Saturday, 22nd September 2018
Knuckleheaded behaviour - or legitimate grievances?
Filed: Tuesday, 13th March 2018
Author: Kevin Mousley

There were several pitch invasions at football games last week in Europe but the one at the London Stadium wasn't one of them; I'd call it a trespass. For context at a pitch invasion in Greece on Sunday someone actually brandished a gun!

As usual when the press's first responders – Her Majesties Sports Corp - are confronted with a news story in a sports arena, as opposed to a convivial afternoon agreeing each other's reports, they freeze and reach for the book of clich้s.

So, a couple of people run on a pitch; it's an 'invasion', there's a spot of scuffling in the stands; must be 'thugs' then. A bunch of people with legitimate grievances verbally abuse their tormentors; naturally such a thing is 'disgraceful'.

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Burnley players usher some kids close to the crowds surging up to the Director's Box, obviously they are 'cowering', as opposed to being chuffed to bits to be sitting 'in one of the holy of holies of any football stadium – the dugout.

Plenty of quotes from the players, the club, the police, the FA, Newham Council but despite there being approximately 56 thousand case studies in the area none from fans - at least on Sunday.

Interestingly the only person who was definitively seen to attack another was Mark Noble - I have no problem with that incidentally but no one called him a thug. As far as I can establish; no one was hurt, no one was arrested for fighting, the fans dispersed peacefully and there was no 'war' between supporters.

What did happen was the unhappiness building up inside the club for two years or more came to national attention. All very ironic given that the club had successfully seen off the proposed protest march only to displace its sentiments into the stadium.

I know there are many fans who in their gut feel unhappy and even angry about people who run on the pitch, or who confront our elderly directors and verbally abuse them. I spoke to few outside the stadium on Saturday evening. It is their legitimate belief that there must be a better way.

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And I am sure there were women who felt the same about the suffragettes, workers about trades unions, rate payers about the poll tax and barons about overbearing kings. I do not invite you to equate a bit of sporting unhappiness with these great struggles but I do ask you to think about protest in less puritan terms.

Let me be clear, I do not believe it is a good idea to plan protests within a stadium during a game; they can easily get out of control and it literally distracts the players but there was nothing organised on Saturday; it was an organic burp of indignation and for crying out loud it achieved what most of us want – no place for the board to hide anymore and intense pressure to get things done or sell up.

By Sunday a rather nuanced interview Mark Noble had given to the written press was making the rounds. In short – he wished it hadn't happened but he understood why and that the solution lay with the Board.

Despite their reflex of repeating pompous nonsense about 'disgraceful behaviour' by some fans, most sport commentators agreed Sullivan and Co were responsible for creating the toxic atmosphere currently smothering the club and expressed it eloquently and at length in all sorts of media outlets to whom initially it had all come as a surprise.

To carry on condemning fans for being 'hate filled' or 'knuckle headed', as self-appointed uber fan and professional loud mouth Iain Dale has in the Evening Standard, is both a betrayal of the fan base that desperately wants change and shows a misunderstanding of the nature of protest that has been expressed in this country for hundreds of years.

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No doubt Iain would speak with tears in his eyes of the brave protestors who sparked the Arab spring, or the Ukrainians standing up to Russian imperialism. Granted, again, the fortunes of a football club hardly compare but the principle is the same – if people are continually ignored they take matters into their own hands.

And actually when that happens it rarely expresses itself via the usual channels or in a nihilistic mindless violence, Saturday's events being an example; typically angry crowds in sympathy with a cause are quite good at knowing where the line is draw ... yell at Sullivan, yes, scale the director's box and beat people up – no.

As KUMB were clever to spot, our flag bearing trespasser was referencing a famous piece of West Ham history – one that was symbolic of the defeat of the notorious Bond Scheme... not that Iain 'Mr West Ham' Dale clocked it.

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