Football still treats fans like children, so they act like them

John Inverdale
CAUSE and effect. In the dark days of football hooliganism, when we were penned in cages, the argument against fencing in spectators was that if you treat people like animals they will, more often than not, behave like them.

I was reminded of that sociological debate while at Villa Park on Saturday to watch Chelsea secure their place in the next year’s Champions League.

It was a match of outstanding goals, two sendings-off, and more controversy than you can reasonably expect from a single game. But at Villa Park, as at other grounds, in a North Korean censorship kind of way, replays of opposition goals and incidents that result in red or yellow cards, or as on Saturday, a “was it over the line or wasn’t it” furore, are not shown on the big screens. They shut down instantly on the spurious premise that repeating a foul by, say John Terry, will inflame a supposedly already incendiary atmosphere.

It was also a highly emotional game for two individuals, and it was announced that there would be a first-half ovation for Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov to mark his brave fight against leukaemia, and both sets of fans duly gave him a tumultuous reception. Frank Lampard then broke the Chelsea all-time scoring record, but not even a tiny, grudging acknowledgement of an extraordinary feat was made.

This is not to single out Villa. It’s just that football spouts sanctimonious nonsense about “respect” when it shows little to visiting players and less to its spectators. We are not idiots, and if the opposition scores an amazing goal, we’d like to see it again. Or a big offside call. Or a questionable red card. And unless the game has such little faith in its officials, more often than not, by being shown what happened, the situation will be diffused.

So while the game has stopped treating fans like animals, it still treats them like children. Which is why we sometimes behave like them.