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A week ago, at Celtic Park, a most ridiculous thing happened during Celtic’s Champions League match with Milan.
Shortly after Celtic scored the winning goal, an overwhelmed Celtic fan by the name of Robert McHendry, dashed onto the pitch towards Milan goalkeeper Dida, made physical contact with him and then ran away. Dida gave chase only to collapse inexplicably moments later holding the side of his face.
Now pitch invasion is no laughing matter. A streaker who prances about like a fancy pony is one thing; a fan who invades the pitch and makes actual physical contact is a different thing altogether. I was sincerely worried, because having just watched Eastern Promises, I thought Dida might, however unlikely it is, actually have been slashed at the throat.
But he wasn’t. After watching numerous replays, it became evident that the overexcited fan merely touched him across the shoulder.
Fast forward a week and UEFA are investigating the matter. Although Milan have decided not to press charges and wisely so may I add, Celtic are still likely to be charged on the grounds of “lack of organization and improper conduct of supporters”. On the other hand, Dida will probably face some sort of punishment for simulation.
While Dida’s actions are indeed unforgivable, I’m somewhat disturbed by the way the media chose to portray the incident. The over-emphasis on Dida’s theatrics masks the real problem at hand here and that is the safety of players.
The possibility of something serious happening to Dida is not a product of my over-active imagination, but rather a recollection of something horrible that happened to Monica Seles 14 years ago. You see, on April 30, 1993, a deranged tennis fan ran onto the tennis court in a middle of a game and stabbed Monica Seles in the back, between her shoulder blades, with a steak knife.
The thought that someone might do the same in a football match might seem far fetched, but if you think about it, a real possibility. Given the sheer number of football fans and the size of stadia, the likelihood that someone successfully sneaks a weapon in is fairly high, no matter how tight or prudent security might be. And if this were so, imagine what it’ll be like if some crazed fan managed to sneak in with a steak knife and then dashed onto the pitch, brandishing the knife and with the intention of causing grievous bodily harm.
By no means, am I trying to vindicate Dida’s actions. What he did was unsportsmanlike, disgraceful even, but consider for a moment, what if he was really viciously attacked? What if Dida really got stabbed or slashed instead of getting tapped on the shoulder? Imagine that for a moment if you will. The papers, tabloids, news sites, will all be singing a different tune.
What I’m trying to bring bring to attention here is the very real risks that a player’s life is exposed to. The media’s over-emphasis on Dida’s play-acting is missing the point and is, quite frankly, shallow.