Football: Game must pass community test

LIBERO
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The Independent Online
We Know the game is going mad, of course, but you just hope there is a little care left in the community. Actually, football may be close to being taken into custody given the preponderance of police activity in the last week.

At Highbury, Ian Wright was questioned by the boys in blue after shouting at a group of fans berating him. He has also been known to take down his particulars and bare both cheeks when he should have been turning the other one.

At Bolton, meanwhile, the police have been advising the club not to replay controversial incidents on their big screen for fear of inciting fans. Then at Stevenage, in an FA Cup replay, the Cambridge United manager, Roy McFarland, was interviewed by police as the game went on as a result of complaints by home fans. McFarland, it seemed, was guilty of blocking their view; clearly he could not stand for two of his players being sent off.

It seems that the figures are on the increase - for the incidences of police involvement and intervention, that is. Already this season we have seen Teddy Sheringham reported by Arsenal fans for the inflammatory gesture of kissing his Manchester United shirt in celebration of a goal.

Perhaps Arsenal fans caught this sense of moral outrage from Southampton. Last season, the Dell boys called for police assistance after Patrick Vieira was supposed to have made an obscene gesture. The same set of supporters were also in shock at David Beckham apparently showing his buttocks.

There are more examples but they are becoming tedious, which is exactly the issue. Footballers should clearly not be above the law but such trivialities - and we are not talking about launching kung fu kicks into the crowd here - are now wasting time and money as well as making a politically correct nonsense of some aspects of the game.

Most fans are not so easily incited as police might believe; after all, the right-thinking majority believe in the rule of the referee's law, mistaken though it may be in some cases. It is only the loony few who file the fatuous complaints knowing that it is easy to make mischief against the opposition, as well as a minor name for oneself amid the subsequent publicity.

As Brendan Behan once said, there is no situation so bad that the presence of a policeman cannot make it worse. Is there anything in the wild allegation that the odd bobby likes to nick a celebrity? Could it be that the police need to justify their expensive presence at many stadiums?

Their leaders now sit in splendid control boxes with the best view in the house, but frequently with little to do all afternoon since hooliganism has been consigned to streets well away from the ground and between consenting morons. In fact, all complaints seem gratefully received by the overtimely force.

Proving how ridiculous most of the incidents are, though, they seem largely quickly dismissed, which at least is a relief. No one denies that when violence is about, whether between players or fans or both, the police presence is welcome. But surely, like good referees, they should hardly be noticed.

Is it too much to ask for a little common sense on the part of some fans, or a strategic standing off when complaints are made by those oh-so sensitive souls in the crowd offended by those provocative footballers who seem not to be allowed any right of reply?

You Get some strange requests as a professional footballer. Steve Claridge was signing copies of his book Tales from the Boot Camp (Vista, pounds 5.99: vested interest, it was co-written by Libero) in Leicester recently when one fan ventured that he had named his cat after City's Coca-Cola Cup final hero and requested a signature on a photo of the feline. "From one Claridge to another," was the inscription penned without breaking stride.

The Brazilian writer Paolo Coelho was being interviewed about the game. "It seems to me footballers and writers have the same aim," he said. "What the writer attempts with his pen, the footballer tries to bring about by scoring a goal.

"You might wonder why, since neither can change the world in the slightest! But the existence of both literature and football is justified because they can give readers and spectators an inner strength, which may even change someone's life."

Ken Bates at Chelsea is believed to be in sympathetic agreement when it comes to the press.

Congratulations to Norwich City for attracting 14,114 spectators to the England Under-21 game against Greece on Wednesday, even if they did give away free tickets to youngsters. The 4-2 game was fitting reward.

Suggestion boxes are dotted around Carrow Road, so here is one for the club which boasts Delia Smith among its directors. Is there a chance of anything more substantial than a few biscuits in the press-room? Libero wouldn't normally mention it, but if he is now expected by his sports editor to change people's lives, he needs to keep his strength up.

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