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You could not tell that the season of goodwill should shortly be upon us from the sports news in the past couple of days. There has been alleged racist abuse by fans at a couple of top-flight games; there was plenty of menace and some violence at one of them, leading to a call for more of a barrier between players and supporters; and one of the leading campaigners for social justice has revealed the turmoil that is leading to his resignation from FA posts amid the continuing aftershocks from the John Terry and Luis Suarez cases.
Of the weekend incidents a couple are alleged and under investigation, but there is no question that Rio Ferdinand was struck with a coin. It was a significant incident and it was an inch away from being so much worse, that measure being the difference between a cut that happened to be on the defender's face and a serious eye injury.
As misfortune would have it I was all too close to the action at the Manchester derby, with a bird's-eye view at the end where Robin van Persie scored thanks to an unexpected dash of sponsor's largesse. One of the party was attending their first football match and you found yourself imagining how certain incidents played through their eyes, especially the actions of one City fan, a father of at least two in perhaps his late forties. There was something comical about the running commentary of abuse he directed at United fans 40 yards away, and one moment when he launched a volley of filth at someone close by under the possibly mistaken impression that they were a Red, only to offer the most polite of apologies when this misapprehension was corrected.
We could all have a good laugh about this, and about the "You're too s*** for Channel 5" and "No, no; No, no, no, no; No, no, no, no; There's no Europe!" chants from the visitors that wound up our caricature of a City supporter. It was a highly enjoyable football match, albeit one dependent on a linesman's error to keep it competitive. But what happened after Van Persie's corrective left some of us feeling the need to justify our embrace of football to the newcomer.
Of course there were plenty of City fans who abhor what happened and there seemed to be few in sympathy with the pitch invader, though some City supporters heckled Wayne Rooney when he had drawn the referee's attention to the coins thrown his direction as he took corners. It puts me in mind of perhaps the dumbest Mailbox discussion of all time, regarding whether it hurt to be struck by a coin.
Gordon Taylor has brought up the subject of netting behind goals and around the corner flags to prevent such incidents. I don't think that will happen soon, and if does then the use will probably be patchy; we are a world away from a return to fencing. But the incident at Hillsborough recently, where Chris Kirkland was struck by a Leeds fan, was the kind of attack that led to fences going up in the first place and if it occurred in a Champions League match rather than a domestic one then it could be UEFA doing the legislating. At the moment, incidents inside grounds are rare compared to the 70s but the tolerance for them has probably gone down and they cannot be allowed to become more widespread.
The violence comes on top of an apparent rise in racism within the game - or at least a rise in the reporting of incidents - and the mishandling by clubs and individuals of those incidents, as Lord Ouseley has discussed. Joe Hart is one of those who fulsomely praised Terry, as if the case against him did not matter compared to the former England captain's footballing virtues, but on Sunday the Manchester City goalkeeper did the right thing by defending Ferdinand. Unfortunately, Roberto Mancini's post-match interview was much less impressive, when the manager failed to take what should have been a straightforward chance to condemn a small but obvious slice of City's supporters.
If City do wind up having to install some form of barrier, temporary or otherwise, then it is the ticket holders in those areas who will suffer. But they should not need the motivation of their own self-interest to help the police find the coin throwers.
English football, professionals and supporters alike, has botched the handling of racism in the past year or so. It must not do the same with hooliganism.