The security of players and officials on the field of play has become more and more of an issue of late and I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is that we find a way to keep the pitch sacrosanct.
Not only have we seen the appalling incidents that have been rumbling away and finally came to a head at the London Stadium at the weekend, but we ignore the lessons of the recent Wigan versus Manchester City cup tie and the alarming intervention of the PAOK owner in Greece at our peril, too.
Much as I’d love each of these examples to be isolated incidents, and in the interests of complete honesty I should profess I’m no expert on what happened in Greece, I merely saw a picture of a gun in a holster that was completely beyond what any federation should tolerate, I fear there is an underlying tension these days that even outdoes the trouble we experienced among rival supporters as my playing career was just getting underway.
If we don’t sort this out, I fear for the alternative, I really do.
Another aspect of my youth I vividly recall was the undeniable deterrent represented by the three or four security guys you would routinely see posted on the door of any given night club. Now, whoever’s job it is to provide the security for West Ham, and I understand that it’s an issue in itself, no one can deny that any pretence of a deterrent has gone.
While I sympathise with the stress and the passion and in some cases quite justifiable grievances harboured by fans in this case, the people you see making the threats are too often more than a match for those with the job of keeping the peace. And crossing that white line can never be justified for any member of the public.
Another aspect of this from where I’m sat is: are we sure that what these people are trained to do and what the people they are protecting are expecting from them is the same thing? That’s something for those in charge of stewarding to chew over, but in the meantime I think Lee Mason did a good enough job in the circumstances. He did not dive into the Mark Noble or corner flag situation, although he would surely have had to take the players off en masse had there been just one more similar incident on top of that.
Believe me, I’ve played in some hostile situations, not only in far-flung hostile territories such as Turkey, but at home when you have one set of fans delerious at staying up and the other lot plunged into despair as they have just seen the apples of their eyes relegated.
We must remember that we are asking officials and players alike to stay completely focused on their own job, and that cannot be possible if there is any sense of fear for their own safety.
I was at Euro 16 and I recall a pitch invader who, let’s face it, could as easily have been taken by the urge to hug one of his heroes as be carrying something that could have been a lot more sinister. My point is that, from my vantage point, I could see snipers aligned across the stadium roof, facing inwards and outwards, and for a moment I shuddered that this kid was going to get a bullet in his chest. This was only six months following the St Denis Germany friendly, and you could hardly have blamed one of those snipers for thinking better safe than sorry!
As I said, the alternatives if we can’t make this work are going to be ugly and very messy, involving more of a physical presence and the return of serious fencing to say the very least. So, if we can’t guarantee that fans won’t continue to push these boundaries, we need to find a solution, and fast.