The vast majority of non-league football clubs – it might even be argued all of them – spend their lives at some distance from the glare of the national media, and when one does make national headlines, it’s as likely as not that it will not be a story that said club would not want to be in the limelight for. So it was over the weekend for Goole AFC of Division One South of the Northern Premier League. They sit in fourteenth place in that particular division, far enough above the relegation places to not be to concerned by the possibility of relegation but a little too far from the play-off positions to be likely to cause any difficulty at the other end of the table, either.
Last Saturday afternoon, they were beaten at by three goals to nil by third placed Coalville Town. This was not a result that would be surprise to many regular watchers of this particular division, but still the match has still managed to find itself splashed across the national press on account of the Goole captain that afternoon, Karl Colley. Colley had just been sent off for a bad tackle when the taunting of the travelling Coalville supporters got a little too much for him, and he jumped into the crowd and made several attempts to get at them, throwing a punch on one occasion. As soon as the match ended, Colley was sacked by the club, whose treatment of the incident was about as reasonable as could be expected, given the circumstances, especially with this post-match statement on the matter, which left no room whateoever for misinterpretation.
There two ways of treating a Monday morning polyfilla story such as this, of course. The first is to reach for an obvious sense of outrage on the matter. It should go without saying that it is part of the nature of the game that supporters are – within reason, of course, but we mostly seem to understand the lines that shouldn’t be crossed – allowed to say or sing what they like in the direction of players, and that part of the responsibility of any footballer, whether professional or semi-professional, has to be to allow this fall off him like water off a duck’s back. Just as those who work in service industries are paid – whether rightly or wrongly – in no small part to not lose their tempers at the general public and tell them exactly what they think of them, so it is with footballers, whether professional or semi-professional.
It should also be pointed out that, although the Goole assistant manager Curtis Woodhouse commented after the match that, “I’m gutted for him, he’s a nice kid but you can’t go off like that, he knows that. I don’t condone or make excuses for today, it was wrong on many levels.”, to describe Colley as a “kid” doesn’t feel completely right, especially considering the circumstances. At thirty years old and 6’4″ tall, Colley is very much a fully grown man, and one doesn’t reach thirty years old whilst being 6’4″ without understanding the sense of physical imposition that comes with it. Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that he has been unable to control his temper. In January 2013, he was sacked by Belper Town – also of the Northern Premier League Division One South – after what might be euphemistically described as an “altercation” with another player on the training ground. Notably, the Belper Town manager at the time, Peter Duffield, commented that, “There have been other incidents with Karl that have made things very difficult for me to accept as manager.”
There are, however, other interpretations of what went on at The Victoria Pleasure Ground on Saturday afternoon that don’t require invoking the decline and fall of western civilisation. Firstly, there is the small matter of the fact that, for all the seriousness of the incident, there is something fundamentally quite funny about the sight of a grown man, wearing a red and white football kit, jumping over an advertisement hoarding to try and throw a punch at someone that has been singing a song about him, although it seems unlikely that the authorities will view the matter in that light at the inevitable disciplinary hearing that will now follow.
Then there is also the small matter of the fact that there have long been occasional spats between players and spectators at matches. The Guardian’s write up of the story noted – with a degree of relish, it had to be said – that the incident that occurred on Saturday afternoon took place on the nineteenth anniversary of Eric Cantona’s famous kick at a supporter during a Manchester United match at Crystal Palace. Readers may wish to dwell upon the comments underneath that video – if anything, the consensus of public opinion might have come down on Cantona’s side, rather than being a portent of a forthcoming apocalypse. And non-league football has a long history of altercations of this sort, the overwhleming majority of which are long forgotten.
The problem that Karl Colley has is that many of those incidents in years gone by took place in the days when the news was primarily delivered on paper rather than online, and the internet, as we have mentioned on here before, has a tendency towards having a long memory and the video that has already appeared on the websites of several national newspapers over the last couple of days might have already been viewed by a larger audience than much of his playing career has combined. Presuming that there is another manager who decides to take a chance upon Colley once whatever lengthy ban he has served expires, his reputation will doubtlessly precede him for the remainder of his career, and the sort of supporter who enjoys riling opposition players may well find themselves feeling emboldened by seeing his name on a teamsheet at ten to three on a Saturday afternoon.
It was, overall, a bad weekend for Goole AFC. No only has the club had to deal with this unwanted publicity, but it also lost manager David Holdsworth at the weekend, although this is reported to be unconnected to Colley’s behaviour. Still, though, the club can at least take some solace from the fact that it has treated a matter that was broadly beyond its control but that it will likely be expected to take some degree of the responsibility for as well as it could. We might certainly consider that there could, in recent years, have been one or two Premier League clubs that might have learnt a lesson about to express contrition from this unassuming non-league football club. It might not feel like much of a consolation, but evey clou has a silver lining.
As for Colley, well, there will be the not insubstantial matter of a likely lengthy ban and quite possibly a considerable fine. Then there is the small matter of whether another manager will take a chance on a player who has now had a contract terminated twice because the red mist descended. Should he get another opportunity at another club (and football clubs seldom to let considerations of this nature get in the way of signing a half-decent player), hopefully this time a lesson or two might just have been learned, even if the primary lesson is how ridiculous an angry, grown man can look when wearing a bright red football kit out of context. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be a start.
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