Mark Steel: Help! Another victim of Anglo-Pakistani 'over-exuberance'

'It only takes one nutcase with an empty box of Pringles for madness to erupt at a cricket match'
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The Independent Online

Invasions in cricket matches? This is the height of outrage. It would certainly be a disaster at Canterbury, where I sometimes go, as most of the spectators would take three or four hours to get to the middle of the pitch. Then chant at the one steward: "Do you know, I can't remember if I left the oven on.''

But the latest invasions, of Pakistani supporters, are apparently much more threatening, especially after the match at Trent Bridge. Typical was the rant from Mark Nicholas, as he presented highlights on Channel 4. New laws were essential, he insisted, and he complained there was "not one dog and not one truncheon'.'

Is it part of a television presenters' brief to formulate government policy? Next, Carol Smillie will beam: "Welcome to another episode of Changing Rooms. This week we're in the delightful Devonshire town of Kingsbridge. Mind you, if there's any more pussyfooting with Sinn Fein-IRA over decommissioning, the Good Friday Agreement is dead and buried, no matter whether these walls are yellow or purple. Now, over to Lawrence.''

Later, Mark Nicholas referred to "ugly scenes'' as fans ran on to the field after the game. But fans always run on to the field after the game. They gather around the pavilion to see the presentation, the Man of the Match award and a stuttering speech by the sponsor. They're allowed to. It is during the match when you are not allowed on. If he gets confused over the distinction between during and after, it is amazing how he managed to master LBW. Well, I was at the match and the atmosphere was brilliant. In fact it was the joyous nature of the crowd that has upset the authorities, who think cricket should only be watched by old men in fraying ties half-asleep in a deck chair.

The mood, several reporters have claimed, was "threatening", and several commented on the constant blowing of bugles. Are bugles threatening? In wars, which is the bit that worries the soldiers? I always thought it was the stuff with the grenades and sandbags, but maybe that's a doddle, and the frightening part is when someone plays "The Last Post'', at which point they start gibbering in their sleep, and get signed off for "klaxon shock".

The recent history of noise at English cricket is shameful. In the Sixties and Seventies, Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians in Britain brought the carnival atmosphere associated with cricket in their own countries to English grounds. Most English supporters appeared to love the transformation, but the authorities saw it as an affront. So instruments were banned, flags were banned, anyone dancing or chanting was ejected, and virtually every Asian or Caribbean cricket-lover in England stopped going.

Eventually, commercial expedience forced the cricket boards to relent, but they hate it. One liberal newspaper this week described the problem of "Anglo-Pakistani over-exuberance''. It is in their Anglo-Pakistani blood, you see. They set fire to buildings, but stop at 3.45 for tea and scones.

The most riotous behaviour on Tuesday came when fireworks were set off in one stand. One Australian fielder thought a firework had exploded near him, and while you can't blame him for thinking that, it emerged that the only object on the pitch was a cardboard canister. It is certainly anti-social to throw cardboard around in public, but does that warrant a barrage of banner headlines such as "You maniacs?'' Surely even the tabloids couldn't screech "For God's sake, stop this cardboard madness." Or scowl that to protect the players, the police have to use dogs and truncheons, as it only takes one nutcase with an empty box of Pringles!

After the cardboard/firework, the players left the field. Then 150 stewards, of whom all but one were white, held up this orange plastic that was supposed to deter an invasion. I asked a police officer if he knew why the players had left the field, and he said, "If you've being following the one-day internationals, you'll know why,'' in that finger-wagging manner that would make your average Hare Krishna lose his temper.

Such surliness assured that for a while there was an element of tension. The silly plastic almost presented a challenge. Another half an hour and people would have been building gliders, or practising vaulting while a bloke underneath dug a tunnel with a fork.

Eventually the game continued, with greater camaraderie between all sections of the crowd than would be evident in almost any comparable large gathering. So what must Pakistani supporters think, as the Widdecombians that run English cricket, having gone out of their way to make them feel unwelcome, look across and see nothing but threat? Or the press demand they can only be controlled by dogs?

They're probably expecting to get to the final at Lord's and find that none of the coppers has a clue about cricket, as they have all been brought over from Sweden.