Football is a passionate sport. During my teenage years I spent most weekends at Upton Park, either watching from the Centenary Stand (now the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand) or in the Queens or Boleyn pubs watching away matches.
Every single week I found that by the time I got home after a game – be it a win, lose or draw for the Hammers – I was exhausted. And not as a result of that final, overpriced pint, or thanks to that final rendition of “Over land and sea (and Tottenham!)”.
The majority of the attraction to football is the emotion involved. That utter devotion you show to those 11 players during those 90 minutes and, often, that utter hatred for that one referee and two linesmen.
The emotional rollercoaster that is professional football (a particularly bumpy ride if you’re a West Ham fan) is a tiring experience. While the exhilaration of a match is there, you could stay up all night, but after watching your side lose 3-0 to Spurs, it’s gone pretty quickly.
So, without any shame or guilt, I openly admit that I enjoyed watching Preston North End rush on to the pitch against Blackpool last night.
It brought a smile to my face as I watched it out of the corner of my eye last night. It reminded me of the screams of encouragement and hugging-the-stranger-next-to- passion we’ve all experienced on the terraces. Of course, this was before I noticed the accident that happened toward the end – but we’ll touch on that later.
Pitch invasions are the ultimate outburst of emotion from a fan. They’re doing something they know they shouldn’t; something they know that could be detrimental to the devotion of their club. But they don’t care – they can’t control that need to release that excitement.
Isn’t that what they beautiful game is about? Sure, we moan about overpaid players and the price of a Bovril but it’s the camaraderie, the singing and the banter that makes it what it is.
Would I walk up to a bunch of Millwall fans in the street and start break into song, detailing their team’s recent string of poor performances? Probably not. Would I stand in the adjacent stand and sing the opening words of the same song, in full expectation that the rest of the men around me would join in? Absolutely.
Unfortunately, there are downsides to this burst of pure emotion. People do get hurt in certain incidents.
The poor steward who was knocked by a police horse at last night’s invasion was an unnecessary accident. The police, as far as I know, acted in good faith in hope of stopping a full scale riot.
There are of course isolated cases where pitch invasions turn even uglier. In Brazil last month a referee was decapitated during a match by fans who had just watched him fatally stab their star player.
I remember when West Ham fans invaded the pitch against Millwall in 2009. I was there on the day and caught up in some of the trouble spots. I wasn’t there for trouble; I’d had a pint in the Queens when bricks began raining down on the pub garden.
A Millwall fan was stabbed on that day and over 20 people were injured and during the subsequent pitch invasion, a West Ham fan was seen carrying a child on his shoulders.
It is understandable, in these particular instances, that the FA want to keep pitch invasions to a minimum.
But in the Preston North End vs Blackpool case, where the only injuries sustained were as a result of a genuine accident and nothing to do with the fans, let’s not blame these people for showing their emotions and wait for genuine cases of violence to voice our disapproval.