Professional Footballers' Association CEO Gordon Taylor believes that "it is time to consider the introduction of crowd control netting into football stadiums" after ManU player Rio Ferdinand was left bleeding from a head wound while celebrating his side's win over Man City Sunday, according to Shergold, Wheeler & Cass of the London DAILY MAIL. Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown from the crowd at the Etihad Stadium. Teammate Wayne Rooney was also "pelted with missiles thrown from the stands" while waiting to take corner kicks. Taylor told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I think you've got to give consideration to possibly, as has been suggested, some netting in vulnerable areas, be it behind the goals and round the corner flags." Only the "swift intervention" of Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart "prevented a much uglier flashpoint" as he stopped a fan confronting Ferdinand on the pitch in the wake of Van Persie's goal in the 92nd minute to clinch the match. FA Chair David Bernstein told Sky Sports News the crowd incidents at the Manchester derby were "deplorable'' and must be ''dealt with severely." Taylor does not support the reintroduction of the perimeter fencing, which was removed from English football grounds in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Taylor is, however, "in favour of considering the installation of high nets behind goals," which are a common feature of football stadiums on the continent (DAILY MAIL, 12/9).
CASTING A WIDE NET: In London, Gratton & Ducker reported many clubs in Europe are removing netting around pitches "due to the improved behaviour of their fans, who have complained that the netting impedes their view." Football Supporters' Federation Chair Malcolm Clarke said that arrests at grounds have "dropped by almost a quarter over the last year." Clarke: "Netting is not something we feel is necessary to have. No one condones the throwing of missiles, but arrests last season were 24% down on previous seasons and not many social phenomenon alter that much. It is undoubtedly improving and I think before we start making knee-jerk reactions to particular incidents we ought to bear that in mind." Greater Manchester Police said that they are "working to track down the person responsible for throwing the coin" (LONDON TIMES, 12/10). The BBC reported stadium designer Paul Fletcher feels that the idea is "unworkable as finding a mesh netting small enough to stop coins could prove impossible." Fletcher worked on the design of Wembley Stadium, as well as stadiums at Bolton, Coventry and Huddersfield and was formerly CEO of League Championship Burnley FC. Fletcher: "To stop a £1 coin going onto the pitch is going to take some fine mesh netting, and I have never seen that" (BBC, 12/10).
HOW IT WORKS: In London, Simon Cass noted behind-the-goal netting is "commonplace in the German Bundesliga." Cass interviewed crowd-control firm Funtec Owner Ralf Esser about how the system works. Funtec supplies crowd-control measures to grounds such as Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena and Stuttgart's Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Q: So how does the system work?
Esser: It is a flame-resistant mesh, which you can see through very easily. We produce a steel rope which is built into the roof of the stadium from which the net is suspended and there are no poles to obscure the view.
Q: So what do the fans think about the nets?
Esser: Sometimes they notice them if they are very, very close to the net. But we often have a very funny reaction from the fans. They write letters to the clubs complaining that it is not fair that only the home supporters, and not the away fans, have nets in front of them. That’s because they cannot see them on the other side.
Q: What about safety implications about having nets?
Esser: It is possible to break the net down very quickly. It can be winched away if you only wish to use it for high-risk games. There are provisions in place for spectators to run through the net or to go underneath it. There are exits which are protected with Velcro which can be opened by the stewards.
Q: Have you had any contact from a Premier League club and how long would it take to install?
Esser: We have had no discussions as yet, but it would take just one week to install. If you don't have any protection systems it is also cheap (DAILY MAIL, 12/10).
LIFETIME BANS AND APOLOGIES: REUTERS' Mark Pangallo reported Bernstein said fans who "hijack" matches with bad behavior should be handed life bans. Berstein: "I think it's disturbing that we are seeing a recurrence of these sorts of incidents. We've had some racial abuse issues... we've had things being thrown at players. They are unacceptable and they have to be dealt with severely." He added, "In my mind it's for the FA, it's for the whole game of football and for the authorities to work together to deal with this in the most severe manner" (REUTERS, 12/10). The PA reported the Man City fan who invaded the pitch and tried to confront Ferdinand "has apologised." The fan was charged with "pitch encroachment." Speaking through his solicitors, he "confessed his guilt and said sorry" to Ferdinand (PA, 12/10).
CRERAND'S RADIO OUTBURST: The PA also reported former ManU midfielder Paddy Crerand was "involved in an astonishing outburst on national radio" Monday morning as he "reacted angrily" to the suggestion that Ferdinand could have provoked Man City fans with his celebration of ManU's game-winning goal. Crerand's comments came during an interview on BBC Radio Five Live where listeners had called and texted the show to suggest that "players should tone down their celebrations in front of opposition fans." Crerand said, "Who said that? That is ridiculous. What planet do they live on? That is absolute garbage. How many people have phoned you up? One, two, three? How many? Why make a statement like that if you haven't got (the number of listeners) to hand ... if you haven't got the evidence?" At one point Crerand asked interviewer Chris Warburton: "Is this a publicity stunt? Ask me a sensible question and don't talk stupid, asking me daft questions about whether fans should celebrate or not" (PA, 12/10).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In London, Matt Dickinson wrote two days after the fan troubles "does not seem the ideal time to be stepping up the campaign for supporters to be allowed to stand at the country’s biggest football stadiums," but Tuesday, MPs at Westminster "will be asked to believe that supporters can be trusted to stand and behave themselves. Sounds a tough sell." The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) will lobby the MPs to change legislation, "at least to allow a pilot scheme for standing in the top two divisions" — banned since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Safety is part of the debate, but the return of standing hangs on other tests, like "whether you will make it worth a club’s while." It comes down to finance. The Scottish Premier League (SPL) allowed clubs to reintroduce standing exactly a year ago. So far, "not a single club has followed through." An SPL spokesman said its members had found it “cost prohibitive” (LONDON TIMES, 12/11).