It’s time for fans to be held responsible

An example: Karl Robinson praised MK Dons fans, but believes attitudes still need to change if football is to progress
An example: Karl Robinson praised MK Dons fans, but believes attitudes still need to change if football is to progress

Football is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, though it seems one element of the game is considerably stuck in the past.

Goal-line technology is finally upon us albeit only in the upper echelons, players can be punished retrospectively for things referees have missed out on the field, every inch of the game itself is covered by cameras.

But what about off the field? Isn’t it about time football fans had the same 21st century make over?

Football is all about the fans. It has to be. Without the fans, the game simply wouldn’t be the same. The songs, the atmosphere, the difference of opinions - it’s what should have made Saturday’s game between MK Dons and Crawley a really spicy affair. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.

As a game, it was a thriller. Izale McLeod scores twice against his former club as struggling Crawley took a two-goal lead over the high-flying Dons. An injured goalkeeper gets replaced by a striker who comes within 15 minutes of keeping a remarkable clean sheet, but Dons fought back from behind - pick your headline.

But everyone’s talking about something that happened at an innocuous throw in around the hour mark with regards to a £1.50 cup of tea and Carl Baker’s reaction.

In the melee, a fan spitting at Richie Barker barely made a ripple in the pool of controversy.

The antiquated, juvenile, frankly pathetic action of the person who consciously threw his cup of tea over another person, expecting to be safe from repercussion because Baker’s punishment would be greater than theirs, is something that needs to be addressed.

The verbal, and now physical, abuse given to players from the stands is something so out of character with the supposed ‘political correctness’ era we live in.

And it’s something that has to be addressed, fast.

“I’m not whiter than white,” said Karl Robinson. “My language could be much better at times, we all have to do so.

“We’re not something you can just batter, verbally, for 90 minutes - that’s not what we’re there for.

“Some of the incidents on Saturday were way below the belt.

“The language and abuse I get because of the area I’m from in unacceptable. When you look at Crawley, and the proximity of the bench to the fans - my daughter was only five rows back, and I asked them to stop, but they said ‘she shouldn’t come to the game.’ These things aren’t acceptable.”

Leicester boss Nigel Pearson was given a one-match ban and a £10,000 fine in December for returning some of the venom fired his way from the stands.

Many will argue that taking the abuse on the chin is part and parcel of being in the football industry, it’s what they’re paid for.

Robinson disagrees: “When Nigel Pearson says something, he gets fined. What do you want him to do?

“People tell us we’re paid to take it, it’s part of the job. No, it’s not. It’s not part of the job to be publicly abused.

“People think it’s acceptable. But the second I turn around and say something back, I get reported or sent to the stand. Where’s the justice in that?

“If we get fined, and judged on what we say and do, for one slip of the tongue, so should they.

“Hopefully, it’ll balance out, because footballers and managers get a lot of criticism. I think we can come out of the weekend with some credit.

“This isn’t a football problem, it’s a world problem. When you can be from London, or Liverpool, or wherever, we can be targeted and it’s acceptable? It’s not.

“Football fans need to change.”

But given the reaction on social media, condemning the actions of the one person, things are on the turn.

It’s important to remember that the person who flagrantly overstepped the mark made up just 0.04 per cent of the crowd on Saturday.

With hundreds games going on up and down the country, year in year out, altercations between fans and players are rare.

And Robinson believes Dons’ family approach to the game is an example to others of how to behave in the stands.

He said: “I’m really proud to be manager of MK Dons because this is a proper family club. Most managers coming here won’t get any abuse. That’s how society needs to be.”

However, while the abuse continues to be directed at those out on the field, it’s surely only a matter of time before something more drastic happens again.