Events at Hillsborough highlight the need for self-policing fans

October 23, 2012 in Features

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The psychology of crowds is a fascinating topic. Put any group of intelligent, friendly and all-round nice people into a group of 10 or so, and almost all of the time, they will join in with bad behaviour should it start to occur in the group. There are a couple of theories behind this, but the gist is that people feel more anonymous when in a group, and that any blame will be shared around the group and not solely on them. Unfortunately, football and the tribalism that comes with supporting your team brings out some of the worst behaviour in people. Some of which we’ve seen first hand over the last week.

On Friday night at Hillsborough, a heated Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United descended into farce when a “fan” decided to assault Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland shortly after Leeds equalised. Now, even as a die-hard Huddersfield fan, I’ve no desire to sit here and tar every Leeds fan with the same brush, but let’s face it, they are known as one of the less well-behaved clubs in the Football League. The fact of the matter is Leeds fill out almost every away allocation they get, their supports are vociferous and often incredibly boisterous, but they certainly have their fair share of idiots just like every club.

As much as I love my club, I’ve never understood the mentality that because someone else supports someone different, I must hate them or try to start a fight with them. When I sing “we’re the greatest team in football the world has ever seen”, I do so with my tongue firmly in my cheek. However, at a number of matches over this weekend there were reports of hideous chants in relation to Jimmy Savile. There were reports that Leeds fans were chanting about allegations from Dave Jones’ past, and that Sheffield Wednesday fans were chanting about the Leeds fans killed in Istanbul (these rumours are, of course, unable to be confirmed by myself). We’ve all heard recently about the chants that have happened for years by some fans in relation to the events at Hillsborough in 1989 or the Munich plane crash, but why do fans feel the need to sink to these depths? The lad who hit Kirkland was of course heavily inebriated, but you’ve got to ask yourself what the hell was he thinking? I guess the short answer was that he wasn’t.

Would these people chant these things if they were walking down the street on their own? No. Would that lad have punched Chris Kirkland in the face if he was just walking down the street? No. The need for self policing amongst fans is becoming more and more important. You can never, and never will, have a situation where there is a ratio of 1:1 in terms of police to fans, but it is up to the real fans to root out and stop the ones that are giving everyone a bad name; those people who have so little good in their life that they go to football to cause trouble because it’s the only place they feel like a big man. I’m not saying it’s easy. Would I want to go up to a group of my own team’s fans and say, “Hey, don’t sing that song, it’s horrible”? No, I wouldn’t. I’d probably get called a pussy or something and get told “it’s only banter”.

Unfortunately for Leeds, the repercussions of their own fans behaviour are wide reaching. There are talks of bans for their travelling fans, but that is unlikely, and even if it happened the likelihood is that Leeds fans would buy tickets for home areas of the ground. It does definitely mean that a higher policing presence will be needed for their games however, but this cost will not have to be met by Leeds.  Their away allocations may be cut by home teams but that will once again cost the club money. It would be much easier if fans could separate themselves from the crowd mentality and instead actually enjoy the rivalry and not let it anger them. If fans start standing up to “fans”, we might all enjoy the game a little bit more.

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