The Second City derby has always been a great spectacle. Like with all good derbies, an air of anticipation fills the city in the week leading up to the match and Sunday’s affair at St Andrew’s was no different. The supporters sung at the top of their voices, excited yet nervous. A true fan can never enjoy derby day until the final whistle has blown.
Then something happened, around 10 minutes into the game, which made the Birmingham fans lose their voice. Everyone watching knew that this moment would now be the talking point. Whatever happened over the rest of the match would not be mentioned; pens were poised, the headlines had already been written, clickbait websites had their thumbnail pictures ready. After one mindless action, football suddenly had an image problem again.
The cumulative total of attendances of football matches in England this season is well into the millions. Two incidences of criminal behaviour from spectators on the field of play is two too many but is not enough to consider it an epidemic. No matter where you are, you cannot legislate for nor prevent the actions of a couple of idiots.
The most curious reaction after Sunday’s assault on Jack Grealish was that armed police should be in stadiums to deter potential pitch invaders. What could possibly go wrong? Perhaps they should also be outside the pubs and clubs along Britain’s high streets on weekends to prevent fights there too.
In the midst of the hours of television and written coverage of this incident, the most sensible comment on this came from Leeds United manager, Marcelo Bielsa. He said: “The person who does the thing we saw yesterday expresses a series of frustrations which are not necessarily linked to football. Because the more satisfied you are with your personal life, the less you need to do this kind of act.” That is exactly it: anyone commenting on this must stop trying to project one individual’s issues as football’s very own.
The game has now become, excuse the pun, a societal football, with any commentator eager to kick and tarnish the sport that thousands of people successfully attend without assaulting anyone. Football is a sport, ultimately a game and should be treated exactly like that.
Why did you first fall in love with football? Probably because you saw it on TV, or played it in the park and thought “wow, that was fun!” No one took an initial interest in the game after drawing comparisons between the behaviour of thousands of people together and wider society.
Football is entertainment. It creates a place where you forget where you are while indulging yourself in a world completely separate to the real one. That’s what makes it so special. Anyone who says differently does not truly love the game and needs to stop conflating an entire sport with an individual’s personal attitude. Angry young men will always exist – even if there are snipers on the roofs.