Saturday, October 20, 2012

Take a deep breath...

Up until last night, I was wondering what I might possibly have to talk about.

Thanks to the actions of a significant minority of fans at Hillsborough, and one idiot in particular, there wasn't really much doubt when I woke up this morning.

I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of the behaviour of those involved - the pitch invaders, the vandals, those who think it's funny to sing songs about child abuse allegations or murders. Not much left to say on those things, we've heard and seen them all before.

What worries me equally is the insistence of the media on sticking a microphone under the nose of both managers within minutes of such highly charged incidents, desperately seeking a reaction they can splash all over their pages or radio shows.

Dave Jones was falsely accused 12 years ago of child abuse. Up there with rape and murder as possibly the most hideous thing you can accuse another human being of doing. Since being cleared, he's been in the firing line most weekends for what passes these days as terrace "humour". Not surprisingly, after the game last night he was upset, angry and ready to let rip. His side have thrown away a lead, his keeper has been assaulted and he has been loudly and persistently abused from the stands.

So what happens? Does he get to go away, take an hour or two to gather his thoughts and think about what he wants to say? No, because the game was on live TV he immediately gets shoved in front of a wall of sponsors hoardings and asked for his opinion on events not just on the pitch but off it too.

Not surprisingly, he said some things that have attracted a lot of attention. He described a section of the visiting support as "vile animals" and suggested that Leeds shouldn't be allowed to take fans to away games if that's how they behave. He was angry at Neil Warnock's insistence that his players go over and applaud the travelling support at the end of the game, perceiving that as praise and justification of their behaviour.

Warnock for his part condemned the actions of the fan who ran onto the pitch, but also said he "didn't mind the atmosphere". He also insinuated that Kirkland had been faking, accusing him of "going down like a tonne of bricks". Leeds United have issued a statement condemning the assault, but saying nothing about the tasteless chanting of a large section of their support towards Jones.

As I understand it, if Jones had declined to give a TV interview or attend the post-match press conference he could have faced action under the Football League's disciplinary procedures.

While I appreciate the need for the media to get reactions from those involved in games, and that nobody at an evening kick-off wants to be still sat there at midnight waiting for someone to have calmed down enough to give a statement, is it really appropriate to ask a clearly angry man exactly what he's thinking and then be shocked at the responses he gives?

It is time the LMA took action to protect their members and negotiated a cooling-off period for interviews after games, rather than letting the multi-headed media beast that funds professional football call the shots. Say half an hour after the final whistle, time to give managers (and players) the opportunity to think about what they want to say and how they want to get their point across.

What we have at the moment, particularly after the events during the 90 minutes at Hillsborough, is something akin to a bear pit where we poke someone for our amusement until they snap. Time football got a bit more Newsnight and a bit less Jeremy Kyle.

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