Dianne Millen explores the most suitable means of preventing  incursions on to the pitch by fans

When is a pitch invasion not a pitch invasion? When there’s only one person involved, of course, as happened twice in the second week­­­­end of the new Scottish Premier League cam­paign. Amid the debate among the condemn­atory, per­ma­tanned pundits about whether a single fan constituted an “invasion”, however, were serious safety questions.

The shenanigans began with a lone wan­derer at the match between Aber­deen and Rangers, who seemed to take the verbal abuse being dished out to Fernando Ricksen a little too seriously and tried to put the Dutchman on the business end of a karate kick (for once). Al­though never likely to succeed, he did get fur­ther into the Rangers half than most of the Aberdeen team were managing at the time be­fore being dragged away by police.

Perhaps the footage of this embarrassment on the national news inspired the gentleman who tried to claim the referee in the next day’s Edinburgh derby. Match official Stuart Dougal – who had in­censed the home crowd with a harsh dismissal – had to be rescued by alert Hearts goalkeeper Tepi Moilanen.

Both fans were resoundingly condemned by the Scottish Football Association, the media and clubs, with the association renewing its call for the courts to take a hard line against offenders to deter others (al­though the Pittodrie miscreant has been re­manded in custody for psychiatric reports). They are also likely to receive life bans from the grounds.

Although they clearly crossed a line far more fundamental than the white one painted on the pitch, the question must now be how the authorities will address the wider security implications. So far the SFA – if not the tab­loids, who spewed forth condemnation of “crazed” loony fans again – has resisted the temptation to over-react, their spokesman Andy Mitchell agreeing with Aberdeen chief executive Keith Wyness that “you cannot hold the club responsible for an individual’s behaviour”. However, the SFA will be considering both referees’ reports and fines or other sanc­tions have not yet been ruled out.

While accepting that incursions are uncontrollable should not rule out change, any alterations required by the SFA must be realistic, both operationally and financially. Given the parlous state of football fi­nances, it would be disappointing to see clubs fined for such incidents. Neither should they be required to install expensive – and potentially dangerous – crowd barriers such as those seen in other European stadiums, although such measures seem relatively unlikely post-Taylor.

A more positive approach would be for the SFA to assist clubs with security planning, rather than judge them by its failures. They could start with improved training and sup­port for stewards, too many of whom seem to spend their time telling excited fans to sit down quietly rather than monitoring and preventing disturbances. A genuine examination of the ways clubs and police deal with flashpoints such as sectarian chanting and the waving of certain flags is also needed – it could even be the first job for the “anti-sectarianism czar” recently announced by the Scottish Executive.

Above all, however, they should resist any temptation to suggest that the emotions felt by those two fans were as unacceptable as their actions. Football is all about feelings and it can be one of the ways, in our mostly safe and ordered society, to safely discharge and explore those parts of our emotions that are not necessarily “nice”. The surprise is not so much that people do occasionally lose all sense of per­spective and intrude on the sacred space beyond the lines, but that it happens so infrequently.

Ultimately, it is our collective agreement to keep the peace which maintains order, not a line of stewards in ill-fitting luminous jack­ets. Rather than debating what constitutes an “invasion”, we might be better off discussing how we can ensure the safety of players, of­ficials and spectators without neutering the football experience altogether.

From WSC 200 October 2003. What was happening this month

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