One of the things that many people that usually inhabit the world of the Premier League regularly comment upon when they visit the singular world of non-league football is how close one feels to the action. Every shout can be heard, and every gesticulation spotted. What supporters at that level often seem to forget, however, is that this works both ways and the average non-league footballer can pick out from a distance that it was you that called him a “useless sack of shite” half-way through the first half. Most of the time everyone sticks to their allotted roles, but sometimes, in the heat of the moment, a player will see red and we are left with a scene that is often somewhat amusing, if somewhat undignified on the part of those involved.

This is what came to pass at recent derby match in the Carlsberg South Western Peninsula League between St Austell and Newquay. During the second half of the match, St Austell’s Lee Whetter and Ben Douglas were both sent off, but Whetter – the St Austell captain – didn’t see the funny side of the taunting that he was receiving from the visiting supporters and decided to, well, take out his frustration on a visiting supporter, wading into the crowd and attacking him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the visiting supporters went to his defence and pretty soon what has come to be known in the press as a “mass brawl” had broken out involving more than twenty people.

The post-match news for Whetter has been mixed. On the one hand, he won’t face a criminal investigation from the police, since the supporter concerned has elected not to raise the issue with them. On the other, however, he has already departed from the club and surely faces a lengthy ban for his actions. He was, at least, man enough to turn up on the league’s forum to apologise for his action (although the punctuation police may want a word for him, as you will see below) and he has reportedly contacted those involved to apologise personally.

would just like to say sorry 4 all those at the st austell , newquay game. my mind was nt with it and instead of reaction to the banter should have walked away and went to the changeing rooms,would like to say sorry to all the newquay fans ,players and the st austell commitee ,fans,team mates.nothing more i can really say to what people keeps putting on here will take what ever punishment i get and take it on the chin,never done anything like this before but cant turn back time with i could, oh and a big sorry to the judge banter is banter end of the day,and i should of just laughed it off , just hope they dont punish the club as not there fault at all

Perhaps because of the proximity of the supporters to the players, this isn’t a completely unheard of occurrence in non-league football, although it remains thankfully rare. The difference between now and days gone by, however, is that many, many people have cameras with them and this particular incident was caught on camera by a local photographer. Pretty soon, the story had been picked up on by ITV’s “The Westcountry Tonight”, The Sun and The Daily Mail. It would be a little unfair if added punishment (which is likely to be punitive enough to start with) was laid upon because this particular story happened to catch the national press on a slow news day, but what is striking from the photographs is how, well, funny it all looks.

There is always something faintly ridiculous in the sight of fully grown men in shorts fighting on a football pitch. This is amplified further when said men aren’t even on a football pitch and a sense of absurdity is added to the situation by the apparent desperation of the man being attacked not to let his cigarette fall from his mouth. Whether this was some sort of a defence mechanism or a subliminal comment on the cost of a packet of twenty these days is anybody’s guess. It does, however, serve as a reminder that, yes, they do hear what they shout at them and that no, they are not professional players and may occasionally see the red mist descend. It could be argued that perhaps there should have been stewards present to break it up, but it’s coming to something when a match at Step Seven of the non-league pyramid (six promotions from the Blue Square Premier) have to start being policed, and this was clearly a one-off incident.

Fortunately, most concerned have taken the incident in good spirit and those from the “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” school of thought on the matter seem to be in a minority. Whetter faces a heavy ban, a heavy fine and will probably never live the incident down. The supporter concerned may have learnt a humbling lesson about the pitfalls of shouting at grown men when they can hear what you’re saying and can identify that it is you shouting at them, and the rest of us have a mildly amusing set of photographs to look at which will brighten up a dull afternoon in the office. Western civilisation remains, broadly speaking, intact and the Earth remains on its axis. The Premier League could learn a lot from the subsequent behaviour of all concerned, if perhaps not from what went on during the match itself.