Don’t overreact to the crowd issue at Villa Park, but don’t laugh it off 0

Is what happened before the full-time whistle at Villa Park yesterday deserving of some tabloid-tastic melodrama?


Did it warrant comparisons with some of the unsavoury scenes from decades gone by?

No, of course not.

But don’t shrug it off.

When something like that happens, there will always be a contrary social media voice telling you that it wasn’t a big deal.  Yesterday, for example, a popular Twitter tactic was to post a picture of a young, cheerful Villa fan, make some ironic comment like ‘chaos’ or ‘anarchy’ or ‘disgrace’ and then wait for a couple of thousand teenage armchair fans to retweet it.

There’s maybe a valid point somewhere within that.  The press do like to create controversy out of menial disorder and it has been a while since they’ve had the opportunity to use their favourite ‘the night that shamed football’ headline, but - as a rule - anything involving police cocking their truncheons and seats being removed and thrown around isn’t just a bit of fun.

Villa Park has been a miserable place this season and a FA Cup quarter-final win over a local rival was some welcome, deserved relief for those supporters, but there still has to be some semblance of retribution for those scenes.

The problem is that everything like that is essentially harmless, but only up until the point where somebody gets hurt.  This country’s footballing history is sufficiently chequered to ensure that we should all be hyper-sensitive over crowd safety.  Collective expression of joy is a wonderful thing in sport, but it’s always less important than ensuring that everyone goes home unharmed.

No, yesterday didn’t bear any comparison to some of the tragedies from the past, but that in itself doesn’t make it fine.

For the adults streaming onto the pitch before and after the whistle yesterday, there was minimal danger, but football crowds don’t just consist of fully-grown men anymore.  It’s not popular and it’s not fashionable - and, yes, it’s a cliche - but you do have to ‘think of the children’ sometimes.  There was a lot of latent animosity in that crowd - as you’d expect during a derby - and adrenalin, anger, and uninhibited celebration can be a troubling cocktail, especially so when there are younger, less physically developed people involved.

Nine times out of ten, a pitch invasion is harmless, but why run the risk of allowing a child to get separated from his mother or father, or of being accidentally trampled by an over-exuberant adult?

Nobody has ‘shamed’ themselves, there’s no merit in issuing a draconian punishment, and there’s no need to vilify any of those Aston Villa supporters, but there’s nothing wrong with saying that yesterday probably shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

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