Remember, remember the fifth of November – well, some Conference North fans would probably rather not remember a Saturday speckled with nasty incidents which hardly cover the league in glory.
Accusations of racist abuse on the field, alleged violence and a goalkeeper sent off for throwing a firework into a stand (no really) have left a grubby stain on the northern half of Step 2.
Nevermind, the fact that most of the games passed off without mustering any comment, serious incidents at two matches are likely to open enough cans of worms to feed a bird sanctuary.
The first incident is perhaps surprising in light of the ongoing Terry/Ferdinand situation. Yesterday evening striker Richard Offiong took to Twitter after his Blyth Spartans side’s 2-2 draw at home to Colwyn Bay and tweeted:
“Do I report the racist abuse or brush it off? It will never effect me but do I take a stand”
“Racism from opposite player who has black team mates. #stampitout”
And, with a sense of sadness:
“Reported abuse in the past but nothing happened.”
He claims he was asked: “Where’s your bunch of bananas, show me your passport please,” but has now said he won’t be commenting further until the FA have investigated the claims, despite naming the player who allegedly made the comments.
There’s been no official statement from either side on this as yet but given the miles and miles of column inches on racism in the game in recent weeks from the vile Daily Mail ‘it’s part of the game get used to it’ to pieces from the likes of Leroy Rosenior talking about the Kick Racism Out of Football campaign it is even more shocking that a player would have the nerve to abuse an opponent in such a way when the spotlight on the issue is brighter than it has been in recent years. It should go without saying that there is no place for racism at any level of the game, but Offiong’s allegations suggests some are still not getting the message.
Meanwhile around 150 miles south and to the west a little Droylsden’s local derby with league leaders Stalybridge took an equally ugly and shocking turn during the second half with lit bangers and flares being thrown onto the pitch and, in an act of dumbfounded stupidity, Bloods keeper Paul Phillips throwing one of the flares back into the stand from his own six yard box.
Just try to comprehend that one, a player throwing a lit flare into the stand, it is quite hard to compute. Remember when you first heard about or saw pictures of Cantona’s karate kick, it’s that sort of shock, a lit flare, thrown into the stand. Phillips was sent off for the incident, the length of his ban and any action from the club has yet to be announced.
Added into what should have been a fairly uneventful league derby between the two Manchester-based sides are accusations of the home side goading the already incensed opposition fans, violence in the stand and an alleged attack on a Stalybridge fan after the game.
Whilst tough talking in the press before the tie from both camps can’t have helped quell any tension the shear idiocy of bringing, and then lighting fireworks, flares or bangers in a football ground is only down to the individuals.
Yes, Dave Pace once had some interest in Stalybridge Celtic before he became involved at Droylsden and, yes, it was a local derby but fireworks, in the ground and violence after the game, there is zero justification for this. This is not a historic rivalry like the big Manchester one which happened a few weeks ago, this is not a tie with a history of violent incidents, Superclasico it is not.
With regards to Phillips, it will be interesting to see how and if he responds – a rash action in the heat of the moment is one thing but if he’d thrown a lit firework in the street it would be a police matter, what possessed him to toss it back into the stand is something only he will know.
Both sets of fans are now mulling over the aftermath – Celtic have posted pictures of two of their own fans believed to be involved on their fans forum and emotions are running high on threads on both sides. There is an agreement that the fireworks and the violence is totally unjustified but plenty of tit for tat arguing too and the usual ‘it’s not football fans’ fault, its the fault of society’ evasion of reality statements.
The recession, unemployment and the European financial crisis aren’t to blame for people taking knives and fireworks into football matches, it’s an easy cop out to blame something big and vague and not look at the individuals who do tool up before they go to the game on a Saturday afternoon.
A post-mortem on the events at the Butchers Arms will certainly be needed in the coming days.
Bans for those carrying weapons or fireworks goes without saying, official condemnation from both clubs is probably wise but not necessarily a given.
There may be calls for compulsory bag searches – I’ve certainly never had my bag searched at the Butchers Arms or Bower Fold. Some of the larger Conference North sides already do it but only on an ad hoc basis, I was searched on one visit to Boston for a Trophy tie last year but not on the return a few weeks later in the league. But it then comes back to the question of cost and stewarding, most clubs at this level have volunteer stewards with only the basic minimum training, the larger (ex League) clubs or the anomalies (Gloucester playing in a League ground complete with control tower and CCTV) have more experienced, paid matchday supervisors. The game was already segregated but unlikely to have been categorised that highly on the ACPO risk chart, meaning limited police presence.
Hindsight, the great gift of the observer, would probably suggest the referee should’ve abandoned the game or spoken to both sides to calm it down but that may not have prevented the post match incident.
Playing the reverse fixture and future ties between the two sides behind closed doors may be one answer – it would certainly affect both clubs financially and sounds ridiculous to have a non-league game played with no fans, when some games are only played in front of a handful of them but if it stops a local rivalry descending into ultra-style violence it can’t be ruled out.
Apart from the occasional ‘FA Cup Magic’ story it is rare to hear from the Conference North, sadly this time it may be for the wrong reasons.