Chris Stratford: How my love for football can turn to hatred on just the toss of a coin

Rio Ferdinand during the recent Manchester derby.
Rio Ferdinand during the recent Manchester derby.
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THERE are times when I am not sure which I despise most – myself for loving football or football for making me love it.

On occasion, my relationship with ‘the beautiful game’ resembles that between cocaine and an addict.

I am fully aware of all its despicable facets, all of its ugly sides which so repulse me, and occasionally I crave release from its grip.

Yet I know – just like the most hopeless of junkies – I will come back time and time again for another hit.

My most recent moment of self-reproach came during the dramatic climax to the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium, a denouement which, to extend the drugs analogy, gave me an astonishing rush one minute before making me consider rehab the next.

Manchester-born, I have been a United fan for more than half-a-century and Robin van Persie’s stoppage-time winner against City lifted me off my chair and into momentary euphoria.

Seconds later, like so many other onlookers, I was taken aback to see Rio Ferdinand clutching his face as blood began to seep down it before bending towards the turf to retrieve a coin which had been flung from the home section.

Like so many of us nowadays when witnessing such an incident, either first-hand or on TV, my first instinct was to turn to Twitter, first to air my disgust and dismay and then to gauge the reaction of others.

It was at this point that I felt a familiar lurch of the stomach as a nauseating wave of hatred washed across my timeline, laying the blame for the assault fairly and squarely at the feet of Ferdinand and his team-mates.

Some of my bisciples (my ego prefers I refer to them as disciples but since I follow most of the people who follow me, bisciples is more accurate) used phrases such as ‘Ferdinand asked for it’ and ‘United had it coming’.

Asked to buttress their assertions with some reasoning, answers ranged from – well, words I cannot repeat here (yes, I did unfollow those who made such utterances) to the bafflingly incorrect ‘United shouldn’t have celebrated in front of the City fans’.

United, in fact, celebrated in front of their own fans, albeit adjacent to City fans, and was it not their entitlement to share the moment with die-hard Reds in such a way?

Definitely not, said one respondent of the ‘It was Ferdinand’s fault’ brigade, whose solution was that United should have celebrated somewhere out of range of potential coin-throwing.

Exactly where would this be? Are fans to be means tested with regards to the distance they can hurl a missile? If so, poor Jessica Ennis would never be allowed to sit in the Bramall Lane stand named in her honour, even in the row furthest from the pitch.

What struck me was the irony of how those getting most agitated were demanding that the players – in the heat of the moment of their team scoring a goal – should act like emotionless automatons.

Now, there is no excuse for deliberately provocative acts such as Emmanuel Adebayor’s pitch-length sprint to goad his former club Arsenal’s supporters – ironically at the Etihad Stadium and very adjacent to the spot where Ferdinand was struck.

I am sure I would not be alone in surmising that there will have been many City fans there that day who probably found Adebayor’s antics amusing, adding an extra piquancy to their own ‘terrace’ celebrations.

The Football Association, however, gave him a suspended two-match ban and a £25,000 fine. Many felt his punishment might have been greater but for the fact they had already handed down to Adebayor a three-match suspension for raking his boot down the face of former team-mate van Persie, then at Arsenal, in the same game.

But the FA said mitigating against a heavier penalty was the fact that Adebayor had been severely provoked by Arsenal fans during the game.

And here we come to another irony which escapes those attendees who deem it perfectly reasonable to abuse players throughout a game but feel affronted if the ‘banter’ is greeted with a zealous goal celebration.

My advice is simple: don’t give it if you can’t take it.

Some of the ribbing of players can be witty, although it seems obligatory to couch it in somewhat spicy vernacular, but too often it is spiteful, vicious and vindictive.

For those who indulge in the latter to suddenly become as thin-skinned as a match-day hot dog and cry foul if a player celebrates near them takes hypocrisy to its maximum level. I understand, completely, City fans’ feelings of despair, made worse by United players’ proximity.

But anyone who thinks that in any way, to even a miniscule degree, excuses a physical act of aggression is the sort of person who makes me feel ashamed to love the game of football.

The response to the incident was predictably febrile and, in some cases, feeble-minded, such as the suggestion that some form of netting might be used to protect the playing area.

Clearly no one stopped to think that the size of mesh and thickness of netting required to restrain missiles such as coins would be such that visibility through it would be virtually nil.

The bottom line is that responsibility lies, to a large extent, off the pitch with supporters who need to reflect on their own behaviour and their reactions to the game’s dramatic moments, good and bad.

It cannot be stressed enough that there can be no, repeat no circumstance in which violence can be deemed an acceptable response to anything which occurs on the pitch.

Some may attempt to fool themselves that there are occasions which give them a scintilla of validation for violence – and those fans, and the skewed logic of their thinking, are the reason why, just occasionally, I feel the need, like an alcoholic at his first AA meeting, to purge myself by standing up and saying, ‘I am Chris Stratford. I’m a football fan’.

And another thing...

THE recent icy cold weather will have prompted many householders to question the effectiveness – or possibly the absence – of lagging on their central heating pipes.

Insulation is key to avoiding the unwelcome onset of frozen and, possibly, burst waterpipes.

However, is it possible to have too much insulation, I wonder?

I ask because it appeared at the weekend that Marouane Fellaini may have suffered mental meltdown, possibly as a result of his bonce being too well insulated by his
hair-do homage to the Hair Bear Bunch.

How else to explain not one, not two, but three assaults on Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross during Everton’s 1-1 draw at Britannia Stadium on Saturday?

The Belgian, who appeared to have taken a sly look to see where the referee was before head-butting Shawcross, must have forgotten the game was being recorded.

And I put that down to his brain over-heating due to his famous thatch.

Although the wonderfully mischievous BBC commentator Guy Mowbray may have hit on the real reason for Fellaini’s actions, suggesting he was looking for time off over Christmas.