Monday, May 02, 2011
"After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything."
Today I read an article that made me shiver. In England, at a Division Four game between Bury and Chesterfield, when goalkeeper Cameron Belford of Chesterfield allowed an equalizer goal by Bury, young Bury fans rushed the box to not only taunt the keeper, but also physically accost him. The pictures from this event show how completely overwhelming this attack became for the 6' 2" keeper trapped within the net surrounded by at least 10 tweens including one girl.
Belford had recently had a titanium plate put in his right cheekbone due to a crushing contact from an opposing striker's foot last year. And it was this cheekbone that a young teenager openly punched during the melee. The girl in a ponytail who appeared to be eleven or twelve was forming obscene hand gestures in the face of the keeper while other boys heckled him or joined in the gestures.
I have so many questions. Why did these youngsters think they had the right to invade the field and the personal space of the keeper? Where were the adult supervisors of these delinquents? What lessons have they learned from home or from the media that provided justification for their actions?
We might expect this behavior from an errant fan impaired by alcohol and bolstered by his equally drunk compatriots egging him on. We've seen the bottles flung at outfielders, the beers dumped on the heads of NBA players heading down the causeway to the locker rooms, the wild abandon of someone running across the field during a game. But we really haven't seen a swarm of fans singling out a player for abuse during a match, much less having that swarm be on the minus side of puberty.
Of the top ten fan/player confrontations, only one involves a child. This was in Comiskey Park when Kansas City coach Tom Gamboa was attacked by a father and his 15-year-old son. And most of the altercations involve one fan and one player. Only two were brawls – in 1979 between the Boston Bruins and Ranger fans and in 2004 between the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and Detroit fans. Of the latter episode, League Commissioner David Stern called it "shocking, repulsive and inexcusable – a humiliation for everyone associated with the NBA." I think the same comment could be made about this incident on the soccer pitch.
So how did we arrive at this state of affairs? The press called them hooligans, but I don't think that word is strong enough. Hooligan brings to mind those cheeky lads who throw eggs on Halloween or pants a teammate after a game. These English kids were brutes bent on intimidation and doing violence. Whatever possessed them to think they could enter the field during a game and attack the keeper can only be guessed at. But we can all agree that parents need to offer a strong role model for sideline and bleacher behavior when it comes to our children.
Kids have a tremendous urge to emulate grown-up conduct in their rush to be adults. Watching dad swear at the referees or mom yell at an opposing team member provides some measure of approval for kids to partake in that behavior. Watching similar sideline actions as portrayed in the media only reinforces that that's what adults do. Somewhere there are parents for these louts who I hope step up to the proverbial plate and make the right statement. Rather than making excuses for their behavior or dismissing their actions, I hope they make these thugs apologize and then give them house arrest for a month or two. These parents will be setting the standard going forward, and I hope it's that this behavior will not be tolerated from kids or adults.
This incident hits home hard for me. I have a 6' 2" goalkeeper son who has been the object of constant ridicule and harassment during several recent games. He has kept his cool and not acknowledged the catcalls, but I often wonder if the fans became even more enflamed or emboldened how quickly they could reach and overpower him. Here was clear evidence of what fans were capable of attempting. But instead of adults who should know better, it was kids who should have been taught better and controlled better. I don't want to see us move to the unhappy world of Lord of the Flies where children develop into savages because they have no outside adult guidance. There are plenty of us adults around who need to reinforce the best of good sportsmanship whether it be at a U-8 game or the World Cup or on a deserted island.