Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Quickfire
25 May

We should mourn the loss of the innocent pitch invasion

As violence stalks football grounds, an illicit but harmless transgression may be taken away.

By Tom Young

Pitch invasions were, until recently, the glorious no-man’s land between stolid, rule-abiding football supporters and the anarchy of hooliganism. To clamber over the advertising boards and cavort on the carefully mowed grass during a once-in-a generation cup win was the most delicious sort of transgression. My football-devoted mother and I shared sacred moments genteelly invading pitches with thousands of others when our club, Portsmouth, celebrated rare successes in the early 1990s. Stewards watched blankly on, knowing we were only there to dance, sing and studiously avoid the defeated opposition players as they fled from the pitch.

Judging by the past week, those opposition players are no longer being studiously avoided. Pitch invasions appear to have changed. On Sunday (22 May) the Aston Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen was assaulted by Manchester City fans during a pitch invasion after City retained the Premier League title. Last week a Nottingham Forest fan was jailed for running on to the pitch and head-butting Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp, while the Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira kicked out at an Everton fan following a post-match pitch invasion by home fans at Goodison Park. The trouble predates this recent spate, however, with sporadic violence happening all season, and last summer’s European Championship hosted in a bacchanalian fog.

At a press conference on Tuesday Gareth Southgate, the England manager (and the nation’s concerned uncle), furrowed his brow and did what he does best: offer a thoughtful answer to a knotty, societal question his predecessors would have shirked. “It’s a reflection of where we are as a country,” he said. “It’s a difficult time for people. We are going to have more difficult times because of the economy… but we have to look at what we are doing in terms of parenting and how we want to be viewed as a country.”

Aside from Southgate’s line about football reflecting society being so well-worn that it borders on truism, broadly his comments were wise and true. Certainly, the joint diagnosis of economic pain and falling parental standards neatly fits his philosophy of progressivism fused with individual responsibility.

There are numerous social factors at play. Cocaine and its anaesthetising power has played a part. At both Fratton Park, my team’s ground, this season and at Wembley during the Euros, the loos were dusted in a fine coating of it, and trains carrying fans were littered with empty bags.

Some, such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson, have also blamed the copycat effect of social media. A condensed calendar of season finales and play-off matches has ensured ample chance for fans to imitate and outdo each other over the past fortnight. Others continue to cite the end of Covid-19 rules, which implies a nation of semi-caged, barely sentient men (and it is always men), confined to their homes for two years, now unable to watch live sport without throwing each other down the stairs or attacking professional footballers. And on it goes.

It’s mostly just sad, though. The authorities will act to try to prevent the invasions — whether through netting, fences, blocked out seats or partial stadium closures. And with it comes a sense of slippage; of an old, illicit but harmless transgression being taken away.

[See also: Rage against the regime: the Belarus ultras who stood up to Lukashenko]

Content from our partners
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets
Why public health policy needs to refocus
Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Topics in this article: ,