So how come, in the wake of the Cantona affair, has the behaviour of fans come under more scrutiny than that of the martial artist? Pundit after pundit has pointed out how the animalistic behaviour of the average English fan makes this outrage inevitable. (Interestingly, some of these pundits have spent the previous months complaining that what is ruining the game is its gentrification.) It is unfortunate that Matthew Simmons has a criminal record and a history of neo-Nazi sympathy: it has allowed people to look on Cantona as more sinned against than sinning, and it has also revived all sorts of hoary old myths about football fans. But, as Giles Smith pointed out on these pages last week, if yelling abuse at players is punishable by karate, then the majority of any football crowd will go home with sore ribs.
I am not suggesting that it is laudable to yell obscenities at a fellow human being, even when that human being is, say, David Burrows of Everton. But different rules apply once you are inside a football ground, and most of us (pace the idiotic Blackburnsupporter who attempted to thump the referee last week) know what these rules are: nearly everybody who watches football knows the difference between a wanker sign and a pitch invasion.
There may be fans who refuse to cheer when a member of the opposition is sent off, fans who shake their heads sadly and mutter about the death of Corinthianism, but I have yet to meet one. This season, I, like thousands of others at Highbury, have hugelyenjoyed the dismissals of Mark Hughes, Uwe Rosler and Duncan Ferguson, among others; indeed, the dismissals of Hughes and Ferguson were the only memorable moments of otherwise dismal afternoons. Football's moral guardians will regret this, but you can'thave it both ways: you can't sell the game on its passion, and then express dismay when people show some.Reuse content