Monday 21 September ~
There can't have been many times when Wayne Rooney has been a calming influence on a football pitch. So it was during the Manchester derby yesterday, however, when he was one of the players to step in to break up a row between Rio Ferdinand and Craig Bellamy after the latter had slapped a spectator then been grabbed around the throat by the Man Utd captain. If you asked any football fans to compile a list of their least favourite current players, the combustible Bellamy would be likely to feature. No doubt he will be fined for his action – but I can't see why there should be any sympathy for the target of his chippy aggression.
Whatever compels someone to run on to a pitch during a match, whether it's glee or anger or either combined with too much drink, you can be sure that they don't expect to be received by a punch. The Birmingham City fan who taunted Peter Enckelman after he'd conceded an own goal in a derby in 2002, for example, was able to jig about in front of the Villa keeper while getting no more than a glum stare in exchange.
It used to be that pitch invasions were mostly mass events. The most famous one of all occurred at an Old Trafford derby in the 1973-74 season when Man Utd fans ran on with the intention of getting the match abandoned after Denis Law had given City a late lead. The game was indeed called off with Utd trailing 1-0 but wins for relegation rivals ensured that they went down anyway. Three years earlier, fans had rushed on at Elland Road to remonstrate with the referee after he had awarded a contentious goal for visitors West Brom whose 2-1 victory fatally damaged Leeds' hopes of winning the title. More recently, West Ham supporters went onto the pitch to celebrate their team's goals in the Carling Cup tie with Millwall and to goad opposition fans.
But solo invaders have become more commonplace in the era of user-defined YouTube-era mass media. There is a self-promoting compulsion at work among those who run onto a football pitch. It's also an utterly futile act. The father and son pitch invaders who attempted to remonstrate with Bryan Gunn during Norwich's 7-1 opening day defeat to Colchester have been banned from Carrow Road indefinitely and the recipient of Bellamy's slap is unlikely to get another chance to tread the turf at Old Trafford. It seems a large price to pay for a few momentary seconds of fame and a bookmarked internet clip of yourself to show your friends. Carl Gordon