazy bee, I can’t just sit for 8 hours telling him that – even if I’d love to – and expect no comeback, because I’ll either be put on a disciplinary, be sacked outright or he’ll just give me a smack.

Some might reject the validity of that last statement and bring us back to the ‘I pay good money’ line a few paragraphs back but to that I would say: fair enough, so would you start shouting abuse at the cast of an average show at the theatre? Would you stand up and start insulting Seth Rogan’s mother if you thought his latest comedy was rubbish while you were in a packed cinema? No, you wouldn’t, because if you did at the very least you’d be asked to sit down, be quiet and most likely receive a warning about your future conduct and how it would result in you being ejected should it continue. So why do fans think its ok to do it at a football match? And, more to the point, why do the FA continue to punish the player for one moment of retaliatory madness but ignore the fact that 1000 people had been happily singing about his grandmother’s infidelities during the war or how his wife was more partial to bedding the family dog than him? It is a completely baffling state of mind.

The Premier League themselves are no help though, nor are Sky Sports, as their response to a player (see Wayne Rooney not so long ago) swearing or gesturing in the general vicinity of a TV camera usually results in something close to a media blackout. And if – god forbid – the camera should accidentally catch a part of this, then there’s a media fallout for weeks afterwards. Yet, you could watch anyone of the games televised on any given weekend and hear 40,000 people singing songs with rude words punctuating every second verse, whilst ignorantly showing their gestures at the opposing players.

Going back a few years and David Beckham was subjected to hideous abuse from ‘England’ fans every time he played for his country and for a long time he endured it. The one time he reacted, he was castigated by press, ex-players and fans alike. There just seems as if there is no comeback for the fans on this kind of thing. Yet they act like virginal angels when a player responds to their abuse and head straight to the nearest steward or police officer to file a complaint; it’s pathetic and smacks of epic double-standards.

Which leads me to ask: when did fans become such shrinking violets? We’re often told of the banter between players and fans going back to the 60s and 70s, even into the 80s (but, of course, it was in the 80s that it probably ended, as we saw the rise of a more hateful kind of ‘banter’ in the form of racial – and later – homophobic abuse). My childhood was rife with stories of how Bruce Grobbelaar would regularly converse with any fans behind his goal, usually with a smile on his face. Likewise, I remember seeing videos of a player (a Leeds player, if my memory serves me) having a word with an opposition fan before taking his cigarette off him to take a drag. Did the fan complain or whine? No, he probably had a laugh about it down the pub after the game with his mates.
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Those times feel even longer ago than they actually are, given today’s attitudes and only lead me to the conclusion that it’s either a societal or cultural problem; that football fans and people in general are just much more hyper-sensitive these days, taking umbrage at the slightest provocation and believing that society owes them, just because.

Those prepared to shout abuse at people are just not prepared for people shouting it back. In an age when a woman can sue a mega corporation because she spilled hot coffee on herself, we shouldn’t really be surprised at this ‘poor me’ attitude. In fact, in past days, there have been videos circulating of what the Scottish might call a ‘NED’ refusing to exit a train when not having the correct ticket to travel on a Scotsrail train. After giving the Conductor abuse for almost 2 minutes, he is physically ejected by a large passenger and his response after this embarrassment? He wants the man arrested for assault and will likely sue the train line for damages. So the result of him being a worthless little scab on the earth and acting like the world owes him something every day is that the man that stood up to him will probably end up in court and he will end up with a large settlement and a half hour on Scotland’s equivalent of Jeremy Kyle to tell his sob-story.

This massive shift in mentality has been coming for a while but these days it’s ok to pull out the ‘victim’ card at any opportunity. It’s something that I will never understand, so I’m best leaving it up to the experts to decide in years to come what made this ok and while it happens every day I generally roll my eyes and let it go. But when it starts negatively affecting the game I love and fans of opposition teams start baiting players from my club – knowing they’ll inevitably get a reaction – I take issue when they can’t handle the payoff of their baiting. It has to stop somewhere. I mean, I can appreciate that it’s much easier to pick out a single player and slap him with a ban, than pick out 800 people and give them the same punishments but the FA needs a serious shake up of how it deals with this.

Clubs needs to start taking more responsibility by perhaps making the steward position professional (because, why would you try shouting down hundreds of people when you’re effectively just doing your club a favour?) to ensure this kind of behaviour stops before it starts or invest in some real high-end technology to assist in picking out these culprits so that all parties can be punished. Because in this day and age, when a footballer is allowed to be subjected to constant abuse, he should not be the only one punished when he reacts.

Article courtesy of David Tyrer from Live4Livepool

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