Smithy column: Football must not go back to the dark ages of hooliganism and hate
The arrogant strut, the coward’s strike from behind.
That Birmingham City fan probably had no idea what historic forces he might be unleashing when he swung a punch at Villa’s Jack Grealish on Sunday. Thirty years after the Hillsborough Disaster we have come full circle.
In this city we know what toll hate can eventually take, if allowed to flourish. We saw the consequences of football hate behind the killer fences in 1989 when innocents died because of what had gone before, the hate that made cages essential protection for players.
But did the punch aimed at Jack Grealish carry with it football’s unspoken tolerance of hate?
It’s OK for him to hate Villa because he’s a Blue etc - fill in team name according to local loyalties.
Some people build their lives around it, their hate defines who they are. They take such pride in their bigotry and many of us actually think it funny or cool. This lad just took it a bit too far, didn’t he?
Like the Leeds fan who pushed Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland in the face in 2012, or the snarling Arsenal supporter who pushed Manchester United’s Chris Smalling on Sunday and the Hibs fan who confronted Rangers’ James Tavernier at Easter Road on Friday.
For most rivalry is a bit of ribbing at work on a Monday morning, the colour of your bedroom wall, your tattoo choices and the pub you go in on Saturdays. For others it’s organised violence and seething intolerance.
So what of these latest incarnations of ‘rivalry’?
Daring and laddish larks or the beginning of the end of the trust that allows us to watch football close-up and uncaged ? Many of us outside the elite roll our eyes and berate the Premier League’s obsession with money, its vast anodyne stadiums occasionally echoing to the sound of so-called football tourists and ‘plastics’ singing corporate anthems.
But Sheffield needs to be a part of that elite. Both teams. An elite whose football, stadiums and commitment - despite the jibes of outsiders - are envied around the world.
If hate is allowed to flourish again that will change.
And it will inevitably be the Premier League that brings in those changes to protect its global reputation and ‘market position’.
Rivalry is fine, hate is not, most people get that.
We all need to remember the difference before we lose something precious.