Football FanCast columnist Tom Jones contemplates whether fans have a responsibility to help remove abusive, personal insults from football matches.
Abuse of players by opposition fans has been part of football for a number of years now and it has become common place in Premier League matches. Footballers have become used to receiving the odd bit of abuse, and some players like Manchester City’s Craig Bellamy get more foul language directed at them than others. But sometimes fans cross the line and when they do, are the authorities strong enough in their actions or are their completely ineffectual in their response?
Friendly banter from the fans at football matches constitutes an important part of the atmosphere. Opposition fans trying to put players off their game is part and parcel of football and for the most part that is not a problem. But more recently it seems like fans are starting to cross the line more often and something has to be done when players are receiving personal abuse about their families. It is one thing to abuse a player, but to abuse their family is a completely different matter and absolutely should not be tolerated. But what is the best way to remove this abuse from the English game and do the authorities have the power to do anything?
The abuse that has been directed at Manchester City and Wales striker Craig Bellamy in recent weeks is completely unacceptable. Bellamy told The Sun “the line is when they start talking about your wife or yelling abuse about your kids.” He also went on to describe the vile abuse aimed at him after the death of his cousin. “I lost my cousin last year. We were playing West Ham. I’d gone on to the pitch to do a warm-up and I’ve heard a few people shouting ‘How’s your dead cousin?’ You just feel ‘This is not football.’” Surely when fans hurl abuse like this the authorities should step in and do something about it.
But is Bellamy simply wasting his breath given the incompetence of the authorities? He thinks that “the crowd should point these idiots out. They can go to the stewards or police and tell them what has been said.” So does some of the responsibility lie with football supporters themselves and should they tell their fellow fans that the abuse they are hurling is unacceptable? Fans should not tolerate certain behaviour and self-policing could be the way forward. The Professional Footballers Association is looking to set up a regulatory authority on abuse from fans. But will this actually achieve anything and can they ever stop vile abuse from fans?
Last season eleven men were charged with indecent chanting at a football match for shouting homophobic chants at Sol Campbell and they were named and shamed after using evidence from DVD footage. These are the sort of insults that should not be tolerated and the fans that were caught should be banned from football matches for life. But through self-policing by fellow fans and the authorities using severe action, can player abuse that crosses the line be stamped out of football? Or will current fan behaviour continue as the authorities do little about it?