FAN INVASIONS ARE GETTING OUT OF HAND
It’s a developing story at the time of writing. Thousands of fans on the pitch at Goodison Park and Patrick Vieira’s altercation with an Everton supporter as he walked 80 yards, without any security or protection across to the away team dressing rooms, is now being investigated by the police and the FA.
Once upon a time, pitch invasions were a way of fans expressing their happiness at a momentous event their team had achieved, or to celebrate the end of a successful season.
This, despite the entrance on to the field of play by fans being illegal, except in certain cases.
There was almost an unwritten rule that it would be tolerated by authorities – in many cases it was far safer to allow the thronging masses on to the turf than to keep them back in the stands – and then after a while of release, fans would return to the stands.
I have been on the pitch at the end of the season at Selhurst Park a number of times, not necessarily because I wanted to, but because it was the safest thing to do in the old standing days.
I have fond memories of being on the pitch at Stockport when Dougie Freedman kept Palace up. We had no intent of causing any issues, we just wanted to share the emotion. Stewards even offered to take our picture in the goal before the match restarted.
However, with light comes dark and, historically, there has always been goading directed towards the losing team players and, mainly, supporters, but the focus has always been on the winning fans showing unity and support.
That’s not to say there have not been incidents over the years, but in the age of ‘me culture’ led by social media, it appears that a minority insist on making a name for themselves through, quite simply, violence, in the case of Billy Sharp being attacked on his return to Nottingham Forest with Sheffield United and a lost play-off semi-final, or through filming themselves confronting players or managers and being abusive for likes and a skewed idea of importance, in the case of Vieira at Goodison Park.
In addition, a variety of reports have suggested that widespread recreational drug use is fuelling this behaviour too, concentrated amongst football fans.
These developments are not welcomed by anyone, not least the vast majority of football fans and despite the best efforts of the police, stewards – and Everton fans on the pitch themselves – at Goodison Park last night, it did not prevent these unsavoury characters trying to provoke and make a name for themselves.
As we saw with the chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty being harassed and abused on the street for simply going about his business last year, I can only hope that law eventually catches up with those who have acted in such a negative way and with this self-obsession of recording the minutiae of life, it should be easy to find evidence of this.
Those engaged with these unsavoury scenes marred one of the best-ever sporting atmospheres I’ve experienced in Britain, one created by the true Evertonians on Merseyside on Thursday night and one which, unequivocally ensured three points and safety for the those in blue.
It left an extremely bad taste in the mouth and sullied a successful season in the end for both clubs last night.
UNDER THE FLOODLIGHTS, MIDWEEK, FANS URGED TO SING THEIR HEARTS OUT, BUT PALACE NOT THE TEAM IN PERIL
Despite Palace boss Patrick Vieira saying he never once discussed avoiding relegation as the minimum requirement when he took over an ageing squad in his first Premier League managerial role back in July, a 10th consecutive season of top-flight football was mathematically-secured with their 1-1 draw with Aston Villa last Sunday.
The Eagles were only in the bottom three once this season, after the very first game, a 3-0 loss away at Chelsea in August, since then they have only dipped as low as 15th and gone as high as ninth.
No Palace fan can say truthfully though that they did not think about safety being secured or relegation once this season, especially ahead of the Watford away game against previous boss Roy Hodgson in February.
Up until that point, Vieira’s side had won just five of their 25 league games – the lowest-ever number of wins at that stage for the club in the Premier League era.
The 20 per cent win-rate saw murmurs of discontent among some Palace fans – and Vieira himself – about the lack of cutting edge and the ‘ability’ of turning wins into draws or draws into losses with goals conceded at the death.
But an emphatic 4-1 victory at Vicarage Road reset the team and the fans and they only looked up from then, reaching a FA Cup semi-final and pushing for a record Premier League points total and league position.
MARC GUEHI DEBUT PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON ONE TO REMEMBER, MORE TO LEARN
After moving from the club he had been at since U8 level, central defender Marc Guehi has had a dream season in South London after arriving from Chelsea in the summer.
Ironically, he started his season to remember at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League clash and the following month he was given the England U21 captaincy.
Later on in the season he would be handed another captain’s armband, the one from SE25 and then he made his full England debut under former Eagle Gareth Southgate.
However, the modest Guehi has repeatedly said he is not the finished article, revealing when he joined the Eagles that he joined to improve, and was given license to do that under Vieira.
He has played 36 of the 37 league games so far, only missing Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day when he was rested and quickly forming an impressive partnership with Joachim Andersen in central defence.
No-one will be more disappointed than Guehi himself after Dominic Calvert-Lewin got the better of him for his 85th minute headed winner last night. But I can’t imagine anyone associated with Palace will be critical. The club have not only landed a long-term high-quality defender for a snip, but a leader both on and off the pitch, an ambassador for the club and someone who grew up in Lewisham.
RECORD POINTS TOTAL NOT POSSIBLE BUT A NICE BOOKEND FOR RAK-SAKYI
After the loss to Everton a record Premier League points total of 51 is not possible anymore for the Eagles, something which Vieira had told the South London Press this week was a tool he could use to keep his team motivated for the remaining two games of the season.
The former Arsenal captain has said all season there were no targets for his team, just to improve game-by-game.
That was clearly the case on Thursday with his side in the first half fluid and running free against an opponent playing one of the worst 45 minutes of football I have seen in the Premier League in recent years.
That all changed in the second half and in his post-match media conference Vieira admitted his side had lost control of the game in such an eventful atmosphere. Simple balls were not being played and there were times when he said his side were showboating.
But he also bemoaned the lost opportunity to hand Jesurun Rak-Sakyi his second Premier League appearance of the season. The World Cup winner had promised that the young forward and fellow academy player Tayo Adaramola would make appearances in at least one of the last four games.
The game last night was clearly not the right one to bring on Rak-Sakyi, who was on the substitutes bench.
He has already been shortlisted for the Premier League 2 Player Of The Season having ended as joint top scorer.
A regular training with the first team, it will be a nice beginning and end to the season for the 19-year-old should he make his debut first team appearance at home on Sunday.