Thirty minutes after kick-off in this afternoon’s Manchester derby, the individual responsible for controlling the Greater Manchester Police’s Twitter account noted that, “Man arrested outside stadium on suspicion of ticket touting. Brings total arrests for today’s football operation so far to… one!” It was, perhaps, a little on the optimistic side to hope that this would be the grand total for the day, but the headlines tomorrow morning will likely be mostly concerned with the incidents at the end of the ninety minutes at The City of Manchester Stadium than anything that happened on the pitch during a match which took a while to warm up but ended with the shower of fireworks that is starting to become customary when these two current titans of the Premier League meet up.
The most photographed young man of the day was probably the lone pitch invader, who ran onto the pitch to remonstrate about something with somebody presumably at full-time. This particular boy can expect punishment on three different levels. Firstly, he can expect some sort of sanction from the police for his encroachment. Secondly, it seems inconceivable that he will be seeing any more football at The City of Manchester Stadium in the foreseeable future. A lengthy ban, surely, awaits him. Thirdly, he can probably anticipate considerable ridicule for the head-wear that he was wearing, a baby blue woollen effort which, had the design on it not looked so intricately woven, we might have assumed to have been knitted for him by an elderly relative.
Elsewhere, there was also an arrest inside the ground on suspicion of committing a racially aggravated public order offence after police officers heard racist chanting, but otherwise the Manchester derby passed off – as it always does – without humanity regressing back to the dark ages. In a crowd of 47,000 people on a highly-charged day such as today, it is, perhaps, almost surprising that there is so little disorder at these high profile matches, especially when we consider the extent to which every single match is hyped up to be the most important match in the history of any rivalry between the two clubs concerned, when the truth of the matter is that is usually no more or less than the most important match between the two sides since the last time they played each other.
A little more troubling, however, was the coin that was thrown at Rio Ferdinand as he celebrated at the end of the match. It would be nice to think that footballers – all footballers – could show a little more circumspection at times such as these, but if we work to the all the more likely scenario that this is highly unlikely to happen in the near future, then we have to expect that footballers have a right to play (or, indeed, do whatever they like on the pitch) without becoming the targets for missiles being thrown from the crowd. However, today’s incident was far from the first time that a player has had something thrown at him from the crowd (Craig Bellamy, for example, was hit by a coin whilst playing for Manchester City against Manchester United at Old Trafford in January 2010), and it doesn’t seem particularly reasonable to suggest that Manchester City should be punished because their missile-thrower was more accurate than such individuals usually are.
Even regardless of this, there is little by way of precedent to suggest that the FA will force Manchester City to play matches behind closed doors. In 1985, non-league Burton Albion reached the Third Round of the FA Cup and were drawn to play Leicester City. The match was switched – as was commonplace at the time for big matches involving non-league clubs – to a bigger ground, in this case Derby County’s Baseball Ground. However, during a match that was disrupted by considerable crowd disorder, at one point the Burton Albion goalkeeper was struck by a missile and was unable to continue. Without substitute goalkeepers, Leicester went on to win the match by six goals to one, but the FA ordered the match to be replayed, again at The Baseball Ground but this time behind closed, and this time Leicester won by a single goal. Seven eight years later, there was a repeat of this incident during a match between Peterborough United and Kingstonian, which ended in the Kingstonian goalkeeper leaving the pitch unconscious and Peterborough winning by nine goals to one. Again, the match was ordered to be replayed, and this time Peterborough won by the only goal.
In these cases, however, the coin throwing incidents both had an express effect on the material outcome of the match and it cannot really be argued that this occurred in the case of Rio Ferdinand this afternoon. It won’t prevent those in the press who get small leads of foam appearing in the corner of their mouths when this sort of thing happens from getting over-excited, but there has never been much will on the part of the FA to force clubs to play matches behind closed doors – this has always been (as evinced by the 1980/81 incident in which rioting West Ham United supporters at their European Cup Winners Cup first leg match in Spain against Castilla brought a ban on any supporters at all for the return leg) been a punishment favoured by UEFA. The likelihood of anything greater than a fine and some bans from The City of Manchester Stadium seems slim, to say the least.
Later on this afternoon, Ferdinand showed admirable humour by himself tweeting, “Whoever threw that coin, what a shot! Can’t believe it was a copper 2p…. could have at least been a 1 coin!”, and in a similarly laudable move, Manchester City Footballl Club has been quick to apologise to Ferdinand for the injury that he suffered at their stadium this afternoon. None of this excuses the behaviour of those that couldn’t keep a lid on their emotions this afternoon, of course, but the overwhelming majority of Manchester City supporters shouldn’t be paid to pay for the imbecility of a few. Furthermore, perhaps football in a more general sense would be a somewhat more pleasant culture to hang around if more of the incidents which frequently seem to pock mark match reports these days were greeted with appropriate punishments for the perpetrators, a little humour from one side and a little humility from the other. It is a side of the game that we see too little of these days. As long as those involved in the disorder at The City of Manchester Stadium are appropriately dealt with, there is no need to further hysteria over this afternoon’s incidents.
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