It may be something of a stretch to describe a football crowd as “family”, but those that travel to away matches get at least part of the way towards that description. Even at many larger clubs, the number of people that go regularly to away matches often only runs into hundreds. The same faces at different venues, the length and breadth of the country. This isn’t always a positive thing. Supporters of clubs with troublesome elements that travel with them may find their hearts sinking when they see certain familiar faces. On the whole, however, the fraternal feeling of the extended family is a very real one for many thousands of football supporters.
Perhaps this is the most shocking part of the death of thirty year-old John Taylor, the Blackburn Rovers supporter that died as a result of injuries that he sustained during the match between his team and Stoke City at The Britannia Stadium on Saturday. Even for Blackburn Rovers, an established Premier League club, Taylor was one of just 1,300 travelling Blackburn supporters at the game. This is less people than would be found at an average Blue Square Premier match. Alternatively, perhaps it was the fact that the “opposition” couldn’t be blamed. The conventional narrative would follow that a football supporter might be injured by supporters of the opposing club. Lazily and clumsily describing vast swathes of people as “animals” wouldn’t cut it, this time.
Stoke City supporters were entirely blameless on Saturday. Indeed, they have paid fulsome tributes to a fellow football supporter. This incident was something different altogether. Generally, Blackburn Rovers supporters have an excellent reputation, but there has been disquiet recently amongst regular supporters over the behaviour of a minority of their away support at recent matches. Two supporters were recently given three year banning orders for chanting racist abuse during the club’s Boxing Day match at Wigan Athletic. It feels as if, although no-one could have predicted what happened on Saturday, there has been something in the air for a while.
There have been reports that the rise in disorderly behaviour at Blackburn matches this season could be related to Burnley’s promotion. It has been said this increase is due in no small part to some, less welcome elements of their support upping their attendance away matches in the hope of securing tickets for the club’s upcoming away match at Burnley. What their behaviour might be like at that particular match is probably best not dwelt upon. At football matches, however, as in many other avenues of life, there are people that act with little consideration for the consequences of their actions. There can be very little accounting for that.
Of course, the dislocated nature of the story meant that internet rumours have started to become received wisdom over the last couple of days. We know for certain that there was no Stoke involvement in the incident, for example, and that it took a while for emergency services to reach Mr Taylor seems to be more to do with the shape of the concourse in that particular stand at The Britannia Stadium. Even rumours of fighting between groups of Blackburn supporters being the cause of the incident seem somewhat overstated. What seems to have happened is a mixture of some ill-thought out tomfoolery, combined with a joke that went very wrong. At this point (at the very, very least), we don’t really need to know any more than that.
The issue of the deteriorating behaviour of Blackburn’s away support, however, is a nettle that needs to be grasped. In anything like the medium to long term, it is the most loyal supporters that will suffer the most if a minority continue to misbehave in the way that they have reported to have done over the course of this season. Perhaps it is time for Blackburn Rovers to send their own stewards with their away supporters to matches, or for the club to work more closely with the local police to ensure that troublemakers are identified quickly and dealt with accordingly. Perhaps, though, the only positive thing to take from this is that every time something like this happens, it usually makes the next such incident that much less likely than it would otherwise have been.
It would be easy to come over all “Daily Mail” about an incident like this – to search for someone (whether an individual or a group) to blame and wring our hands in agonisation at our “broken society”. Considering the number of people that go to football matches every weekend, we should perhaps pause to reflect with relief that the incidents make the news in part because of their very rarity. None of this, however, should detract from the sadness of what happened on Saturday. Our shock at this type of incident goes a long way towards ensuring that this sort of incident remains as much of a rarity as it is today and, in that spirit, we’ll leave the final word on the subject with Stoke City’s ever-excellent independent site, “Why Delilah”.
Tragedies such as this really put things into perspective and make you realise just how unimportant football is in the grand scheme of things. Rest in Peace.